Yoga in public schools = religious education?

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Spacers's picture
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Yoga in public schools = religious education?

A group of parents who say that yoga lessons being taught in the Encinitas Union School District are a form of religious indoctrination are considering legal action against the district if the classes don?t stop, an attorney for the group said.

In an Oct. 12 email sent to Superintendent Tim Baird, attorney Dean Broyles, called the program unconstitutional and warned that he may initiate ?a legal course of action? if the district doesn?t end it.

Broyles declined last week to discuss what the group has in mind, but said it?s considering all legal options.

?There?s a deep concern that the Encinitas Union School District is using taxpayer resources to promote Ashtanga yoga and Hinduism, a religion system of beliefs and practices,? Broyles said.

Students at half of the Encinitas district?s nine schools started the yoga program last month, and the other campuses will get the classes beginning in January. The effort is being paid for with a $533,000 grant from the Jois Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes Ashtanga yoga across the world.

Broyles is president and chief counsel for The National Center for Law & Policy, a nonprofit law firm that focuses on ?the protection and promotion of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, parental rights and other civil liberties,? according to its website.

The crux of the disagreement over the program is whether the particular type of yoga being taught and the lessons themselves are inherently religious.

District officials say that they have stripped any semblance of religion from the classes, but some parents are worried that that may not be true.

?I think that they really would like to think that, but I don?t think that, in actuality, it has been done,? said Mary Eady, who has pulled her son from the classes at Park Dale Lane. ?There?s really a lot of unease among a lot of parents.?

For some of the concerned parents, the yoga poses serve as religious expression or a way to invite Hindu deities into the body.

Seven parents criticized the program at a school board meeting last week, and dozens more who were there appeared to agree with them.

Broyles said a parent contacted him asking for help. He wouldn?t say how many parents he represents, but said it?s ?a lot.?

Many parents are afraid to speak up because they have seen anger and name-calling in online comments on news stories about the controversy, said Samantha Vigil, a mother who?s against the program.

Though religion seems to be at the heart of most of the concerns, there have also been other complaints about the yoga lessons.

Parents say they?re also concerned about their children not getting enough physical activity if they opt out of the yoga classes, a lack of communication from the district about the lessons, and the information researchers are collecting as part of a study of the program.

District officials see the yoga lessons as part of a bigger push to improve health and say that all religious aspects of it have been removed, Superintendent Tim Baird said.

?Our goal is that kids get a really healthy workout, that they get a chance to relax and reduce stress,? he said, ?and yoga?s perfect for that.?

Students in all grade levels participate in the yoga classes twice a week for 30 minutes at a time.

Researchers with the University of San Diego will study the program to monitor its effects on students.

The district is in charge of writing the curriculum and hiring teachers, though the contract stipulated that the instructors must be trained by the Jois Foundation.

District officials want to do whatever possible to meet the needs of every family, Baird said. However, he said he doesn?t expect the trustees to revisit the topic or consider canceling the classes.

?Yoga is a worldwide exercise regime utilized by people of many different faiths,? he said. ?Yoga is part of our mainstream culture.?

Baird said he hopes the parents don?t file a lawsuit, because he would prefer to spend the district?s money on educating children.

Only a few parents at each school have asked to remove their children from the yoga classes, Baird said. The vast majority of people seem to support the program, he added.

The big concern for some of the parents is where the money is coming from.

?It?s not just yoga; it?s the background of who?s teaching it and how they were brought in,? said Vigil, whose daughter attends El Camino Creek.

The three-year grant is part of a partnership between the district and the Encinitas-based Jois Foundation, which some of the parents view as an overtly religious group. Broyles called it an ?evangelic yoga foundation.?

However, Eugene Ruffin, director of the foundation, said the group isn?t religious at all and has people on its board of directors from various faiths.

The purpose of the nonprofit is to promote yoga as a way to improve mental and physical health, he said.

?These therapies are headed toward trying to find solutions for some of the stress that these children find themselves in,? he said. ?We?re trying to solve problems.?

The yoga lessons can help children burn calories and improve flexibility as well as ease stress and increase concentration, Ruffin said.

The foundation promotes Ashtanga yoga, which is ?an ancient system that can lead to liberation and greater awareness of our spiritual potential,? according to the group?s website.

It focuses on breathing aligned with a series of poses designed to increase mental focus, circulation and sweating.

Broyles said he thinks there are spiritual overtones in any type of yoga, but considers Ashtanga a particularly religious type.

?Ultimately, yoga has its formation and foundation and basis in eastern mysticism and Hinduism,? he said. ?With yoga period, there?ll always be some connection with religious and spiritual beliefs.?

Yoga has ancient ties to eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism, but Ruffin said he thinks it?s possible to remove religion from the poses.

?It?s pretty difficult to do anything these days that doesn?t have some relationship to some religion,? he said.

Parents may sue over yoga lessons in Encinitas : Encinitas

Does yoga belong in a public school or is it "religious education" as some of these parents claim? The school district says only a few parents have removed their children from the class at each school.

I've been doing yoga for many years and I believe that it absolutely can be done without any religious aspect. Yoga is in some religions, but there is no religion in yoga, no creeds, no set of beliefs, nothing to be worshipped. Yoga is about self-awareness and being in tune with your body, which is something many Eastern religions practice, but the practice of asanas (the physical exercise poses) and pranayama (the breathing techniques) themselves are centuries older than any of the religions associated with them.

Alissa_Sal's picture
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"Yoga is a worldwide exercise regime utilized by people of many different faiths," he said. "Yoga is part of our mainstream culture."

I agree with this. Yoga is so mainstream that I have a hard time thinking of it as a "religious practice" except if you actually practice it as part of your religion (I mean, make it a point to.) I have done yoga off and on for many years and have never had anything even resembling a religious experience; as Stacey said it has always been about focusing on and being aware of your body in the here and now.

My son's private religious pre-K does yoga on Fridays. It's a Jewish school. T loves yoga.

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I don't think yoga = religious indoctrination. I think these people are either very confused or just don't want anything "different"

ClairesMommy's picture
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I think that some parents actually go looking for stuff to get their panties in a bunch over. Get a life peeps.

AlyssaEimers's picture
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Growing up I associated yoga as a religious exercise, however I think it has morphed over time as many things do. For example gay used to mean happy. Another way to think of it is that Christmas is traditionally a Christian holiday. You can celebrate it as a time to celebrate Christ's birthday, or you can celebrate it as a time for family and giving. In the same way, yoga can have spiritual meaning, but does not have to. It is what you make of it.

wlillie's picture
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If you substitute the word Ashtanga with Christian, you'd have the FFRG in this lawsuit instead of the NCLP. It's kind of hard to believe that the classes were completely stripped of the religious aspects since they were paid for by a religious organization. It would be like the Baptist Church paying for a sing along inside the school and saying they stripped all the religious aspects out of it. Why would they pay for it?

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What is Christian yoga?

It's like saying you can't have wafer crackers at school because they are similar to our Communion wafers in the Catholic church.

Spacers's picture
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The classes aren't being paid for by a religious organization; they are being paid for by a private family foundation. It was founded in memory of K.P. Jois, who was a leader in bringing Ashtanga Yoga to the U.S. Yoga is not a religion, it's an exercise philosophy.

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I think teaching yoga in the schools is awesome! I bet some kids who don't consider themselves to be "sporty" or "athletic" and dread going to PE everyday just might enjoy yoga, and perhaps even excel at it. So many kiddos lack motor planning, balance, coordination, and even self-regulation skills and I think they'd greatly benefit from a yoga program. What a peaceful way to start a morning or calming way to end the afternoon.

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Yoga is definitely not religious. Oy! It can be quite spiritual, but not in a way that would conflict with anyone's existing religious beliefs. Very silly.

I have been doing yoga for a while but I recently started taking family yoga with the kids. Just my daughter the first time but my son joined us last week and we all loved it. It's great for kids, and I agree that it's a fantastic physical outlet for kids who aren't into sports. I wish they had taught it in school when I was a kid.

wlillie's picture
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Stacey, have you looked at their website?

I would have no problem with my kid taking the class, but the fact is that people would have a very different stance if you substituted the word Christian for Ashtanga. To pretend like these parents don't have a right to be upset when people think that all prayer must be taken out of all schools is wrong. It's either one way or the other. You can't allow one religious aspect and tell the majority that their's isn't acceptable.

The district is in charge of writing the curriculum and hiring teachers, though the contract stipulated that the instructors must be trained by the Jois Foundation

The Jois Family :: Jois Yoga :: Ashtanga Yoga in the Tradition of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (Guruji)
Ashtanga Yoga Background

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Where do you see that they are bringing religion into the school?

We used to have a local minister as a substitute. He never brought religion into the classes.

Alissa_Sal's picture
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"wlillie" wrote:

Stacey, have you looked at their website?

I would have no problem with my kid taking the class, but the fact is that people would have a very different stance if you substituted the word Christian for Ashtanga. To pretend like these parents don't have a right to be upset when people think that all prayer must be taken out of all schools is wrong. It's either one way or the other. You can't allow one religious aspect and tell the majority that their's isn't acceptable.

The district is in charge of writing the curriculum and hiring teachers, though the contract stipulated that the instructors must be trained by the Jois Foundation

The Jois Family :: Jois Yoga :: Ashtanga Yoga in the Tradition of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (Guruji)
Ashtanga Yoga Background

I didn't see anything about god or religion on either of those websites. I admit I was skimming. What did you see?

Spacers's picture
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"wlillie" wrote:

Stacey, have you looked at their website?

I would have no problem with my kid taking the class, but the fact is that people would have a very different stance if you substituted the word Christian for Ashtanga. To pretend like these parents don't have a right to be upset when people think that all prayer must be taken out of all schools is wrong. It's either one way or the other. You can't allow one religious aspect and tell the majority that their's isn't acceptable.

The district is in charge of writing the curriculum and hiring teachers, though the contract stipulated that the instructors must be trained by the Jois Foundation

The Jois Family :: Jois Yoga :: Ashtanga Yoga in the Tradition of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (Guruji)
Ashtanga Yoga Background

The problem with the bolded is that "Christian" is a religion and "Ashtanga" is simply a word in the Sanskrit language that means "eight-limbed." Apples and oranges.

And yes, I've looked at the Jois website and I found nothing about religion on it.

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I don't see anything about religion there either.

GloriaInTX's picture
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Are they going to skip practice on Moon Days?

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"GloriaInTX" wrote:

Are they going to skip practice on Moon Days?

If they did, would that be a conflict with anyone's religious beliefs?

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"GloriaInTX" wrote:

Are they going to skip practice on Moon Days?

They might not bring practice to school on those days no.. Just like we get Christmas off and Christmas vacation off. Doesn't make it religious. Doesn't force you to partake in any religious encounters.

My Spanish professor in college was Jewish (I'm assuming still is!) and she took off Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana so our classes were cancelled for her. Never once did I think that meant I had to become a practicing Jewish woman.

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"Jessica80" wrote:

They might not bring practice to school on those days no.. Just like we get Christmas off and Christmas vacation off. Doesn't make it religious. Doesn't force you to partake in any religious encounters.

My Spanish professor in college was Jewish (I'm assuming still is!) and she took off Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana so our classes were cancelled for her. Never once did I think that meant I had to become a practicing Jewish woman.

Our elementary school actually closes on the Jewish holidays as well. In this case it may just be that the teachers don't teach on those days.

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I am fine with that. The town we live in does not have a high population of Jewish residents so they just get an exempted day off. Teachers can take day off too.

wlillie's picture
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Ashtanga yoga literally means "eight-limbed yoga," as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self consists of the following eight spiritual practices:

Yama [moral codes]
Niyama [self-purification and study]
Asana [posture]
Pranayama [breath control]
Pratyahara [sense control]
Dharana [concentration]
Dhyana [meditation]
Samadhi [absorption into the Universal] (Scott 14-17)

I define religion as what you practice that deals with your soul/spirit. This would be EXACTLY like someone saying that a Baptist church funding a prayer session is not religious because they didn't have anything religious in the class. Even though prayer has been around a long time before organized religion and is often seen as secular (wishes/karma/blahblahblah), if a Baptist preacher is teaching a prayer session, they are being religous. JUST like a guru teaching Ashtanga yoga is being religious (or spiritual) when they are practicing it.

As for the Jois family not being religious, you guys must not have clicked on any of the biographies listed. All of them are gurus or learned from a guru and the woman teaches in temples and the word spiritual pops up quite a bit. Do you separate the term spiritual from religious? I know you can be spiritual wihtout being religous, but the fact that there are leaders, teahcers, and an outline for their followers to use, means it's a religion whether you want to acknowledge it or not.

the rest of it was blocked from work and I do have some to do, so I'll post the rest later.

http://kpjayi.org/biographies/k-pattabhi-jois

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Wow-- I'm just stuck on the sentence where the parents against this and the group backing them says that they are for civil liberties and traditional marriage in the same sentence. Oy.

Our public elementary school offers yoga to our kids and each of our school age kids have taken it. No religion in it at all.

Even our Methodist church offers it. It is exercise and poses and breathing-- not worship.

Spacers's picture
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I never said that the Jois family isn't religious or that they don't use Ashtanga Yoga as part of their religious practices. But that doesn't mean that they don't or can't *teach* the yoga poses to children or others without any religious teachings involved. Any of us can cut an apple in half crosswise and show our kids a star. I learned that story in Sunday School; years later, I'm sharing it with my kids without the God part. Just because other people put the God part into the story when they cut an apple doesn't mean that either the story itself or the act of cutting the apple are religious.

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"Spacers" wrote:

I never said that the Jois family isn't religious or that they don't use Ashtanga Yoga as part of their religious practices. But that doesn't mean that they don't or can't *teach* the yoga poses to children or others without any religious teachings involved. Any of us can cut an apple in half crosswise and show our kids a star. I learned that story in Sunday School; years later, I'm sharing it with my kids without the God part. Just because other people put the God part into the story when they cut an apple doesn't mean that either the story itself or the act of cutting the apple are religious.

I agree.
Again, you can be religious all you want and still bring non religious teachings to a school. We had quiet moments when I was school too. You could pray. You could just stare at your hands. It was *your* silent time. Doesn't make it religious in nature just because you personally use it that way.

mom3girls's picture
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My oldest was in 1st grade at the Lutheran school I teach at and her teacher at the time told her that Yoga was not allowed at our school because it is a different religion. (she is not teaching at the school anymore)

I would not have problems with my kids doing it, I think exposure to it is awesome. But I can see where some parents are coming from. If the Ashtanga center were not involved then I think the school would be in a better position.

mom3girls's picture
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"Jessica80" wrote:

I agree.
Again, you can be religious all you want and still bring non religious teachings to a school. We had quiet moments when I was school too. You could pray. You could just stare at your hands. It was *your* silent time. Doesn't make it religious in nature just because you personally use it that way.

But what if (using Lillies baptist church reference) a baptist church was sponsoring a class with all religion stripped away but had a moment of silence during the class? Would you understand why some people would be questioning it?

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If they were sponsoring a class that had no religious connotations on it and they offered a "moment of silence" that was free to do what you want and not have prayer associated with it. I would never question it.

wlillie's picture
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"Jessica80" wrote:

If they were sponsoring a class that had no religious connotations on it and they offered a "moment of silence" that was free to do what you want and not have prayer associated with it. I would never question it.

Yoga does have religious connotations though. You can obviously have prayer with religious connotations, but it is often used in a non-religious way. Just like you can have yoga used in a non-religious way but it has religious connotations. So to have a Yoga class sponsored by a spiritual group with the condition that the teachers be trained by a religious/spiritual family is just like having a Prayer class taught by a preacher without actually using the word God. You Can Not Have It Both Ways.

In Lisa's scenario, it'd be like the kids having to bow their heads during the moment of silence. It's performing an action that the teacher finds to be religious.

Either religion is out or it's in.

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But this isn't religion Lillie. It's physical exercise. I"m not trying to have it both ways.

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Sorry, Lillie, but you are just wrong. Yoga has no religious connotations unless *you* as the practicer bring them into *your* yoga practice. And the teachers are being trained not by "a religious family" but by experts in this particular style of yoga -- who also happen to practice religion. I think the vast majority of us are able to distinguish between doing one's job of teaching yoga and practicing one's religion which might incorporate yoga, or might not.

This would be like one of my interns refusing to work with me because I'm an atheist; my religion or lack thereof has nothing to do with the analytical work that I'm an expert in and that I'm training them to do. If one of my interns wants to bring a little bit of God into his work, that would be fine, as long as he learns the nuts & bolts of what I'm teaching him first, and doesn't let his religious beliefs get in the way of doing the job.

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I am completely non-religious, I'm actually an atheist, and I go to yoga classes 3 times a week. My daughter goes once a week, and I take both kids and go to family yoga. Kids yoga in particular is really just about being in touch with your body and stretching and doing poses. In the family yoga there are even silly games. The kids do frog jumps and downward-facing-dog and legs-up-the-wall and the closest they get to spirituality is saying "I Am So Calm, I Am So Focused" as the touch each of their own fingers individually with their thumb.

Some yoga classes for adults are spiritual and some aren't, but kids yoga is definitely just about exercise. And any more spiritual class I've been in presented NO clash with anyone's religious beliefs OR my atheism.

mom3girls's picture
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I have been to a few yoga classes that are very religious. I think it is silly to pretend that there are no yoga teachers that offer the religion teachings. The yoga class I attend now is very much non religion, but it is taught at a gym instead of a yoga studio

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No one is pretending that some may have yoga entwined with religious teachings but it doesn't mean yoga=religion.

wlillie's picture
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No, it would be like a nutrition class taught by a PETA member. Your beliefs don't affect your work or how you do your work; in the instance of teaching something you believe you need to be spiritually whole, there is no way to completely divide the exercise and the religion. The type of yoga the foundation practices is religious. I'm sorry, but there is no way they are able to completely separate their spiritual beliefs from their work.

eta-Laurie, are those classes taught by and funded by a spiritual foundation?

Alissa_Sal's picture
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"Jessica80" wrote:

But this isn't religion Lillie. It's physical exercise. I"m not trying to have it both ways.

I agree with this.

It would be impossible to separate prayer from religion, because the sole purpose of prayer is religious. That's why atheists don't pray. Physical activity is a lot easier to separate out.

I see this as more like singing. Sure, you can sing in church, and have it be religious. But you can also easily separate it out and have non religious singing. If my kid's choir teacher was a Christian, that would be fine, as long as she wasn't having him sing religious songs.

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Musical genres are often born out of other styles. For example, Jazz and Blues stemmed (in part) from religious spirituals and church.

So does that mean we can't play Jazz and Blues music in school because by definition is has religious origins?

Thus, how can we say we must ban all yoga because some yoga is religious and yoga in general has religious roots?

My daughter rejects religion and if there was any religion embedded in her yoga class, she wouldn't have taken it. She's taken it 3 out of the 4 semesters she's had to take PE. She loves it!

wlillie's picture
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Is her yoga class taught by someone who practices yoga as a religion? How about those Jazz and Blues music teachers? Do they get their funding from a religious organization who gives them the money on condition they receive their training from their religious organization?

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Yoga is not a religion.

wlillie's picture
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Ashtanga Yoga most definitely is.

Ashtanga Yoga Background

However, defects in the internal cleansing practices—pratyahara, dharana, dhyana—are not correctable and can be dangerous to the mind unless the correct Ashtanga yoga method is followed (Stern and Summerbell 35). For this reason, Pattabhi Jois emphasizes that the "Ashtanga Yoga method is Patanjali Yoga" (Flynn).

The four internal cleansing practices—pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi—bring the mind under control (Stern and Summerbell 35). When purification is complete and mind control occurs, the Six Poisons surrounding the spiritual heart [kama (desire), krodha (anger), moha (delusion), lobha (greed), matsarya (sloth), and mada (envy)]—"will, one by one, go completely" (Stern and Summerbell 35), revealing the Universal Self. In this way, the correct, diligent practice of Ashtanga Yoga under the direction of a Guru "with a subdued mind unshackled from the external and internal sense organs" (Jois 2002 22) eventually leads one to the full realization of Patanjali's eight-limbed yoga.

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"wlillie" wrote:

No, it would be like a nutrition class taught by a PETA member. Your beliefs don't affect your work or how you do your work; in the instance of teaching something you believe you need to be spiritually whole, there is no way to completely divide the exercise and the religion. The type of yoga the foundation practices is religious. I'm sorry, but there is no way they are able to completely separate their spiritual beliefs from their work.

eta-Laurie, are those classes taught by and funded by a spiritual foundation?

No, it's a yoga studio run by local moms who teach and practice yoga. Of the three main teachers there, one is more spiritual in her teaching, the others it's not really so visible. But the spirituality presents no conflict, as I said, whether it's to someone who is religious and strong in their beliefs or someone like me who would resent the intrusion of someone's religion into my practice.

I've taken yoga at many different studios, though.

But when you take a yoga class at a gym, I believe it's pretty focused on the physical, as it would be when taught in schools. They have it as an optional (lunchtime enrichment) class at our elementary school as well.

Rivergallery's picture
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I do yoga and tai-chi. I would never allow my children to do either without me there. Fact is it CAN be religious. And in a public school there is no guarantee as to what they are teaching as you are not there. I remember when I was in 6th grade we had a meditation course, it was way weird and the guy talked about imagining yourself free, no restrictions, no clothing. I got up and left. I would never want to put my children in an uncomfortable place like that before they were mature enough to know their own boundaries.

I do teach the children yoga and tai-chi myself and would allow them to take martial arts courses IF I personally knew the instructor and trusted them. I don't know any well enough or agree with them enough to put my boys in it. It is something that is a bit of a conflict to me as I would like them to learn it, but without any religions attached.. and though it is often said nothing is mentioned, it often is anyway.

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I think though when putting your kids in public school you put some amount in trust that they are following the rules. Yes, it's not often the case but it doesn't seem the parents are interested in learning more....I just read an article about how they are suing and it just seems to be that they *think* it might be religious but have no proof. Bizarre to me.

Rivergallery's picture
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Of course, if you put your child in public school you have to realize they have total control and can make parental decisions for your child while they are there. Just depends if you trust them or not. I would opt out if my kiddos were in school, just like I would opt out for halloween/santa/easter bunny.. I would probably want to see science and history books.. yeah I am a pain, it is a good thing I can homeschool LOL Smile

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Oh I don't disagree with questioning anything you are concerned about. I just think in this case they making mountains out of molehills. But in general, my kids wouldn't be in a school that I doubted all the time.