An attempt to reverse a law banning yoga in Alabama schools raises questions about how to provide children with the benefits of yoga without erasing its culture.
Kids who do yoga have better grades
Academic improvement is a natural byproduct of asana practice, says Crystal McCreary, a yoga, mindfulness, and health educator who teaches at K-12 schools in New York City. She says physical poses help kids shake off stress and regulate their social and emotional responses. When children aren’t hijacked by their emotions, they can better access the thinking part of their brains.
“In a classroom, that’s what teachers are trying to do all day long: get kids to access the prefrontal cortex,” she says. “Because that’s where learning is, that’s where creativity is, that’s where your capacity to think critically is.”
Does yoga in schools blur the line between church and state?
This isn’t the first time yoga in schools has been debated. A Georgia vice principal sued
(https://www.11alive.com/article/news/education/jury-to-decide-if-georgia-school-system-banned-yoga-for-christianity/85- b0c75a40-5ae7-47b1-ac60-72960724ed4b) her (https://www.11alive.com/article/news/education/jury-to-decide-if-georgia-school system-banned-yoga-for-christianity/85-b0c75a40-5ae7-47b1-ac60-72960724ed4b)school district
(https://www.11alive.com/article/news/education/jury-to-decide-if-georgia-school-system-banned-yoga-for-christianity/85- b0c75a40-5ae7-47b1-ac60-72960724ed4b) which she said transferred her in response to Christian parents who objected to her bringing yoga to the classrooms. In 2013, parents in a San Diego school district sued
(https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/education/sdut-appeal-court-upholds-yoga-2015apr03-story.html) to keep yoga out of schools on the grounds that it had religious overtones.
When legislators tried to lift Alabama’s ban a year ago, Joe Godfrey, executive director of ALCAP, is quoted as saying, “What you’re doing is blatantly teaching a religious exercise that would violate the Establishment Clause” that Constitutionally separates church and state. Groups who pressed for Alabama’s yoga ban in 1993 even claimed that yoga could lead to psychological harm, according
to a Montgomery newspaper (https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/2021/03/11/alabama-house-approves-elective yoga-public-schools-why-banned/6953690002/).
That’s hypocrisy and Hindu-phobia, says Anusha Wijeyakumar, meditation and wellness advocate and advisory board member for Yoga Ed (https://yogaed.com/advisory-board), an organization that offers classes in schools and colleges, as well as yoga training for teachers.
“I’ve lived in four countries and I can tell you that the separation of church and state is not happening in America. It’s within our political system. It’s within the criminal justice system. It’s within every single institution in this country,” she says. “Quite frankly, the public education system in America doesn’t have a problem with including Christianity as part of its curriculum, we’re just not openly calling it that.”
Advocates for yoga in schools suggest that parents and caregivers need to be better educated.
9/13/21, 10:39 PM The Battle Over Yoga in Schools Sparks Concerns About Appropriation
“I think there is a misunderstanding of what Hinduism is,” says Anjali Rao, a yoga educator and social-justice activist. “First, there is no such thing as Hindu-ism. It’s not an ism. It’s a big range of thought, and it’s a way of life.”
Parents need not worry about their children being “recruited,” because Hinduism is not evangelical; there’s no conversion process, Rao says. And it’s not dogmatic. “We don’t believe that our path is the only way, or the right way. It is one of many paths,” says Wijeyakumar.
Can Christians do yoga?
Rao, who says her entire school experience was in Catholic convent schools in India, says that practicing asana or using Sanskrit does not make you non-Christian. “There are Christians who have practiced yoga in India for centuries.”
There are plenty of devout Christians practicing yoga in the states as well, says Michelle Thielen. She’s one of them. She founded YogaFaith, (https://yogafaith.org/) one of several Christian yoga organizations, to offer Bible-based practice and teacher training.
“Sometimes I just have to scratch my head,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Christians, are you not reading your Bible? Because meditation is in there.’” So is chanting, mudras, and even some of the yoga postures, Thielen says. She suggests that yoga techniques are benign if you are using them to worship according to your own beliefs.
Families who protest yoga in schools by citing fear of Hindu dogma are being hypocritical, yoga advocates say. By setting limitations on what parts of yoga can be taught, “they’re taking a very dogmatic approach rooted in evangelical Christianity, rooted in white supremacy,” says Wijeyakumar. “That is problematic because that goes against yogic philosophy.”