Home | Classifieds | Place an ad | Obituaries | Public Notices | Galleries | Opinions | Real Estate Search | 928 Media Lab | Contact Us | Subscribe | Yellow Pages
Prescott Valley Tribune | Prescott Valley, Arizona

home : opinions : commentary April 24, 2015

3/13/2013 11:05:00 AM
Battling over yoga in public schools
Charles C. Haynes
First Amendment Center

Is yoga secular or religious?

That's the conundrum at the heart of a new legal battle in Encinitas, Calif., over the teaching of yoga in public schools.

In a lawsuit filed last month, a couple with two children in the Encinitas schools charge that the district is unconstitutionally promoting religion by giving yoga classes twice a week to students during the school day.

School officials insist that the yoga classes are for physical fitness - and have nothing to do with religion or religious indoctrination.

The outcome of case could impact hundreds of other public schools nationwide that incorporate yoga postures and breathing exercises into their wellness and fitness programs.

Because "yoga" is used to describe a bewildering variety of classes and programs that dot the American landscape, from retreat centers and ashrams to shopping malls and gyms, it's easy to forget that yoga originated in ancient India as a school of Hindu philosophy.

Many yoga practitioners embrace the religious roots and spiritual meaning of yoga while many others view yoga largely as a healthy exercise and stress reduction regimen.

Public schools, of course, adopt the "healthy exercise" definition in order to comply with the First Amendment's prohibition of school promotion or endorsement of religion. That's why yoga programs adopted by schools all claim to be secular, although they negotiate the traditional religious framework in a variety of ways.

On one end of the spectrum, a program offered to schools called "Grounded" retains Sanskrit terms such as asanas (poses) and doesn't shy away from referencing the Chakra System, the "seven major energy centers in the body" as understood in many Eastern religious traditions.

On the other end, Yoga Ed - which claims to be in 150 schools in 27 states - eschews Sanskrit terms and avoids anything that could be construed as religious teaching (meditation, for example, is "time in"). According to Yoga Ed, yoga is science, not religion.

Not surprisingly, attempts to completely secularize yoga have met with resistance - and not just from Christian parents like those in Encinitas.

Many Hindus argue that authentic yoga is inseparable from its philosophical roots in Hinduism. To underscore this point, the Hindu American Foundation launched a "take back yoga" campaign in 2010 to remind people of yoga's Hindu origins.

Moreover, many yoga practitioners view yoga postures and breathing exercises as inherently spiritual, giving spiritual benefits even to those who practice yoga solely for health reasons without any interest in the religious meaning of their practice.

To what extent, if any, yoga practices can be fully divorced from religious roots or spiritual efficacy is a metaphysical and theological debate that can't be resolved in a court of law.

What courts can and must do, however, is determine if a school's yoga program explicitly conveys religious teachings or messages. This means that the more a yoga program avoids religious language and metaphysical explanations, the more likely it is to be upheld as constitutional.

If the court does uphold yoga classes in Encinitas (as is likely), schools elsewhere will get the message that yoga can be sufficiently secularized to pass constitutional muster. Parents who object will have no recourse but to opt their children out (an option Encinitas currently offers).

The larger question of whether yoga practices are inherently spiritual will remain unanswered - and hotly debated.

Is yoga still yoga when stripped of all religious trappings? That's a religious issue the First Amendment can't resolve.

Charles C. Haynes is director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum, Washington, D.C., 20001. Email him at chaynes@freedomforum.org.

    Most Viewed     Recently Commented
•   Bradshaw senior to assist in making film (346 views)

•   Motorcycle accident sends rider to hospital in serious condition (198 views)

•   Crash at Highway 69, Fain Road kills 1 (193 views)

•   Volunteer K9 groomer receives special award (181 views)

•   Prescott Valley police can reduce crash scene road closures with new technology (176 views)

Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, March 16, 2013
Article comment by: Babylon Babble-on

Richey Hope: Why did you have to go and say that? Now they'll ban push-ups in public schools... Go figure.

Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Article comment by: Richey Hope

Until I read about yoga being a religious practice, I never thought about yoga as anything but an exercise thing, though after trying it I said (to myself) "Holy @#$%!!--this is tough!". I now see other connections. For example, the push-up is being done everywhere in schools and all our service branches. Yet, having seen the 100% true visualization of Jesus's crucification by religious authoritarian Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion", I now know that doing push-ups is a Christian thing. Jesus falls down many times with a heavy wooden cross on his back. Anyone can see he does push-ups to lift himself and that cross back to a vertical position. Look at his impressive muscle tone! He obviously got that from doing push-ups, a thing never done before in public. QED: push-ups are religious.

Article Comment Submission Form
Comments are not posted immediately. Submissions must adhere to our Use of Service Terms of Use agreement. Rambling or nonsensical comments may not be posted. Comments are limited to Facebook character limits. In order for us to reasonably manage this feature we may limit excessive comment entries.
Submit an Article Comment
First Name:
Last Name:
Anti-SPAM Passcode Click here to see a new mix of characters.
This is an anti-SPAM device. It is not case sensitive.

Advanced Search

HSE - We want to hear from you

Find It Features Blogs Milestones Extras Submit Other Publications Local Listings
Classifieds | Place an ad | Public Notices | Galleries | Opinions | Real Estate Search | Contact Us | Subscribe | e-newsletter | RSS | Site Map
© Copyright 2015 Prescott Newspapers, Inc. The Prescott Valley Tribune is the information source for Prescott Valley area communities in Northern Arizona. Original content may not be reprinted or distributed without the written permission of Prescott Newspapers, Inc. Prescott Newspapers Online is a service of Prescott Newspapers, Inc. By using the Site, pvtrib.com ®, you agree to abide and be bound by the Site's terms of use and Privacy Policy, which prohibit commercial use of any information on the Site. Click here to submit your questions, comments or suggestions. Prescott Newspapers Online is a proud publication of Western News&Info Inc.® All Rights Reserved.

Software © 1998-2015 1up! Software, All Rights Reserved