Here’s a deep legal query: if school kids are instructed to do “criss-cross applesauce” — the seated, cross-legged position known to pretty much every six-year-old in America — can that possibly be construed as religious teaching?
Apparently not, said a California judge Monday, ruling that yoga instruction for children in an Encinitas public school does not constitute religious instruction. Plaintiffs, who objected to the school-based practice for their two children on religious grounds, had opted out of the program, a kid-friendly class in which some of the most pervasive yoga lingo, like Namaste, had already been excised.
[Judge John Meyer] also said the Encinitas Unified School District had developed its own version of yoga that was not religious but distinct and separate from Ashtanga yoga.
“A reasonable student would not objectively perceive that Encinitas School District yoga does advance or promote religion,” he said…
The plaintiffs objected to eight-limbed tree posters with Sanskrit characters that they said were derived from Hindu beliefs, as well as to the use of the Namaste greeting in class and several yoga poses said to represent worship of Hindu deities.
But by the start of the 2012-2013 school year, the Sanskrit and Namaste had been eliminated from the program, and poses had been renamed with “kid-friendly” descriptions, poses now called gorilla, turtle, peacock, big toe, telephone and other terms, according to testimony. The lotus pose, for example, is called criss cross apple sauce in Encinitas schools.
With childhood obesity a nation-wide emergency and with kids bouncing out of their seats due to cuts in recess programs and lack of physical activity during the school day, it seems pretty reasonable — even wise — to get kids excited about yoga in school. Indeed, First Lady Michelle Obama’s latest health focus is on getting school children moving.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that kids’ yoga is taking off, its popularity driven by studies that show the practice offers both physical and mental health benefits:
A growing number of schools, hospitals and studios say it can also be a boon to kids, helping them relax and focus, and improve their flexibility.
A 2003 study by California State University, Los Angeles found that yoga improved students’ behavior, physical health and academic performance, as well as attitudes toward themselves. That same year, Leipzig University reported that yoga reduces feelings of helplessness and aggression, and in the long term helps emotional balance. The benefits of yoga are particularly strong among children with special needs, research shows.
Anyone out there with kids practicing yoga? Please let us know if you’ve noticed any changes or improvements in their behavior linked to yoga class.