I have joked with patients that if everyone exercised with Yoga, no one would need Chiropractors. Of course, that is not entirely true, since we have worked with out-of-whack yoga practitioners, too. Just goes to show, you can even overdo a good thing.
Yoga is a physical practice tied into Hindu teachings. In it's pure form, adherents use Yoga as a religious practice seeking enlightenment. In it's Americanized forms, most people are just trying to calm down and stretch out and get fit.
A controversy around Yoga in the public schools has developed. Christian Fundamentalists say Yoga introduces Eastern mysticism and the associated religious practices. Even secularists say Yoga practice in schools violates the separation of church and state. Gym teachers and principals say it calms hyper kids down and helps all children focus for tests.
First, to address the church and state arguments. This argument makes me crazy because it's so intellectually ignorant. Until and unless, the United States government makes Hinduism the U.S. religion, there is no violation of church and state. No child is being told she must bow down to Krishna, or else. Likewise, during a moment of silence or prayer during school, no child has to pray to God or anyone else. In fact, the notion of "separation of church and state" does not exist in our constitution as such. God and His tenets in the Bible were the clear foundation for the constitution, but no state religion was defined. However, should an individual state want to declare a state religion, the constitution did allow for that. So, practicing yoga in an elementary school is in no way a violation of church and state.
The problem of course, is that since yoga is part of a religious practice, and since the schools are so biased against Christian thought and practice, it is offensive that it is taught without question while all things Christian are not allowed. This is another issue altogether. Part of the ignorance in public schools is the lack of knowledge about America's Judeo-Christian heritage--which should also be taught. You can't rightly understand the Puritans and Thanksgiving without a fundamental understanding of religious freedom from what. But schools attempt to do that every year. Teaching about this history does not force a child to become Puritan. There is no violation of church and state. These kinds of educational omissions must be corrected for children to fully understand our history.
Second, would a child be lead to Hinduism through doing yoga poses in gym class? It's possible, I suppose. The teacher would have to be telling the students the spiritual goal of each pose, though. That would require some education and I feel fairly confident that most, if not all, teachers wouldn't take the extra step to actually do that. I'm guessing that it would be taught as physical exercise like basketball.
Finally, as irritated as I am about the anti-Christian bias so pervasive in America public education today, eliminating yoga for this reason seems silly. Yoga has so many health benefits both physical and mental, that I think it's a great set of tools for kids to learn.
- Breath control--This one element of yoga could help so many Americans dealing with high blood pressure (or they can spend a chunk of money to learn this way). Herbert Benson, MD's book is a classic in this regard. Worried kids learning to control their breathing would be on their way to learning a very fundamental way to help their health in stressful situations.
- Flexibility--As people age, the problem isn't loss of strength so much as loss of flexibility. Yoga is an exercise regimen that can be continued into old age to reduce this problem.
- Focus--When twisting your body into a pretzel, it is difficult for your mind to wonder to your next worry. In a sense, the brain gets time to rest during yoga. This is an excellent tool for children and adults in this frenzied world. I note that I can think, think, think, in rhythm when running (or walking, now), but during yoga poses, forget it! Constantly worrying that I might crumple in an unbalanced heap, keeps my mind focused. This is a good thing.
- Burning calories--Yoga burns calories in a joint-friendly way. So many sports kids and adults indulge in will ultimately cause severe wear and tear eventually making all physical activity difficult. Not yoga. Certain kinds are almost aerobic while sparing the joints.
- Strengthening--Yoga does more for core strength than just about any other workout besides Pilates. In fact, all athletes serious about body balance would do well to add yoga to their regimen. Most sports develop certain sets of muscles to the exclusion of others, causing imbalances that lead to injury. Yoga can mediate that.
And when we get out our Bibles, and put on our dress-up clothes and listen to a sermon, they call it church. That is where they find religion.
And as my kids get older, they'll learn about Hinduism, along with Islam, Buddhism, and all the other myriad religions out there. There are as many reasons we don't practice these religions as there are religions and we'll teach our kids as many as we can. We want them to believe God and His Son Jesus Christ. We have lots of very good reasons for teaching them to be Christians.
We also have good reasons to exercise using yoga.