When one thinks of controversial practices, yoga does not first spring to mind. In Cobb County, Ga., however, an uproar has been ignited by the inclusion of yoga in Bullard Elementary School’s fitness curriculum, The Washington Post reports.

“[T]hey’re pushing ideology on our students,” one parent complained.

“We can’t pray in our schools or practice Christianity, but they are allowing this Far East mystical religion with crystals and chants to be practiced under the guise of stress-release meditation,” said another.

After rumors began to circulate that teachers were using so-called healing crystals in the classroom—rumors that the school has now denied—parents on Facebook reportedly began to express displeasure about what they called the religious overtones of the school’s program. The upset grew to the point that the Bullard principal, Patrice Moore, felt it necessary send out a letter about what actually was happening in the classroom. She wrote, “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.” The letter includes promises that changes would be made, such as dropping the use of a word derived from Sanskrit.

11Alive.com reproduced Moore’s letter, excerpted here:

When yoga moves are used in classrooms, students will not say the word “Namaste” nor put their hands to heart center. When coloring during “brain breaks,” Mandala coloring pages will not be used. Although teachers have never used nor taught about crystals having healing powers during these breaks, we understand it has become a belief. Therefore we will ensure that nothing resembling this will be done in the future.

Christian opposition to yoga is not new. As the nonprofit Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry states, “It is not recommended that Christians practice yoga.” The blog Today’s Christian Woman features testimony on how one woman was led into the “spiritual pitfalls” of a “New Age lifestyle” because she practiced yoga as a child.

Some parents, noting that school-led prayer has been banned since 1962, felt they had a legitimate complaint: Bullard won’t expose children to the teachings of Christianity, yet it is calling on students to practice a form of Hinduism.

But was the school promoting a religion or, as Moore put it, just a form of “mindfulness/de-stressing”?

Many credible sources have praised the beneficial aspects of yoga, especially for children.

“Because children encounter emotional, social, and physical challenges or conflicts, a dedicated and intentional yoga practice that includes breathing techniques, behavioral guidelines, and physical postures can be incredibly valuable for them,” states an article posted on parents.com. PBS devotes an entire Web page to reasons “yoga and kids are a perfect match.”

And, unfortunately, kids are in need of mental relaxation more than ever. A recent study found that early elementary schoolchildren are getting three times as much homework as is recommended by some authorities. Another study found that between 1995 and 2001 the number of children treated for depression more than doubled.

As yoga has gained popularity across the United States, many Hindus have criticized the separation of the physical practice from the religious. In fact, the yoga that most Americans practice, including the students of Bullard, is not really yoga at all, these Hindus would argue.

XOJane.com writes:

Yoga actually includes a combination of exercises, which are intended to connect people with the divine. It’s an aspect of Hindu faith with origins that are thousands of years past, and a very lengthy history of practice across Hindu communities in regions like modern-day India. The asana are just one aspect of that practice. Along with the postures come breathwork, meditation, concentration, observances, withdrawal, restraints, and higher levels of meditation. These things are practiced as part of an interconnected system, and for some people, they are very integral to personal expressions of faith.

Many Christians, seeing no religious connotation in yoga exercises, are beginning to take up the practice. As one evangelist puts it, “The three hours a week I spend doing yoga not only make me more flexible, tone my muscles and relax me. They also draw me closer to Christ. They are my bodily-kinetic prayer.”

Children’s yoga seems like a creative mental and physical outlet that schools should be taking advantage of, considering that obesity in children has more than doubled over the past 30 years. Perhaps if parents were able to get in on some of these de-stressing practices, Bullard Elementary and the parents who sent their children to the school would be a little more peaceful.

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