New Media Project: Teaching Yoga in Schools

Posted on May 16, 2013 by


Morgan Lenz

World Religions

Teaching Yoga in Schools

Exploring the case in Encinitas, California

Over the past decade, physical and mental well-being has been in the spotlight for factors of one’s health. Everywhere one is bombarded with diet fads, new exercise techniques, and advertisements promoting the nearest health club. However, one trend that has been popular for over 5,000 years is yoga. Today yoga is escalading in the Western world. It is being taught in health clubs, sold on DVD’s, and there are even specific stores dedicated to selling yoga clothing.

Amongst this popularity, controversy has aroused. Many public schools have begun teaching yoga classes to students. Although many look at this as being extremely beneficial to the students’ wellbeing, some parents argue that is its promoting the Hindu religion. In one extreme case, a group of parents sued the school board for this exact reason.


This situation took place earlier this year in the town of Encinitas, California. A grant of $533,000 was given to the school district to teach 60 minutes of Asthanga Yoga to students every week. As weeks went by more and more parents became upset with the curriculum being taught, and one by one pulled their children out of the classes. Eventually, the group of parents sued the district to remove the classes from the schools rather than for money.

Like all cases, there were two sides on the situation. Some viewed the yoga as a “mainstream physical fitness program” while others viewed it as a way of teaching Hinduism in the schools. The media covered both sides of the case. The following news clip further explains the situation.

There were many arguments of the opposing side of the case, but the main one being that yoga was simply a way of promoting wellbeing to the students. There are parents, teachers, and even Tim Baird, the schools’ superintendent, whom believe this. Baird says that the yoga is “to promote children’s physical and mental wellbeing” and to influence the children to “keep active and eat healthy”. Teachers of kindergarten and first grade students use the yoga poses to help teach their daily lessons. They have stated that the yoga poses “mimic shapes of letters while teaching the alphabet” and “form mathematical angles”. David Miyashiro, the assistant superintendent of the district claims the yoga being taught is tailored to children. He says the names of the poses have been changed to kid friendly words such as gorilla pose and mountain pose.

Tim Baird also claims that “there is research that shows academic benefits (of yoga)”. This statement has the most effect on the case and easily proven. According to Bent on Learning, a program dedicated to bringing yoga to schools, there is evidence of academic, behavioral, emotional, and physical benefits of yoga. In their research, Bent on Learning has discovered that 88% of students have reported that they have a more positive attitude toward themselves since taking yoga. They have also noticed improved test scores and increased participation in class. One student said, “Yoga helps me breathe and stay calm during tests. And when I am doing a hard problem, I can relax. I don’t have to stress about anything anymore.

One may ask why these particular people are for teaching yoga in schools. This is because it is referred to as a movement, an exercise, and breathing instead of a ritual practice. Why then, with all of this beneficial evidence, do parents still object the teaching?


The answer to that question is very simple. The main argument for the defense is that yoga is promoting the Hindu religion. They based their arguments off of the history of the practice. One parent against the teaching of yoga stated, “Yoga poses are representative of the Hindu deities and Hindu stories about the actions and interactions of those deities and humans.” These angry parents propose the same arguments over and over just in different words. One said, “It is a violation of the first amendment” while another said, “it is a violation of the separation between church and state.” Even though the arguments are repetitive, they are leaving a lasting impact.

Dean Broyles, the attorney representing the families suing the district claimed, “If you research yoga and Hinduism, most people would say Hinduism is yoga and yoga is Hinduism. It’s a situation where the state is endorsing religious beliefs and practices, which is forbidden under California and federal law.” Once again the same argument is being made.

Many questions arise when observing the defensive side. One may wonder why these parents are so against something that has proven benefits for their children. Why did they feel the need to take this problem to the court? Is it because they are afraid of exposing their children to the “Eastern World”? Or do they truly believe that yoga is a form of worshiping other Gods? Each person has his or her answers to these questions being this is a very delicate subject. It is difficult to decide who is right or wrong.

Even the media goes back and forth on the case. Some articles side with the defense, while just as many articles side with the opposition. In the following news video clip, both sides are discussed.

As just shown in the clip, the subject can go in either direction. The way the media has portrayed the defensive side of the case seems to be just as repetitive as the statements being made by the parents. Every source discusses how the practice of yoga is somehow promoting Hindu. With the opposing side however, each source focuses on a different positive aspect of the yoga whether it is the proven benefits or the way the yoga is being taught.

Based on the information I have gathered and researched, the opposing side seems to have the stronger argument in the case. As long as the yoga is said to not include any of the spiritual aspects, it is simply poses and breathing, then the schools should continue with the teaching of yoga.

Although this particular case is still ongoing, the outcome will be extremely interesting. Will the judge side with the defense or the opposing side? No matter what the outcome is, the media will continue to cover the case and bring even more controversial points to the public.



“Research.” Bent On Learning Research Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2013.

Carless, Will. “Yoga Class Draws a Religious Protest.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Dec. 2012. Web. 09 May 2013.

“L.A. NOW.” Lawsuit Filed to End Yoga Instruction in Encinitas Schools. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2013.

Kuczynski-Brown, Alex. “Encinitas Union School Yoga Sees Backlash, Parents Call It Religious Indoctrination.” The Huffington Post., 12 Oct. 2012. Web. 09 May 2013.

“US President Barack Obama Throws Weight behind Yoga.” The Times Of India. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2013.

“California School District Sued over ‘religious’ Yoga Program.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 09 May 2013.

“General Yoga Information.” General Yoga Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2013.

Perry, Tony. “Parents View Yoga in Elementary School as Religious Indoctrination.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 07 Nov. 2012. Web. 15 May 2013.

NIKIAS, MARIA. “Yoga Lawsuit: Encinitas Union School District in California Sued Over Classes.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 15 May 2013.

Raushenbush, Paul Brandeis. “Yoga School Program Brings Separation Of Church And State Law Suit In Encinitas, California.” The Huffington Post., 21 Feb. 2013. Web. 15 May 2013.

*Photos came from sources above

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