Should Yoga be Taught in Public Schools?

With so many distractions in our daily lives, we need a discipline like yoga to help provide a structure that is physically as well as mentally engaging to help our students.

Yoga Journal Magazine and newspaper reports about elementary school parents in Encinitas protesting Ashtanga yoga classes as part of the regular curriculum have resurrected the question of whether yoga should be taught in public schools. Amid concern that the classes promote Hinduism, the objectors say its spiritual underpinnings make it unconstitutional as part of a public school program.

Consider the definitions offered by Webster’s dictionary for yoga as a “Hindu philosophy” and Hatha yoga as a system of physical exercises and one wonders if any of the parents attended the classes?  In teaching Hatha yoga classes to children in Novato schools or YMCA summer camps, I encourage parents to join in so they will feel more comfortable about my approach to teaching yoga.

When teaching Hatha yoga to children or teenagers, I emphasize that the names of poses represent qualities such as grace in movement in Dancer’s Pose. Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation is a greeting to the day and the sun, the feelings of light and warmth. In Tree Pose, I will ask the students to think about their favorite tree and how the different parts of the tree make it strong and healthy. In Warrior Poses, we will talk about the qualities of a great warrior — bravery, courage and honor and, while sitting in Hero Pose, I ask the students to name people who are their heroes or champions.

Many people who practice Hatha yoga are followers of their own religious traditions.  As an educator, I follow the many scientific studies that are being done in the world that point up the benefits of yoga to children: better self-control, better grades, improved coordination and balance, greater ability to focus and pay attention.

With so many distractions in our daily lives, we need a discipline like yoga to help provide a structure that is physically as well as mentally engaging to help our students.

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Kathleen Freitag January 25, 2013 at 09:17 PM
I think yoga could be incorporated as part of the physical education component-I have practiced yoga for over 10 years and it has helped me handle stress and changes in life-as well as the physical benefits of learning to breathe better from a a regular practice. This has helped way more than all the volleyball and baskeball I played in school.
Tina McMillan January 26, 2013 at 09:11 AM
After reading some of the articles about the school district in Encinitas it seems that what was missing was an alternative program for parents who did not want children doing yoga. Even though the dissenting group is small, having a choice seems like the reasonable thing to do. Encinitas received a $533,000 grant providing funding to add yoga as part of a total wellness program concept throughout its schools. Some families view yoga as a spiritual tradition. This is where the conflict arises. It would seem more reasonable to provide an alternative that includes cardio, stretching, balance and muscle strength. This issue should be settled by finding common ground. Accepting the spiritual aspect of yoga is part of understanding how it is viewed by others. Attaching "Mindfulness" to a physical workout would provide an experience similar to yoga without the issue of spirituality emerging. We need to give families choices in areas of public education. No matter how good something can be it doesn't necessarily mean it fits everyone's beliefs. The more we work to understand one another the greater the likelihood we will find what we share in common.
Rose Hansen January 31, 2013 at 02:21 AM
Christine, thank you for sharing your perspective. Scientific studies have shown that the effects of including both yoga and meditation as part of a middle school curriculum resulted in better work habits, improved attendance, higher levels of cooperation with teachers and substantially higher GPAs than those who did not take the part in these programs(Benson, 2000.)
Rose Hansen January 31, 2013 at 02:23 AM
Thanks, Kathleen, for sharing your experience of how yoga has benefited you. All the best.
Rose Hansen January 31, 2013 at 02:37 AM
Hi Tina! I completely agree that parents should have a voice in their children's education, just as they can opt out of sex education. To offer you more context, the more than half-million dollar grant to the Encinitas school was given by the Jois Foundation, which was co-founded by Ashtanga yoga master, K. Pattabhi Jois. The three year program is in partnership with researchers of the University of San Diego and the University of Virginia to see how yoga classes affect the students' academic performance as well as their health. Offering an alternate program might entail getting separate funding. Thank you for adding your wisdom to the conversation.


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