Bullard Elementary School in Kennesaw decided to make changes to its yoga classes after Christian parents complained about the Hindu origins of the exercises.
“No prayer in schools. Some don’t even say the pledge, yet they’re pushing ideology on our students,” mother Susan Jaramillo told 11Alive. “Some of those things are religious practices that we don’t want our children doing in our schools.”
The school hasn’t cancelled yoga; however, principal Patrice Moore sent a letter of apology to parents and vowed to tweak the program.
“When yoga moves are used in classrooms, students will not say the word ‘Namaste’ nor put their hands to heart center,” Moore wrote, according to 11Alive. “When coloring during ‘brain breaks,’ Mandala coloring pages will not be used.” “Namaste” and its accompanying gesture are typically used as a greeting.
While it literally means “I bow to you,” the word has been variously translated as “the light in me sees the light in you,” “the God within me greets the God within you” and “I honor the spirit in you that is also in me,” among others.
“The gesture Namaste represents the belief that there is a Divine spark within each of us that is located in the heart chakra,” Yoga Journal explained. “The gesture is an acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another.”
One area instructor who has worked in nearby schools said yoga wasn’t meant as a statement of faith; it’s a tool to help keep calm and relax.
“It’s a way to get children aware of their breath patterns, their tendencies and habits,” Cheryl Crawford of Grounded Kids Yoga told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Often times they’re focused outwardly, they’re not focused inwardly. It helps them if they’re very worried… and to use that energy to do something else.”
Yoga can also help children with anger issues, bullying or anxiety over school work, Crawford said.
The benefits of yoga have sparked a trend in the United States. According to a National Health Interview Survey, more than 21 million adults and 1.7 million kids currently practice. However, yoga is not secular enough for many Christians, especially fundamentalists.
“As Christians, we are to meditate only on God and His Word,” Jeremy Butler of the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry wrote. “We are not to focus on ourselves or to clear our minds. The Bible never gives us a prescription to free our mind.”
Others are fine with it — with caveats.
“As a spiritual path, yoga is incompatible with Christian spirituality,” wrote Michelle Arnold, staff apologist at the Catholic Answers website. “But if you can separate the spiritual/meditational aspects of yoga from the body postures and breathing techniques common to yoga, then you might be able to use those postures and techniques beneficially for health.”