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To Om Or Not To Om: Yoga, Public Schools, Spirituality

To Om Or Not To Om: Yoga, Public Schools, Spirituality


More and more schools are offering yoga as part of their physical education program. But if you’re teaching yoga in a public school, is it ok to say the Sankrit words such as “om” and “namaste,” to hold your hands in the prayer position and to chant? The spiritual aspects of yoga could potentially cause concerns in public school settings, where battles have arisen about the Pledge of Allegiance and its mention of the US being “one nation under God.”

In multi-religious, multi-ethnic New York City, yoga instructors are cautious. The yoga instructors interviewed in a New York Times article are not public school employees, but work for various yoga centers who contract with both public and private schools wishing to offer yoga classes. Some teachers describe their classes as a “namaste-free zone”:

“No namaste,” Jennifer Ford, the development director and one of the founders [of Bent on Learning, which teachers 3,300 students in 16 public schools], said. “No om. No prayer position with the hands. Nothing that anyone could look in and think, this is religious.”

The hard-line policy is stressed in the 100-hour Bent on Learning teacher training. Perhaps a teacher accustomed to working in other settings inadvertently puts hands together in a prayer position, for instance. “It is easily explained, and fixed,” Ms. Ford said. “We weed it out quickly.”

Shari Vilchez-Blatt, founder and director of Karma Kids Yoga, notes that she makes sure to check with school administrators about whether it’s all right to om or not to om. An after-school program at an Episcopal school does not object to the use of Sanskrit words and sees using them as a way to introduce children to other cultures and languages.

My 14-year-old son Charlie used to have yoga classes as part of his Adapted Physical Education program in a suburban New Jersey public school. The classes were taught by the school’s PE teacher and, as I noted when I happened to observe the students doing yoga one day, she did say “om” and “namaste” and held her hands in the prayer position. Charlie and the other children in his class are all on the autism spectrum and, the focus being on getting them to follow the instructor and imitate her as best they could, the spiritual and religious aspects of yoga were not at all noted. But yoga is deeply connected with the beliefs of Buddhism and Hinduism and taking note of this can teach children about other cultures and their cultural practices and beliefs.

Given the passions that arise about the mention of religion in public schools — consider the controversy about the California teacher who took 25 points off a student’s grade when he said “Bless You” — would yoga teachers in public school be best advised to make their classes a namaste-free zone?

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8:30PM PDT on Oct 26, 2011

Emily, the problem is that many conservative Christians (and Muslim and Jews, for all I know) think that the gestures and the words have a religious meaning. It doesn't matter that the gestures and words don't actually have a religious meaning.

8:04PM PDT on Oct 26, 2011

As long as the children are not being taught to follow a religion through yoga then I don't think that it so much matters if the words and gestures of the culture involved are used.

11:21PM PDT on Oct 21, 2011

This is true, Roger

Bringing this back on topic. This is one good reason for this sort of teaching in school. It tends to help kids (people in general) focus on their inner resources. In a time when kids have been stripped of much of the freedom and space that my generation had. That means they can be starved of resources for personal growth.

10:24PM PDT on Oct 21, 2011

It is always the case that the heavier (read: more binding to the consciousness) the activity, the more the person doing it wants to get other people to do it. The drunk just loves to get other people to get drunk with them. If you refuse to backbite, the backbiters will hate you. In Jane's case, the only thing in her life is sex; she is addicted to it. Since her consciousness is totally bound by sexuality, she wants everyone else to be similarly bound. It sort of makes the bound person feel justified in their activity.

10:18PM PDT on Oct 21, 2011

So, Dan G., what is to be learned from someone who does NOTHING except come into Care.2 discussions that are about nutrition and in this case, educating children and posts NOTHING relevant, always digresses into discussing her sex life and her beliefs on that topic? Some of us would like to be able to read comments without having to sort thru this stuff to see if anyone else actually HAS posted something relevant. Oh, and not to mention, DITTO to what Pego just posted........most of what was said changes from comment to comment, discussion to discussion, so pretty hard to give ANY credibility to a single thing stated. The only thing that can be deducted from any of her comments is that her mind wanders.

8:42PM PDT on Oct 21, 2011

Well, Mr/s SP

That would be because there is no sane reason to discuss with a self-admitted liar about her inapropriate sexual obsessions and pervarications on a thread about children. She is speaking on several sex-related threads, where that sort of thing is actually almost on topic. What, exactly, is preventing you from discussing sex on a sex thread, instead of a children thread?

3:22AM PDT on Oct 21, 2011

I have noticed that there is some criticism of a woman who has left comments here. I'd like to make a suggestion. Instead of criticising someone who simply wrote what she felt, see if it's possible to learn from what she said even if it does not agree with your personal views.many things I've read from this website I disagree with or are not to my taste- but does it really matter? If that's what someone believes in it's their freedom to do so. What's important is to be open so we can learn from eachother and improve. Ive also noticed in life that sometimes seem to be silly questions can be more interesting and valuable than 'intelligent questions'. Let's be positive and let this Care2 community grow and develop! Peace

11:20AM PDT on Oct 19, 2011

Jane has nothing else going on in her life other than sex. That is really very sad.

5:37AM PDT on Oct 19, 2011

Yes, Jane, Ronald Reagan had his memories of "riding horsies" in his mind forever as well........."Nooooo, those good memories are in my mind forever".....again, is it possible for you to post anything without making references to sex? The topic is teaching yoga to school kids.

5:19AM PDT on Oct 17, 2011

In fact this is far more important than 'om' and 'namaste' in yoga. What is more important is to be gentle. This applies to anything- if done gently you can feel more and feel more differences, only
When we feel differences we can improve. You can run for a bus violently in a hurry or gently and fast both will get you their. One is better for you and others too. Many yoga styles are a
Violent workout and some are
More gentle bringing about a higher level of awareness. In violence itself there's gentle and more
Violent - compare a big muscled tuff boxer to a gentle soft tai chi master. Both cud beat their opponents.

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