Encinitas Yoga Program Stokes the Fires
Well, it was an interesting night to say the least. Tuesday was the EUSD school board meeting that discussed the success of the health and wellness program- which included the Yoga classes that had stirred up so much controversy.
I had a lot of fears and uneasiness going into this meeting, but as I began to really listen to the comments being made from the parents (they shared one by one), I realized there was a lot of misunderstanding going on.
Immediately upon arriving at the board meeting I could see this was a popular event. There were probably around 200 people in attendance and it was standing room only when I showed up. The board discussions seemed to drag on and on…I think I was there for about 1 hour before we actually started discussing what everyone was there to discuss.
That being said, I was impressed by the administration’s care and concern of the children. They have implemented a number of healthy policies that any school should be jealous of, including organic local veggies and even crops grown by the kids.
But even though there was a feeling of optimism in such measures, you could feel the air of the room just waiting until the Yoga discussion began.
The Discussion gets Heated
When the topic finally did shift to the Yoga program, the Superintendent Baird stated what seemed to be an official policy:
(to the board members)
You are in control of this program. We did receive a grant to fund this program, but we have selected the teachers, we are writing the curriculum, we are training the staff, and we are modifying the curriculum to meet the needs of our students. So you are in control of all aspects of this curriculum.
The Yoga program taught in the Encinitas Union School District provides no religious instruction whatsoever. There is no discussion of spiritualism, mysticism, or religion in any context in our program. The students simply perform the physical components of movement and breathing related to mainstream Yoga. Yoga is a physical exercise regime practiced by millions of people all over the world representing many different religious beliefs.”
That was all well and good, but a group of people in the audience just wasn’t buying it. As the Superintendent talked, they were shaking their heads.
Since this was a public board meeting, the parents were allowed to sign up and offer their perspective on the issue. That’s when things started getting pretty passionate.
As each parent came up and stated their own thoughts on the issue, I couldn’t help but feel it was almost like a football game- each side clapped even cheered after their 2 minute allotted time.
It was quite strange for me, as I began to perceive there were underlying issues that might be playing into each sides animosity towards the other.
Personally, I felt there was a sort of resentment towards the parents opposed to the program because of their religious affiliation towards Christianity. Though there was indeed a mix of Christians on both sides, I could still feel- and did when I talked to people about it afterwards- that some persons thought all of the opposing objections were because of a Christian doctrine and had nothing to do with rationality.
On the other side of that coin, I could see that the opposition felt compelled to fight something they truly thought was a breech of church and state. And when they were met with some resistance, that provoked them to double down and stick to their stance, to the point where a lawyer got involved to help them.
The Specific Issues
The proponents of the Yoga program point to Yoga’s proven benefits and health as reasons for it’s implementation. This is valid argument, and one that has been proven through much research. Children do, in fact, show a greater ability to concentrate after practicing Yoga.
The opponents point to the source of the grant for the program as a major concern. The Jois Foundation in Encinitas has donated over $500k to make the program a reality- and Ashtanga’s history as a form of Hatha Yoga steeped in tradition and spirituality is something they think is crossing over into the program, because the postures themselves are inherently reverential to different Gods. They claim the teachers are teaching the Primary Series of Ashtanga. They also think there could be an ulterior motive to expand this program all across the nation in order to promote Ashtanga.
Who was Right and Who was Wrong?
I am for the Yoga program, in case you haven’t read before. I believe in Yoga because I have seen it change lives.
But both sides have their own valuable motives and reasonable stances.
There is a legitimate concern from the parents opposed to the program. Original Yoga (not westernized Yoga) is undeniably spiritual in it’s aspirations. Even though the physical postures do predate the formation of Hinduism, they evolved with the religion and took on that spiritual role.
I was stunned when the opposing parents claimed the kids classes themselves were thePrimary Series from Ashtanga. (these are set sequence classes). I cannot imagine a child doing the Primary Series, because in all honesty, I can’t fully do it myself. That class is no joke; Ashtanga prides itself on being one of the most physically demanding types of Yoga…ever. I would be shocked if they were doing it.
I am sure that is a misunderstanding, but I have yet to talk to anyone in the know about it.
But the amount of division is why I think something needs to shift in the debate. Both sides should come to a compromise, and recognize they both have valid points.
The program will undeniably yield positive results; that will become more and more apparent as time goes by.
But as a suggestion, I would submit that the title “Yoga” be let go. Rename the program into something like “Conscious Movement, Conscious Breathing” or something to that effect. This could help to simplify things and allow it to be thought of for what it is: a tool to connect to the mind and body.
These are Good People
After the meeting last night, I had the opportunity to talk with some of the people who opposed the program. I was impressed by their kindness and genuine nature. I felt like they were sweet people. (though they definitely had some fire they displayed in the meeting)
When I had a chance to talk to a parent who opposed the classes, I offered my suggestion to drop the name Yoga. Initially she seemed happy about that idea; however, as we began talking I could see she still thought the postures were inherently religious.
As we continued the discussion, I asked if she would still be willing to do the pose (we were specifically discussing Warrior 1) with absolutely no mention of of anything Yoga whatsoever, including the title. I offered the name “high lunge with your arms over your head”. Still, there was the allegation it was religious in nature.
I do not think this is right perspective on this. I believe that even though a posture may have a certain history and distant religious affiliation, it is NOT inherently religious unto itself. Many things in our culture today were once considered superstitious or had a religious tie. Wine, for example, used to be considered from the Gods in ancient Rome.
I think this situation can be resolved, and I hope it will. These benefits should be available to everyone, and I think it is worth it for both sides to compromise a little.
My hope is that maybe…just maybe….one day both sides will be able to do something like “Conscious Movement and Conscious Breathing” and afterwards go about their day without a second thought. Maybe I am too hopeful, or too naive; but whatever happens, I know that eventually more and more schools will explore this topic, and when they do I want them to point to this school as a model for how to resolve whatever issues come up.
Because in the end…it’s just about the kids, right?