Mindfulness training weaves its way into the classroom

We’ve covered how mindfulness — for good or bad — is establishing itself as a practice in the business world.

Next up? The dreaded health class!

That’ll be no surprise to you. You know that yoga is being taught in more and more schools (via the Sonima Foundation and others). Now, those same business world people might have an inkling — because this story comes from the Wall St. Journal:

More independent schools are pushing to redefine what it means to teach health, shattering the stereotype of awkward classes and squirming students.

Many New York schools are incorporating mindfulness training to help students handle stress and replacing lectures on drugs and sexually transmitted diseases with interactive sessions on life skills, such as communication and decision-making.

For a long time “the definition of success for our members was mainly focused on the academic part,” said Amada Torres, vice president for studies, insights and research at the National Association of Independent Schools. “But now the research is stressing the importance of developing these noncognitive skills.”

The National Association of Independent Schools conducted its first-ever survey this spring on health education among its members. While 85% of the schools surveyed called health and well-being an essential or high priority, only 41% described it as part of their school’s mission.

[snip]

The changes haven’t come unchallenged. Some teachers worry longer recess will cut into their instruction time. Some students and teachers object to the increased meditations, which “they view as religion or spirituality,” said KC Cohen, middle and upper school counselor and co-director of the health program.

“I think what’s missing is people don’t really understand how much five minutes can center you,” she said.

The story focuses on New York schools, but it sounds like it could be in a lot of places. And it goes beyond a sense of yoga or meditation as a gym class — this is more part of what was the “academic” curriculum.

Posted by Steve

Encinitas yoga trial: ‘The purpose is to become one with Brahma’

Day two of the Encinitas yoga trial featured testimony from the opponents’ main expert witness: religious studies professor Candy Brown.

Here’s the heart of things via the U-T San Diego’s coverage:

“The purpose of Ashtanga yoga is to become one with Brahma,” she said, referring to a Hindu deity.

Brown also said there is no distinction between the physical and spiritual aspects of yoga. Children in the district’s program do not chant or use terms associated with Hinduism, but Brown said that does not make the yoga secular.

“Jois is very, very clear that the practice may appear physical, but that is very, very wrong,” she said. “It produces spiritual transformation.”

Citing written statements from teachers in the district, Brown said there is evidence that some children have chanted while performing poses. Judge John Meyer suggested that those students may have learned the chants outside of school, but Brown said it still demonstrates that they have an understanding of yoga’s spiritual ties.

Brown also said there is anecdotal evidence that even conservative Christians who begin practicing yoga and have no interest in other faiths gradually begin to accept that all religions are equal.

If I’m not mistaken, that anecdotal evidence comes from Brown’s own research. (Should we add: Oh, the horror! All religions are equal! And should we add: How to you control for other things that might be the catalyst for the change in opinion, such as being exposed to a more diverse group of people?)

As I’ve suspected, the more explicitly “religious” nature of Ashtanga (the Jois version, not Patanjali) as compared to exercise programs that seem just to market themselves off of the word “yoga” is coming to the front during this trial. I’m not sure this lawsuit would have happened if it had involved a Iyengar foundation or, certainly, Power Yoga to the People or something along those lines. Brown’s pretrial statements for the court focused on quotes from Pattabhi Jois and others about “seeing God in all things” and similar.

Does Bikram ever talk about stuff like that?

You’ll note, for instance, that her quote in the text above focuses on the purpose of “Ashtanga yoga.” The potential upside to this is that this trial might not end up setting precedent about yoga, more generally, being practiced in schools. I’m not judicial expert, but my sense is it will come down to whether the opponents can convincingly argue that Ashtanga yoga is inherently religious and that the program in the Encinitas schools is, also, inherently based on Ashtanga yoga.

If I had to guess, I’d say the former of those points will be easier to prove, judging by the material I’ve seen. To extend that to all yoga seems a tougher case. It then will be up to the judge to decide whether the program being taught in the schools is more Ashtanga or more “yoga.”

Again, what we saw at the Confluence seemed more exercise-based.

Update: Final version of the U-T story (also in comments below) is here.

Posted by Steve

Yoga succeeding in at least one school

“The lesson is universal.”

That’s one of the descriptions by the reporter of a CBS news piece on yoga in a school in California. Let me rephrase that: a successful yoga program in a school in California. As CBS reports, “since it started, suspensions are down 60 percent and test scores have risen.”

Link is here (as the “updated” — but apparently not “upgraded” — WordPress video link continues to underwhelm). Best part is the kids’ explanation of how yoga has helped them.

Posted by Steve

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