Final Project: Yoga Allowed in Public Schools

Posted on December 14, 2013 by



Yoga has quickly become a widespread sensation in America for a number of reasons centralizing in health benefits. In late 2012 and early 2013, many sources reported a range of 20-30 million Americans practicing yoga regularly. Its growing popularity has been attributed to its said ability to help participants understand their emotions, motivations, and behavior. The practice has been aimed to keep people fit and focused while leaving them feeling refreshed. It has even become a legitimate topic of study for psychological scientists and has been found to help treat depression, anxiety, stress, and disease-related emotional distress. Surprisingly, with all these benefits from yoga, parents around the country have been bringing lawsuits to schools for teaching it on the basis that it is “religious”. Many see yoga and instantly tie it to religious practices of Hindus and Buddhists. America needs to realize how broad the term ‘religion’ is and realize yoga can be practiced with absolutely no ties to Eastern cultures. To ensure today’s youth are not deprived of practices that can be healthy and healing, our society should allow itself to Americanize yoga in a way as to strip it from its religious ties and allow it to be practiced in public schools.

Yoga being taught in the classroom

On July 1 this year, a judge in San Diego California refused to block the teaching of yoga in a public school’s physical fitness program (picture of the class is above). Parents of the Encinitas Unified School District brought the lawsuit to court with belief the classes were an unconstitutional promotion of eastern religions. The parents filed suit against the school arguing that, “If yoga is a religion and has religious aspects, it doesn’t belong in the public schools.” It is surprising to see the parents arguing the yoga taught at their children’s school has “religious aspects” after the school went as far as changing the names of the poses. The Lotus pose, for example, is known to the kids as criss cross apple sauce. Now if that is considered to be religiously affiliated, I think we are more than lost in our quest to define religion. The school completely removed the Sanskrit and Namaste from the program and uses the yoga simply as a physical exercise. After the suit was shut down, the representative of the parents said, “There is a consistent anti-Christian bias in these cases and a pro-Eastern or strange religion bias.” This comment makes me question the motives of those who are trying to stop yoga from reaching schools, but no matter what the motives, there are definitely opinions on both sides of the argument.

It is easy to sit here and argue with words that yoga can be stripped from any and all religious ties, but it is always best to give an example. ABC news did a wonderful story on a man who lost over 100 lbs. using a practice of yoga started by a former professional wrestler. The reporter defined this practice of yoga as an intense one: “It’s like yoga for the marines.” This news report did justice of clearly showing the benefits that can be found in yoga without relating it to any religion what-so-ever. I do not know how people can argue against it.

Click here to see ABC story of man losing weight from yoga

In another story, the idea of religious ties was not even mentioned in their attempt to relate yoga practice to improved academic performances. This Mission Local report sets a good example of how to take the focus off religious debates and simply show what yoga can do for kids. During their exercise, the students think of their favorite color and afterwards they have reported their feelings to be, “relaxed, calm, happy, dizzy, clumsy, sleepy, good, energized, amazing, astounding, awake, [and] rejuvenated.” The story continues to tell how a student went from a 1.6 GPA her freshman year (without yoga) to a 3.5 by the end of her sophomore year – the year in which she joined the yoga program – and later rose to a 4.0 during her Senior year. The article also talks about how this student’s relationship with her mother at home quickly improved after she started taking the yoga class. Overall, this report does the job of showing how beneficial yoga can be when used in public school systems without even allowing the idea of religion to creep in.

This is a photo of the yoga class.

yoga class

Next, we have people like Mark Morford who posted a column on the Huffington post which likely does little more than confuse people who are in search of further knowledge on yoga and its religious ties. After an interesting choice of title – Jesus Loves Your Downward Dog – he starts off by saying yoga is in fact a religion. Morford then gets into a satirical-like description of yoga and explains why it is a religion. Within that, he explains that yoga “is a religion in a way too few westerners are trained to understand.” Although he states a good point, he does not do a very good job explaining it and most likely loses people in his satirical comparisons. Finally, he gets to the point of how some SoCal parents are suing a school district for teaching “some playful yoga basics – stretching, breathing, a little calming meditation – to children a couple times a week.” Morford makes fun of the people who are trying to stop the “happy, self-empowering” activity. I think he does a wonderful job of showing how silly the people look for what they are trying to do, but he could have done it in a less round-about way. In the end, Morford makes a confusing and strung-out statement in saying, “While yoga is like a religion … it also has almost absolutely nothing to do with … organized religion as we know it.” Throughout the column, Morford makes a confusing analysis of yoga and why it should be allowed in schools. To the educated reader, his writing makes sense and helps provide reason to allow yoga to be taught in public schools. To the majority of readers, however, Morford’s column is most likely confusing and misleading. In the end, I agree with his statements, but wish he would have presented it in a more clear fashion.

Although the majority of Americans seem to agree, the yoga they practice is not religiously affiliated, there are always those who disagree. A column on The American Conservative by Rod Dreher does a poor job arguing yoga cannot be stripped from its religious affiliations. As he begins talking about American’s views on yoga, he quotes the typical saying: “‘sure, yoga is religious for some’, they might say, ‘but not for us. Maybe other people think they’re greeting the sun god, and that’s fine. But we’re just stretching.’” In the next paragraph, Dreher states that, “yoga, as traditionally understood, doesn’t work that way. In traditional understanding, yoga is itself a religious act.” The problem is, America clearly is not looking at the practice in its traditional context – schools are doing anything but that. He goes on to talk about how the postures themselves lead the practitioners to God, whether they intend this or not. A few sentences later he says, as a Christian, it would be a violation of conscience to participate in yoga. If you feel participating in yoga mentally changes your choice of faith, then that would be a legitimate statement. The mistake here is Dreher told us in the previous paragraph it does not matter what you think of yoga, rather simply participating leads one to the Hindu gods. So which one is it? Do the movements make you a Hindu, or does your conscience decide what is right? If your conscience decides if it is okay or not – as is Dreher’s reason for not letting himself or his children participate – it sounds like most Americans are okay when they believe their yoga is religious. In the end, Dreher compares yogic practices to his Christian prayers. He relates yoga to a meditative phrase he uses: “‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.’” He tries to set that phrase as a parallel and claims arguing it is not religious would be the equivalent to some people arguing yoga is not religious. Dreher clearly does not understand what is going on. Yoga in America has been stripped of any religious affiliations and he tries using a phrase with the word “Christ” in it as a comparative. How he feels the two are comparative, I do not know. Overall, Dreher’s argument of why yoga cannot be stripped of its religious ties – like many attempts to do so – is full of contradictions and statements that cannot seem to be backed up.

It has been proved by millions of Americans that yoga can be a relaxing practice with many health benefits. Furthermore, many believe it can be done in a way as to strip it from its ties to any eastern cultures. As it pours into the public schools system, there have been lawsuits brought to school districts on the basis that the yoga practices are unconstitutional and do not follow the separation of church and state laws. Following the lawsuits, many stories and opinions have debated whether or not yoga can be stripped from its religious ties or if it is religious by nature. After reading plenty of articles, I have come to the conclusion that – for the most part – those who find yoga to not always be religious did a relatively successful job in presenting their argument. Of course, there are always a few exceptions, but it seems like the majority of America would agree. On the other hand, I found the articles disapproving of yoga in schools and arguing it is a religious practice to be very weak analyses. Most of the arguments they make seem to be out of spite and do not have a lot of meaningful support behind them. In the end, I do not understand why there is so much arguing over the topic. Do people have a problem with Taco Bell selling food calling it “Mexican”? Most Mexicans would be quick to tell you it is not like real Mexican food. America has done to yoga what it did to Mexican food and so many other things we now enjoy – we Americanized it. This is arguably one of America’s greatest abilities. We take ideas and mold them into something new – something we like. Yoga has been Americanized by stripping it from any religious or eastern culture ties and making it simply a practice of physical exercise. The harder people try to fight this phenomenon of Americanization, the worse they are going to look. It just is not something you can fight. Millions of Americans have joined the yoga craze and by the looks of the debate, I can only imagine it will continue to grow. Yoga started as a religious activity in the East, and has now become a physical exercise in the west – it is a fact that will take some time for everyone to adjust to and fully accept.



Morford, Mark. “Jesus Loves Your Downward Dog.” The Huffington Post., 12 June 2013. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.

“Veteran Loses Hundreds of Pounds Through Yoga.” ABC News. ABC News Network, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.

Dreher, Rod. “Yoga: Exercise Of Religion Or Mere Exercise?” The American Conservative. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.

Reuters. “Yoga Not Teaching Religion In Encinitas Schools, California Judge Rules, Appeal Expected.” The Huffington Post., 01 July 2013. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.

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Posted in: Buddhism, Hinduism