Saturday, February 23, 2013

Yoga in Schools = Religion in Schools? Really?

The Jois Foundation in the US has started a program to teach yoga in schools.  This is apparently a huge issue to some people, to the point where there is a lawsuit and all sorts of kerfuffle, because it is being taken as a way to push eastern religions on young children.  If you want more of the back story, I have been reading it at the Confluence Countdown blog.  There was an uproar a few months ago, and now again, and the whole thing baffles me, especially some of the information in this post

The big issues for me in this scenario are twofold.
1.  Is yoga religious?
2.  How do you get people past the plethora of misconceptions that people often have about yoga (ie: it is a Hindu practice)?

To tackle the first one, and I certainly can't speak for everyone here, but something that I really liked about yoga when I first began is that there was no push for it to be about any God.  I think there was a Ganesha in the first shala that I practised in, but I don't actually even remember.  Clearly the "Hindu brainwashing" didn't work.  Even after being to Mysore and studying at the KPJAYI shala four times, I don't feel Hindu at all.  I like going into Hindu temples, and I have a particular fondness for Ganesha, but I also really like going into beautiful old churches with stained glass windows.  I haven't been inside a mosque, but I do appreciate their magnificence from the outside, and the haunting sound of the call to prayer used to call me to my yoga mat when I lived in Indonesia.   Oh, and I enjoy Buddhist temples as well, especially the prayer wheels that you spin to send the prayers out into the universe.  So what does that make me?  I can safely say that even with four and a half years of committed Ashtanga yoga practice, I haven't turned into a Hindu.  I think of the idea of isvara pranidhana, surrender to god, as a choice.  Hindus can worship more than one deity; there may be a Ganesha, Lakshmi and Hanuman (for example) all in their personal puja room.  Christians or Muslims or anyone else can choose the name for their god that is appropriate to their personal belief and still practice surrender to that source of divinity as an aspect of yoga.  To answer my main question about whether or not yoga is religious, I would have to say no.  It is a practice which encourages growth in the areas of faith and devotion and surrender, but there is nothing I have seen or experienced in yoga that dictates who you may or may not worhsip, or how to go about doing so, which seems to be the main premise of organised religion.

What about the  misinformation that surrounds yoga, especially in these circumstances?  How can the yoga community address that?  In the second link you see in the first paragraph of this post, there is a list of some of the complaints that people have with the yoga program in schools, one of which is that it is taught in "Hindu language."  That confused me.  What the heck is Hindu language?   Are they referring to Hindi?  Which is spoken throughout India by people of all religions?  (And if there are yoga teachers who have learned Hindi to teach their classes they are certainly going the extra mile...)  Maybe they are referring to Sanskrit, which is indeed an ancient language that many Hindu texts were originally written in, but an awful lot of non religious writing comes in Sanskrit too.  Complaining about Sanskrit would be like complaining about the use of Latin (used in many religious texts as well, no?), and even my rural Alberta high school had a Latin motto emblazoned on the gymnasium wall and the school hoodies.  Yes yoga posture names are indeed originally in Sanskrit, but to say for example, "Hanumanasana" gives away less about Hinduism than saying "monkey jumping across the ocean to defeat the evil bad guy posture."  If people are going to go to such an effort to make a fuss, why don't they do even the simplest of research first?  This language bit is just one example of the silliness.  I don't know how these classes are being taught, but if they resemble at all a traditional Ashtanga class, there can't be too much religious indoctrination happening.  Thinking of my friends from all over the world in the yoga community, hundreds of people, I can only think of a few who would identify as Hindu.  Just saying.

To me, yoga for kids is a great idea, and something I would have loved when I was growing up.  Childhood obesity is undoubtedly on the rise, and children don't seem to be getting enough time in their schools for physical education anymore, but it would almost be better if the Jois Foundation could make it into a free extra-curricular activity.  The movement, breathing, and concentration aspects of a yoga practice are undoubtedly good for children, as well as the fact that it is entirely non-competitive, but sounds like parents just want the option of getting their kids involved or not.  Why such a hullabaloo though?  I simply don't understand.     

1 comment:

  1. Yoga is the natural way to stay happy, healthy and stress free. It is the best home exercises you can do around the house.
    Yoga Training In Rishikesh

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