Even in Ashtanga’s home in America, people fear yoga’s evil influence on kids

Let me see if I can sum up your impression of Encinitas, Calif.

Pretty chill. Relaxed. Open-minded. Not judgmental. Experimental. Tolerant.

I’m with you. After all, Encinitas is where Paramahansa Yogananda set up his cliff-side Self Realization Fellowship retreat, which remains a major fixture in the community. It even gets mentioned on Encinitas’ official webpage. And this is where Pattabhi Jois first taught in America in 1975, and where he returned to repeatedly during his first years of contact with Americans. (Check out Tim Miller’s history of Ashtanga in Encinitas.)

So, would it surprise you to learn that parents of students at Encinitas public schools are upset that yoga is being taught there?

I thought so. But that’s the way things are, according to the North County Times:

A group of parents complained Tuesday to Encinitas Union School District trustees about a new yoga program, calling it religious indoctrination.

District officials said there is no religion involved. Still, the school board said it would look more closely at the program and revisit it at a future meeting.

District officials have started the program at half of the schools over the last couple of months with a $533,000 grant from the Jois Foundation, an Encinitas-based group that promotes Ashtanga Yoga. The plan is to start it at the district’s other schools in January.

You caught “the culprit” behind this, right? The story goes on:

Seven district parents and a lawyer spoke to the board Tuesday, saying they thought the program pushed Hinduism on children and violated religious freedom.

“Yoga practices and poses are not merely exercise; they’re religious practices,” said Marsha Qualls, who has a student at Olivenhain Pioneer Elementary School, calling the techniques “a kind of prayer.”

Some of the parents said they have already asked to have their children removed from the classes.

“I will not allow my children to be indoctrinated by this Hindu religious program,” said Andy Vick, who has three daughters at Mission Estancia. “Because of this, you’re forcing me to segregate my children.”

Vick said some of the children who are pulled from the yoga classes are ostracized and bullied, comparing the situation to Nazi Germany.

You read that correctly: It’s like Nazi Germany. I hope my sarcasm is coming through.

School leaders are insisting there is no religious aspect to the program, but that doesn’t mean that the elected school board members aren’t quaking and want to learn more about the program. “‘I thought the parents brought up a lot of good points,’ Trustee Maureen Muir said.” Another board member is defending the program; she’s done yoga for years.

Perhaps the most delightful twist is that the program includes an evaluative study of yoga’s effects on the students by the University of San Diego — a Catholic school.

A North County Times columnist also has come to yoga’s defense. Because yoga, even in Ashtanga’s birthplace in America, still needs defending.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

9 thoughts on “Even in Ashtanga’s home in America, people fear yoga’s evil influence on kids”

  1. Ya know, as I was driving over to class this morning I couldn’t shake the feeling that things were worse than we think and not getting any better. But then I had a great led class and felt like my doom and gloom was just the result of reading the paper before I went. But now this. Honestly, if this is what is going on in California, we better buckle up America, because it’s just going to get worse. The people who squawk about ‘religious indoctrination’ are the first ones to try to get Christian prayer in schools. Sigh.

  2. Have to admit — if we were looking for something to inflame Christian fundamentalists or First Amendment absolutists, the lines in the opening mantra about prostrating to Patanjali with the thousand serpent heads, yeah that would get the job done.

  3. For whatever it is worth, I would let them know that there is no concept of conversion into hinduism and they arent mutually exclusive.

    These are the kinds of parents who turn the kids away from religion. or spirituality.

    They need the kids to discover faith from within.

  4. Religious indoctrination. The Jois Foundation. N Germany… I can’t even say it.

    Well, here is my take on this situation.

    Sun salutations, I suppose… Maybe not the best thing to be taught in segregated church and state institutions.

    Opening invocation. Hopefully, not.. Re: church and state.

    I taught yoga at a church… No omming… No long silence… Just asana… I had a pastor take my class regularly… She left after I played Ravi Shankar’s tabla music!

    If someone is teaching yoga it’s spiritual I have no doubt. If you are connecting the breath to motion it’s a spiritual practice. Otherwise its not yoga its stretching… stretching yes, yoga no… not in public schools….Sorry, I don’t believe this belongs in public schools just as I don’t think saying the Hail Mary belongs.

    Ok let me have it!!!!

    Ps I’m not an American but know enough about ur system to rattle a few cages!!

  5. Devil’s advocate: as a first generation Indian growing up in North America, I went to elementary school in the era when we still said the Lord’s Prayer in the morning (public school). My immigrant parents were understandably horrified at my indoctrination into the Christian religion (they tried to give us small bibles once too). (I never became Christian!)

    If this yoga class in the Encinitas schools begins and ends with the traditional Ashtanga chant, I could understand why some parents would be uncomfortable and think there was some “Hinduism” in these yoga teachings. It is pretty hard to strip out the Hindusim from any Sanskrit chants. The word “god” and “om” and “universe” are omnipresent and interchangeable.

    I think it is great to teach yoga in schools. But maybe, at the public schools especially, any chanting or “Om-ing” should be left out of it, to respect the secularity of the school system.

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