Should Yoga be Banned from Public Schools as a Religious Activity?
Should yoga be banned from public schools? The answer is short and complicated: It depends. Whether yoga should be banned in public schools depends entirely upon the range of activities we include beneath the umbrella terms at stake, namely yoga and religious activity.
To see how contested the meaning of yoga is, try telling any Christian who practices yoga that it can't be extracted from its ostensibly Hindu roots. They will likely point to the physical benefits of posture, breathing, and so on, while denying that there has to be any spiritual content to it.
Then go tell a Hindu apologist that, in fact, yoga has roots in early-20th-century British "physical culture" and was an Indian reaction to the YMCA's attempt to Christianize India through importing Swedish stretching (as Mark Singleton argues in his excellent book, Yoga Body). They will not like that story much.
The fact is, though, that whether yoga is a religious practice has a good deal to do with who is leading the particular event and what it involves. Some people approach it as an aggressive form of calisthenics. If that is the context, there is no reason to ban it from schools. In that case, in fact, such an exercise wouldn't qualify as a religious practice at all. There would be good reason to drop the term yoga altogether and perhaps replace it with a new label, to make the point clear.
But others are intent on keeping the physical exercise tied to its alleged Hindu roots. In such a case, incorporating yoga into the schools should be subject to standard rules regulating religious activities in public schools.
I should note, though, that I'm not arguing for incorporating yoga simply by changing the name. To treat these two forms as identical, we would have to argue that there is something inherent in the particular poses and forms that draws people away from knowing the real God.
That sort of argument could have merit—I see no viable possibility, for instance, that Christians should ever take up "pole dancing" as a meaningful athletic activity. Pole dancing is clearly and inherently tied to objectifying and sexualizing women and is an activity Christians should avoid. But given yoga's similarity to other, Western, purely athletic forms of exercise, decrying the poses and contortions that in part make it up is considerably harder.
It's Disguised Hinduism
Laurette Willis is a Christian fitness expert and founder of PraiseMoves, a Christian alternative to yoga (PraiseMoves.com).
If religious activities like Christian, Muslim, and Jewish prayers are banned from public schools, then yoga should also be banned.
"But yoga is just exercise!" many exclaim. Hindus, however, view yoga as part of their religion. Professor Subhas Tiwari of the Hindu University of America acknowledges that yoga originated in Hindu Vedic culture. He says it is impossible to separate yoga as a physical practice from yoga as a spiritual practice.
I consider yoga a missionary arm of Hinduism and the New Age movement. I was involved in yoga and the New Age movement for 22 years, from age 7 to 29. I know firsthand that yoga offers much more than physical exercise. Before I became a Christian, I was a student of Hatha Yoga and Kundalini Yoga and an instructor of Hatha Yoga, as was my mother.
My mother and I became involved in yoga through a daily television program. She found that the exercises relieved her stress. She became a yoga instructor, and I followed in her footsteps. Little by little, we began to favor visiting the ashram in upstate New York over church activities. As we became more involved, it also opened the door to numerous other New Age interests and practices.