Thursday’s news included a story about how Bullard elementary school in Kennesaw, Georgia was obliged to modify a yoga program for its young students because of parental objections. The parents were protesting what they believed was the encroachment of non- Christian beliefs in their childrens’ education. In particular they objected to Namaste ( the Indian form of greeting with the palms of both hands pressed together) and to their kids’ coloring books including the “mandala”( an Indian symbol representing the cosmos). There was also an unsubstantiated rumor ( later proved false) that healing crystals were being used in the classes. The school authorities are modifying the program to allay the parents concerns and have assured them that crystals are not part of the program.
The story took me by surprise because I had thought that both yoga and meditation were so widespread in America as to be considered almost mainstream. I thought things had changed from the early seventies when Maharishi Mahesh Yogi first introduced Transcendental Meditation to the West. For some years after, there was considerable resistance to the idea but it quickly lessened; people realized that meditation was not contrary to their religious beliefs and that it was an antidote to stress. Within a few years, you had the phenomenon of Catholic priests traveling to India to study meditation so that could use it to benefit their parishioners.
BTW, I was very happy to read the responses by readers of that news-story. Almost every single one of them excoriated the parents for being ignorant and closed minded. Some respondents even revealed a surprising amount of knowledge about yoga and meditation. While I don’t endorse the parents stance, I can empathize ( but not sympathize) with them. People in places like Bullard GA have not been exposed to things like yoga or meditation which we in the big cities or on the coasts now take for granted.
Yoga in America followed much the same path as meditation but its acceptance was quicker. Today, there are literally thousands of yoga classes available to those interested. All types of yoga courses are available including Bikram Yoga, Iyengar Yoga and Laughter yoga.
Necessarily, to broaden the appeal of yoga and meditation to non-Christians, it is their physical aspect that is stressed. Yoga is seen as a means of improving one’s flexibility and fitness while meditation is intended to relax the mind and as an antidote to stress. In fact, the reason yoga/meditation was introduced at Bullard was that it would help students to deal with anxiety about their academic performance and to cope with bullying and anger issues . It is really sad to read that elementary school students have to deal with such an environment. Instead of parents worrying about their children being subjected to non- Christian beliefs, they should be concerned about the mental health of their children as they try to cope with the stresses of school life.