There’s been a bit of controversy brewing over yoga being taught in some San Diego public schools. A group of parents is now considering legal action, because they feel that teaching yoga in public schools amounts to teaching students “eastern” religion.
In response, the school district’s superintendent claims that all religion has been removed from the yoga being taught to students, and that it’s just about exercise and stress-relief.
But is this really possible? Can yoga really be a totally secular thing? For many, if not most, American yoga practitioners, yoga is just about getting some exercise, stretching, and chilling out. One cannot deny, though, the religious origins of yoga, even in its most secular presentation.
Of course, there are plenty of things in our society with religious origins, yet we accept them in a secular setting because they have become part of our culture, and are appreciated by everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs or affiliations. Many of our holidays, for instance, are clearly Christian in both spirit and origin, but there’s a place for them in our society as secular events, too. Growing up, I knew plenty of Jewish, Buddhist, and atheist families who participated in mainstream Christmas rituals — e.g., Santa Claus, gift-giving, wreaths, an X-mas tree, etc. These people participated willingly, and seemed to have no serious qualms about the activities being of a Christian origin. At least in principle, then, I see no reason why yoga can’t be taught and experienced in much the same way.
So is yoga as mainstream now as Santa Claus? I don’t know, but it sure looks that way.