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.