Thursday, November 1, 2007

yoga in schools

Why should prayer in schools be banned but yoga mandatory, at least for the senior class at Needham High School outside Boston?

The goal of Needham High Principal, Paul Richards, is perfectly laudable, trying to improve the health of over-worked, driven, competitive high school students, by getting them to ease up up their advanced plasement classes, and clubs, and activities, not to mention jobs, and learn to relax. The yoga classes are just one of a variety of relaxation techniques being put in place under advisement of the Stress Reduction Committee at Needham High as part of a movement involving 44 high schools nationwide under a movement called S.O.S. for "Stressed Out Students." ("Less Homework, More Yoga, From a Principal Who Hates Stress" by Sara Rimer, New York Times, p. 1, October 29, 2007).

I support the observation of the S.O.S. moement that we are doing our children a mis-service by demanding their academic over-achievement, at the expense of contemplative, creative, and spiritual ease. Our high school students should be allowed the same balance in life that their equally over-worked and stressed-out parents seek in their own lives. My problem is the mis-use of yoga as a "stress-reduction technique." Yoga does have that benefit but the benefit results from its primary purpose which is spiritual. It trivializes yoga to say that it is merely about "relaxing" or "stretching." Yoga is about linking human persons to the divinity within (the word "yoga" is a cognate for the english word "yoke"). In yoga the body is put in stressful positions in order to train the mind to maintain calm focus while facing spiritual challenges.

Our schools should help students find balance. Spiritual practice is certainly one way to do that, but whether a student chooses Christian prayer or Hindu yoga poses, or some other practice that is merely "relaxing" without being spiritual, should be the student's free choice.


Lucy said...

Most of what is taught as Yoga in strip mall store fronts across America has little to do with getting close to ones divine center. The words divine and spiritual are avoided to make the classes acceptable to the broadest possible paying public.
The Needham school program could have, by using another title, avoid the religion issue altogether. It could be considered gym for everyperson. And instead of humiliating the non-athlete with required team sport, the benefits breathing deeply, being still and quiet amoung peers are equally accessable to all .

Rev. Ricky said...

I would be happier if the Needham school didn't call it yoga. If there's no spiritual content then it really isn't yoga. Plus, renaming it "stretch and relax class" would avoid any first amendment complications. What saddens me, outside of the public school context, is all those people who think they're doing "yoga" at the strip mall and are being taught to equate "spiritual" with mere relaxation - rather than the intense mental concentration and focus that real spiritual work requires.

Lucy said...

I believe some who begin with "inauthentic" yoga will seek out the real thing if they need to. Many enter new endeavors by the back door i.e. buying a "Romantic Arias" cd and then finding they love opera and follow through with that new passion.
I think many people do religion of all sorts on many levels as well. Each finds his/her depth. I am just happy when people find something they like which makes their lives richer (and maybe healthier). Lucy