Yoga in public schools is exercise, not religion


I have little sympathy for folks like Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, devout Christians who sued the Encinitas Union School District, claiming that teaching yoga to their kids twice a week amounted to unconstitutional religious indoctrination.

Despite the quasi-spiritual trappings, yoga, as it’s widely practiced by millions of Americans of all faiths, is no instrument of religious indoctrination.

It’s exercise.

In Encinitas, it’s being taught to kids in an effort to reduce bullying, obesity and overcompetitiveness.

Today, a San Diego County Superior Court judge said yoga classes are not the same as religious instruction, and ruled that the classes may continue.

The plaintiffs and their attorney, Dean Broyles of the National Center for Law and Policy, claimed that giving kids a little bit of yoga twice a week amounts to an unlawful embrace of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism or Western metaphysics.

I find that ironic, actually. Usually the argument is over whether devout Christians have the right to practice religion any old public place. But I digress.

Written By: Robin Abcarian
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  1. Maybe they should call it stretching or something. I personally have no problems with the yoga exercises but when they start chanting and/or talking about inner spirituality stuff, it’s gonna be crossing the line. If it’s possible to keep the whoo out I’m ok but apparently the instructors are still working these things out. Maybe the yoga company should get their instructors 100% on board about not getting all whoo with other people’s children first.

    And honestly, I am glad these religious people sort of feel imposed on. Maybe they’ll, in turn, impose on other less. It wasn’t so long ago where Christianity was the only game in town. Maybe it’s time for a second (third) look at “under god”.

    Also, I find the snark in the article to be off putting.

  2. I’m slightly torn on this one.

    In 2007 we had a bit of an issue in the UK when the dear old CofE banned toddler yoga groups from one of its church halls (a church hall in England is pretty much the local community centre for anything and everything, and it is very rare for the church to veto what goes on):

    It is easy to default to pro-secular Christian-bashing mode at this point, but there is little doubt that some schools of yoga are extremely “spiritual” and I can see a case (of sorts) for a religion not wanting its facilities to be used to promote a rival religion (Hinduism, essentially). Similarly it is understandable that secular facilities should not (in America) be used to promote a religion.

    There must be plenty of other ways for toddlers to get some exercise, as exemplified by what happens in hundreds of thousands of other schools which do not teach yoga.

  3. PS. Traditionally an Ashtanga yoga session begins with a mantra:-

    I bow to the lotus feet of the gurus,
    The awakening happiness of one’s own self revealed,
    Beyond better, acting like the jungle physician,
    Pacifying delusion, the poison of samsara.

    Taking the form of a man to the shoulders,
    Holding a conch, a discus, and a sword,
    One thousand heads white,
    To Patanjali, I salute.

    It ends with another mantra:

    May prosperity be glorified,
    may rulers (administrators) rule the world with law and justice,
    may divinity and erudition be protected.
    May all beings be happy and prosperous.

    You may or may not agree there is a religious aspect to this.

    This school is teaching ashtanga yoga because it accepted a $500,000 grant from the foundation set up by the founder of ashtanga yoga. I imagine they want to hang on to the money. But if the Vatican gave them $500,000 to promote Catholicism, what’s the difference?

  4. I don’t know about this. On one hand the yoga classes I’ve taken have been very secular. No Namaste, no becoming one with the universe, just movements with hard to pronounce names. If someone came up with an exercise where you got up and down from a kneeling position and used the traditional greeting “peace be with you” I’d be peeved. Keep the exercise, loose the woo.

  5. These silly Christians have never been to a yoga class. They are reacting to what they think a yoga class would be like.

  6. As a young person who lives in Encinitas, I can testify that this yoga class is entirely secular. I have many friends who have taken it and it in no way had any religious aspect to it. It’s simply the exercises. Yoga is extremely popular in Encinitas and the schools are using that as a way to get people more interested in fitness and health. They practice and Americanized version of yoga that is just about doing stretching positions and wearing sexy yoga pants. This ruling was right because this class(that you have to sign up for in the first place) does not impose any religion on students.

  7. In my neck of the woods yoga is primarily associated with New Age, mind/body healing crap. Most of the people I know that do yoga also do reike, homeopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture and they’re obsessed with balancing their chakras. Yoga might be adequate exercise, but it comes with some baggage.

  8. In reply to #6 by clinton.connal:

    As a young person who lives in Encinitas, I can testify that this yoga class is entirely secular. I have many friends who have taken it and it in no way had any religious aspect to it. It’s simply the exercises. Yoga is extremely popular in Encinitas and the schools are using that as a way to get pe…

    you need to do some reading:

    “Generally put, yoga is a disciplined method utilized for attaining a goal.[13] The ultimate goal of Yoga is moksha though the exact definition of what form this takes depends on the philosophical or theological system with which it is conjugated. Bhakti schools of Vaishnavism combine yoga with devotion to enjoy an eternal presence of Vishnu.[21] In Shaiva theology, yoga is used to unite kundalini with Shiva.[22] Mahabharata defines the purpose of yoga as the experience of Brahman or Ātman pervading all things.[23]”

    in plain english the entire point of the system of yoga is to obtain union with god.


  9. In reply to #11 by drawohara:

    You commit the same fallacy in comment 10 and comment 11. You point to historically spiritual/religious content in yogic practice and imply that modern yoga in general – and the Encinitas program specifically – must therefore be religious in character. The conclusion simply does not follow from the evidence you cite.

    No one is contesting the fact that yoga is historically religious in character, nor that it is still practiced in that way by some. You offer these bits of information as though they might surprise anyone. (I particularly like the line “You need to do some reading.” Very nice.)

    Astoundingly, you offer this fallacy as an attempt to educate another poster who claims to have direct accounts of the classes in question from people who have personally attended them. As if the information you link to is more salient to the discussion than what actually happens at these classes!

    You might as well have said, “sorry clinton.connal, but whatever your friends may THINK they were doing in that class, their REAL intent was to obtain union with god. The content of the class does not matter, the key point is that 19th century monks introduced these positions and movements to the west, and THEY considered them to have religious significance. So now everybody who does anything called ‘yoga’ is actually engaging in a religious ritual.

    By your logic everyone who eats s’mores is trying to avoid masterbation, since that was the intended purpose for which Sylvester Graham developed his famous cracker.

    Newsflash. I can decorate a tree in December without attaching paganistic significance, I can study martial arts without subscribing to buddhist philosophies, and I can definitely learn and practice yoga without being indoctrinated into hindu beliefs. The determining factor in each case, is not the history of the practice but how it is approached in a given, specific case.

  10. Yes, obviously.

    I doubt most westerners are even capable of “understanding” the religious aspects of Yoga. The people protesting this believe that demons actually exist, because they haven’t watched enough Supernatural (one of my favourite shows BTW!).

  11. i found it rather depressing that they felt they had to change the name of the lotus position to crisscross apple sauce position. How can the word lotus be seen as somehow subversive. What could it lead to…….?

  12. TenderHooligan @ 15

    “How can the word lotus be seen as somehow subversive. What could it lead to…….?”

    Lotus eating?

  13. In reply to #16 by Geoff 21:

    TenderHooligan @ 15

    “How can the word lotus be seen as somehow subversive. What could it lead to…….?”

    Lotus eating?

    As opposed to applesauce eating. Such hedonism!

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