When yoga was introduced to the Western world, it didn’t take long for the ancient health care, relaxation, and calming practice based on Hindu and Buddhist traditions to inundate popular culture. Yoga, and its correlated meditative state “mindfulness,” have been embraced by millions in the US.
But, writes Yanan Wang of The Washington Post, officials at Bullard Elementary School in Kennesaw, Georgia, note they have had myriad complaints since yoga and other mindfulness practices have been used in classes to reduce students’ stress.
Some parents felt that yoga represents a rejection of Christian beliefs. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Principal Patrice Moore sent parents letters explaining that Bullard’s yoga program would be changed.
“I am truly sorry that the mindfulness/de-stressing practices here at Bullard caused many misconceptions that in turn created a distraction in our school and community,” Moore wrote. “While we have been practicing de-stressing techniques in many classrooms for years, there have been some recent practices associated with mindfulness that are offensive to some.”
One of those practices is the use of the Sanskrit greeting “Namaste,” which will be discontinued. Also to be eliminated are placing hands “to heart center” and Mandala (and Indian religious symbol for the cosmos) coloring pages.
Moore addressed the complaint that the school was teaching that “crystals have healing powers.” She said although crystals’ power had not been taught in any classes, nothing like this would be done in the future.
Cobb County mother Susan Jaramillo responded that since prayer and even the pledge of allegiance in some schools are not allowed, Bullard is pushing a religious ideology on students. Christopher Smith, whose son attends Bullard, said that it is frightening to him that Far East mystical religion with crystals and chants can be practiced in a public school while disguising itself as stress release.
Mr. Smith advised parents to “google ‘mindfulness indoctrination.'” One of the first five links that appeared when these words were searched was an article written by Ileana Johnson. In it, she writes that to mount an opposition to Common Core standards, or in her words “socialized dumbed-down education for the masses”, everyone should add “Mindfulness Training” to their watch list.
But yoga instructor Cheryl Crawford, who has taught yoga at several Atlanta schools, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the practice of yoga can calm anxious students and even help them cope with anger and bullying. Yoga is not an endorsement of any religion, she added.
Another Bullard parent, Bekka Miller Fedusiv, warned parents that students were being “singled out” and taught how to pray over crystals. She added that they were also being given books about Buddhism.
Travis Gettys of Raw Story writes that yoga classes are becoming more popular in schools, especially since the practice has become more widely understood and is less associated with its Asian spiritual roots.
In many cases, schools are using breathing exercises and yoga as a way to calm students, increase focus, and to help students have a modicum of physical activity since, in many cases, physical education and recess are not being offered.