Although parents have expressed vocal concern that a yoga program in place in five Encinitas, California schools are religiously inappropriate because of the practice's Hindu roots, organizers of the program say the it will continue and expand to all nine of the city's elementary schools. Proponents of the program say that it is part of an important physical education and healthy living program designed to help kids care for their bodies and regulate their emotions.
Schools across the country are focusing more on teaching students to make healthy choices. Encinitas Superintendent Tim Baird said yoga is just one part of the district's physical education curriculum.
"We also have a nutrition program, we also have a life skills program where kids learn about perseverance and responsibility," he said.
The whole wellness program is supported by a $500,000 grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation. The Encinitas-based group promotes a kind of yoga called Ashtanga.
But, when Mary Eady visited a yoga class at her son's Encinitas school last year, she saw much more than a fitness program.
"They were being taught to thank the sun for their lives and the warmth that it brought, the life that it brought to the earth," she said, "and they were told to do that right before they did their sun salutation exercises."
Those looked like religious teachings to Eady, so she opted her son out of the classes. The more she reads about the Jois Foundation and its founders' beliefs in the spiritual benefits of Ashtanga yoga, the more convinced Eady is that it can't be separated from its Hindu roots.
"It's stated in the curriculum that it's meant to shape the way that they view the world, it's meant to shape the way that they make life decisions," she said. "It's meant to shape the way that they regulate their emotions and the way that they view themselves."
Eady is part of a group of parents working with Dean Broyles, president and chief counsel of the Escondido-based National Center for Law and Policy.
"And then the question becomes - if it is religious, which it is, who decides when enough religion has been stripped out of the program to make it legal," he said. "I mean that's the problem when you introduce religion into the curriculum and actually immerse and marinate children in the program."
Eady and the other parents want the classes made completely voluntary and moved to before or after the school day. They say school officials haven't responded to their specific concerns.
Image: Child doing yoga, via Shutterstock