Hindu Calls for Nationwide Yoga in US Schools

A recent Hindu endorsement of Colorado
elementary schools’ inclusion
of yoga into elementary schools
has raised questions
about yoga’s alleged status as a secular practice. Rajan Zed,
President of the Universal Society of Hinduism, urges “all
elementary-middle-high schools of the nation to incorporate yoga in
the lives of the students.” Colorado’s inclusion of yoga into elementary schools vis a vis
“yoga themed recesses” and “brain breaks” is being
spearheaded by The Wellness Initiative, which offers yoga
classes for students and has partnered with 34 schools and
institutions in Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, and
Jefferson counties. While Colorado may be the first state to
systematically offer yoga classes in multiple elementary school
settings, other states and programs have quietly been making
in-roads.

Yoga
Ed
has been training yoga and classroom teachers for
years, with
research suggesting the program is effective in
improving multiple domains of health. Since 2008 Kripalu Center’s
Institute for Extraordinary Living in Stockbridge, MA has been
testing yoga-based
curricula compared to Physical Education in local high schools
.
A recent study suggests improved
psychological health among yoga participants
. Many
other programs and research are underway, and hundreds of independent
yoga and meditation instructors teach in schools without any formal
affiliation.

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Programs and teachers have sold yoga to
schools under the premise that it’s a secular practice, scrubbed
free of Sanskrit and religious affiliations with Hinduism. Yet as the
culture
wars gear up again over “Bible bills”
intended to
slip religion back into schools, news that yoga is being offered in
schools with a Hindu endorsement is sure to strike a nerve.

Zed’s claims are not without
precedent. In India, there’s a widespread push to ensure yoga is a
compulsory part of education. This has angered Muslims, resulting in
Muslim schools being excluded from the edict. In the US, even
“secular yoga” is considered
demonic by some conservative Christians
and
sacrilegious
by those of other religious groups
. The western
reframing of yoga as a uniquely secular, sanitized practice divorced
of its metaphysical and religious origins has resulted in its
widespread acceptability among those of many faiths. This reframing
has inflamed Hindu nationalists and traditionalists, who are commonly
cited in the news
proclaiming yoga’s affiliation
with Hinduism and debt to Indian history, philosophy, and religion.

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Perhaps not without irony, the
widespread embrace of yoga—and inclusion of yoga into secular
settings such as schools—is contingent upon repression of the
partial truth outspoken Hindus are so eager to remind us of. There
is, of course, one certainty: whether modern yoga owes its origins to
Hinduism, Patanjali, Indian mystics, spiritual gymnastics, or Indian
martial arts (in fact, its modern origins are most likely a
combination of these) is beyond the point. While yoga can be
practiced as exercise, it will remain irreconcilably affiliated to
eastern mysticism and spirituality for many, which is likely to pose
a barrier for those hoping to gain widespread acceptance in school
settings.

What is your opinion about yoga being
offered in school settings?

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