Yoga Causes Tension for Public Schools, Oct. 2, 2002

Professional football teams do it. Madonna does it every day. Even a U.S. Supreme Court justice does it. But some don’t want elementary school kids doing yoga on the grounds it teaches public school children about religion.

“It’s a church and state issue,” Steve Woodrow, the father of a first grader, said.

Woodrow, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Aspen, Colo., became upset when his daughter’s public school announced that yoga classes would begin this fall. He and other parents 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.

But the American Yoga Association and the school disagree. “The common belief that Yoga derives from Hinduism is a misconception,” AYA’s Web site states. “Yoga actually predates Hinduism by many centuries.”

Aspen schools Superintendent Tom Farrell was shocked by the charges.

“I was surprised when there was an outcry from some people,” he said. “The idea to incorporate yoga into the school came from the principal and some parents who thought it might help the students relax,” he said. “

If I thought for a minute it was religion in the schools, I wouldn’t promote it,” Farrell said.

The date of yoga’s origin is hard to nail down but the popularity is impressive. The combination of breathing, stretching and posing has become one of America’s hottest physical fitness trends. According to Yoga Journal, 15 million people practice yoga in the United States, up from 12 million in 1998. The growth parallels a nationwide trend. According to the IDEA Health & Fitness Association, 31 percent of fitness facilities offered yoga in 1996. In 2001, 69 percent offered it. But despite the popularity Woodrow thinks the younger set isn’t ready.

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. “Yoga is not a religion,” the AYA states online. “It has no creed or fixed set of beliefs, nor is there a prescribed godlike figure to be worshipped in a particular manner — 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 school recently went through and deleted all religious references in the curriculum and says kids don’t have to take the class if their parents strongly object.

Classes in Aspen kicked off last week and while students may be getting more flexible from yoga the warring sides in this issue aren’t bending. Woodrow said this will likely end up in the courts.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday October 4, 2002.
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