School Yoga Classes Are Religious Indoctrination, Say Parents

Yoga has become ubiquitous in many public schools’ physical education programs and for good reason. It emphasizes fitness, it is something that students of varying athletic ability can do, it does not require elaborate equipment, and it helps students do what we all need to do — let go of that tenseness in our shoulders, breathe, relax.

But some parents in the Encinitas Union School District north of San Diego contend that classes in a pilot yoga program amount to religious indoctrination and are, therefore, a violation of First Amendment rights.

(Yes, before reading further, breathe.)

A small group of parents has been protesting outside of Encinitas’ Paul Ecke Central Elementary School. As the mother of a first-grader, Mary Eady, says in the New York Times,

They’re not just teaching physical poses, they’re teaching children how to think and how to make decisions. They’re teaching children how to meditate and how to look within for peace and for comfort. They’re using this as a tool for many things beyond just stretching.

Meditation, say Eady and other parents, does not belong in public schools because it is a spiritual practice; she equates yoga instruction with indoctrinating children in, as it were, Hinduism. Yoga poses represent “Hindu deities and Hindu stories about the actions and interactions of those deities with humans,” she says.

Assisting Eady and the other parents is the San Diego County-based National Center for Law & Policy, which (according to its website) is a “nonprofit legal defense organization” that “focuses on the protection and promotion of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, parental rights, and other civil liberties.” Its president, Dan Broyles, cites quotes made by the nonprofit organization that is supporting the elementary school’s yoga foundation, the Jois Foundation, which was founded by an Encinitas parent in memory of the father of Ashtanga yoga, Krishna Pattabhi Jois.

According to Broyle, statements by Jois Foundation leaders about the physical act of yoga being part of a spiritual quest are proof that the yoga program is a “transparent promotion of Hindu religious beliefs and practices in the public schools.” What would be the response if “a charismatic Christian praise and worship physical education program” were used in public schools, asks Broyle. He has threatened to sue the school district and parents have started a petition to eliminate the yoga program.

A representative of the Jois Fundation, Russell Case, refutes such claims of the yoga program’s aim having any sort of religious intent.”We’re good Christians that just like to do yoga because it helps us to be better people,” he says in the New York Times.

Making Yoga a “Namaste-Free Zone”

This “when is an om just an om” controversy about the teaching of yoga in public schools has been raised before but, the New York Times notes, usually in reference to charter schools which are publicly financed but set their own curricula. Aware of such issues, some yoga teachers in New York City make their classes in schools a “namaste-free zone”; some schools with yoga programs see them as ways to introduce children to other cultures and languages.

San Diego being a multi-ethnic, multi-religious region like New York City, school administrators in the Encinitas Union school district are standing by the yoga program. Superintendent Tim Baird indeed says the yoga classes are “merely another element of a broader program designed to promote children’s physical and mental well-being” and points out that there is an opt-out clause for those parents who do not want their children to participate.

Rather than raise a tempest in a chai teapot, there is an out for parents who’d prefer their child not do yoga for fear of religious indoctrination. A recent Encinitas Union school board meeting to discuss this issue began with the Pledge of Allegiance which certainly makes mention of religion — is it not, then, another example of “religious indoctrination” that has no place in a public school?


Related Care2 Coverage

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

Yoga Threatens Christianity, Says Baptist Theologian

Step Away From the Computers, Says Silicon Valley


Photo from Thinkstock


Aiel Laman
ariel Laman4 years ago

Dear Ariel,

I know that everyone doesn't believe in Jesus, I just left out a word. Now stop emailing me.

Susan Allen
SusanAWAY Allen4 years ago

Ariel writes, "I have lived here for 70 years and if you think I don't know that everyone believes in Jesus, well you must be from another planet." Did you mean to say that you know that NOT everyone believes in Jesus? I hope so because if you think that everyone does believe in Jesus, then you are truly deluded.

Aiel Laman
ariel Laman4 years ago

Dear Susan,

I have lived here for 70 years and if you think I don't know that everyone believes in Jesus, well you must be from another planet. Also, when you say something like my comments are absolutely ridiculous, please remember that you can reach an open mind when your intent is positive. All the great teachers of our age have taught the same principles, but unfortunately our minds just aren't agile enough to allow them in and based on your comment, I would have to say, your mind is just not agile enough.

Aiel Laman
ariel Laman4 years ago

The Bible encourages us to take care of our bodies (the temple of the living God), and also to watch our thoughts. Your thought that yoga is in conflict with first amendment rights, goes against what God taught us. I find yoga to be more than exercise and so many people have commented on the benefits yoga provides. Anyone who doesn't agree with yoga being taught, just needs to not let their children attend. Then watch as those children who do attend & learn excel.

Wouldn't it be easier to just admit you made a mistake and drop this ridiculous idea that it is in conflict with the 1st amendment of the constitution. We need to find ways to bring the consitution in agreement with the principles taught by Jesus.

Sabrina I.
Past Member 4 years ago

.___. yoga is a wonderful discipline that should be taught instead of volleyball for girls and soccer for boys

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

I am in NO way religious, but am a Pilates and Yoga instructor. It is about over all health and well being, it may have religious roots. I hate to tell Christians this, but THEIR religion has very pagan roots... so why are they not banning the holidays they perverted and "stole" from the pagans? Yoga is a great exercise for the body, the mind, everything. Let's face it, kids these days need any exercise we can get them into.. obesity and violence run rampant, and yoga addresses both of these issues

Edvanir L.
Edvanir L4 years ago

"They’re teaching children how to meditate and how to look within for peace and for comfort", said one of the mothers.
Who ever though that this would be a reason to be revolted?? Poor kids!! With parents like those...

Fi T.
Past Member 4 years ago

It's for well-being as a whole

Donna J.
Donna J5 years ago

These parents must have the stiffest joints. And brains.

Amy L.
Amy L5 years ago

If these parents were confident in their teaching of morals and values at home then they shouldn't be threatened by the school practicing yoga. I seriously doubt that it is the goal of the school's yoga program to make or influence these little Christian kids into becoming Hindus. I don't think they are interested in doing that but I do think that it shows the school has a vested interest in the mental and physical well being of the children. We all could benefit from meditation that results in inner peace.