Yoga for Kids: Yoga in Schools

Article ID: JAY001-2 | By: Elliot Miller

The prevailing interpretation of the Second Amendment’s establishment clause as enjoining a strict separation of church and state has resulted in a complete ban of such Christian activities as Bible reading, prayer, and gospel preaching as part of American public school programs. With the religious nature of yoga made clear in part one of this series, it should therefore be a cause for concern to Christians that over the past decade public schools across the country increasingly have been incorporating yoga into school activities.

In 2002, the New York Times reported that at seven San Francisco public schools “with more on the way-the ‘yoga break’ has taken its place beside typical school rituals like recess and the Pledge of Allegiance….” The schools had trained teachers so that yoga could be included not only in physical education but in the regular classroom as well. Furthermore, “in Seattle, 15 of 97 public schools have yoga as a warm-up in gym class, and it is an elective for high school students….” The Times also reported that a Los Angeles “nonprofit group called Yoga Inside…sponsors classes in 31 states, many in schools in poor urban neighborhoods.” Lastly, “the Accelerated School in South Central Los Angeles, an acclaimed public charter school, introduced yoga classes for all students last year.”17

A couple of years later, Fox News did a story on tensions that were developing over the incorporation of yoga into the Aspen Elementary School curriculum in Colorado. Steve Woodrow, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Aspen, and other parents of children in the school “complained to the school board, claiming it was a clear violation of the separation of church and state. ‘If you study yoga its roots clearly are within Hinduism,’ Woodrow said…. Even some of the most basic yoga terms, he claims, may cause elementary school students to bring up questions that have answers based in Eastern religious philosophies.”18 Fox News reported that the American Yoga Association (AYA) and the school disagreed. It quoted from the AYA’s Web site, which states:

Yoga is not a religion. It has no creed or fixed set of beliefs, nor is there a prescribed godlike figure to be worshipped in a particular manner. Religions for the most part seem to be based upon the belief in and worship of things (God or godlike figures) that exist outside oneself. The core of Yoga’s philosophy is that everything is supplied from within the individual. Thus, there is no dependence on an external figure, either in the sense of a person or god figure, or a religious organization. The common belief that Yoga derives from Hinduism is a misconception. Yoga actually predates Hinduism by many centuries.19

Interestingly, a yogi at a yoga Web site where the Fox News article is posted made the following candid admission in a forum for responses to the article:

In all honesty, I agree with this guy that Yoga is a religious system. One can try to get around that by saying its just exercise, but really its not. In India it is definitely religious, and in the U.S. it certainly is “New Age”. Its a bit like legalizing marijuana. That alone might not be a big deal, but it leads people down a certain path to harder drugs. So start out with the soft sell of yoga as exercise, and you plant the seed of diverting the child towards certain religious systems. While I may not personally be offended, I can certainly see how a religious Christian would object.20

Three years later, in 2007, Steve Woodrow and other concerned parents not only in Aspen but across the country were losing the battle. Tara Guber, the creator of the “Yoga Ed.” program that was implemented in Aspen, simply took the overtly Hindu language out of the program while keeping everything else intact, and the strategy worked. As the Associated Press reported:

Guber crafted a new curriculum that eliminated chanting and translated Sanskrit into kid-friendly English. Yogic panting became “bunny breathing,” and “meditation” became “time in.”

“I stripped every piece of anything that anyone could vaguely construe as spiritual or religious out of the program,” Guber said.

Now, more than 100 schools in 26 states have adopted Guber’s “Yoga Ed.” program and more than 300 physical education instructors have been trained in it.

Countless other public and private schools from California to Massachusetts- including the Aspen school where Guber clashed with parents-are teaching yoga.21

For Children before and beyond the Schools

The push to teach yoga to the young is not limited to the schools or to school-age children. Yoga studios across the country have been adding kids’ yoga to their schedules, and several booming businesses have popped up,22 such as Marsha Wenig’s YogaKids International based in Michigan City, Indiana,23 Jody Komitor’s Next Generation Yoga on Manhattan’s Upper West Side,24 and Helen Gerabedian’s Itsy Bitsy Yoga in Marlboro, Massachusetts.25

The stated plan is to teach preschoolers hatha yoga at first and thus pique their interest in yoga, and then when they’re older teach them how to meditate and the philosophy behind it all. All of this is spelled out in Jody Komitor and Eve Adamson’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Yoga with Kids. The book claims yoga is “spiritual” but not “religious” and is therefore compatible with all religions, but then proceeds to teach about the eight limbs of yoga, karma, prana, chakras, and other doctrines unique to the religion of Hinduism.26