Yoga in schools brings up the Big Question: Om or not?

Last Sunday, the New York Times had a piece on Vivekananda. This week, the yoga-related story is so much more to the basics:

When teaching yoga to school children, how much do you emphasize the religion? In other words: Om or not?

I wonder how long the question of yoga and its religious connections will continue in America. (Best guess? Approximately forever.) Hopefully, the fascination with it will at least fade a bit.

This story — and here’s the link to it — is also noteworthy in that Bent on Learning, which includes Eddie Stern as a board member, is among the programs mentioned. (Bent on Learning is a “no namaste” place, according to Jennifer Ford, one of its founders.)

Here’s a flavor of the story:

At Karma Kids, which works with more than 1,200 students in 16 schools, Ms. Vilchez-Blatt takes a more elastic position on “om.” “We om,” she said. “I don’t look at it as spiritual. When we say ‘om,’ it is all the sounds in the universe.” Still, she checks whether it is acceptable to school administrators before introducing it in class.

If the answer is no, Ms. Vilchez-Blatt has creative remedies, leading chants of “peace” or, at Chabad programs in Manhattan for children from prekindergarten through age 12, “Shal-OM.”

Jennifer Cohen Harper, director of Little Flower Yoga, which opened in 2006 and teaches about 700 students at 13 public and private schools, also discusses with administrators the content of classes. She may incorporate “om” and “namaste,” which she translates as “the light in me bows to the light in you.” The students do not do the prayer pose, instead placing their palms over their hearts.

If any qualms are expressed, Ms. Harper edits the language or behavior in question. “Occasionally someone will ask, ‘Do you guys do a lot of chanting?’ and you get the idea to stay away from it,” she said.

Overall, the story strikes me as pretty straight-forward; there’s certainly no hidden hysteria about this. (Whether there will be hysterical reactions about how kids are being karma co-opted is anyone’s guess.) I’d say this story probably signals one thing more than anything else: It was a bit of a slow news day Saturday in New York City. Still worth a read, though.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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