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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

None dare call it ‘yoga’

Elementary-school students hold their position during a yoga class in Encinitas, California, whose school district was the subject of a lawsuit seeking to ban the program. Photo: Gregory Bull/AP

More schools are teaching yoga in hopes of promoting mindfulness and relieving stress, writes Alia Wong in The Atlantic. However, yoga is controversial in some parts of the country.

Georgia parents who complained yoga classes “promoted a non-Christian belief system,” forced the district to remove the “namaste” greeting and coloring-book exercises involving mandalas, she writes. San Diego County parents sued on grounds the yoga program “promoted Eastern religions.”

Since 1993, Alabama has banned yoga, along with hypnosis and meditation, in public schools. A Hindu activist is now challenging the ban.

Yoga proponents say therapies that promote mindfulness help children learn, writes Wong.

A 2009 study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, for example, found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which teaches children how to divorce themselves from harmful thoughts or emotions, was linked to reduced anxiety and increased attention levels. Other studies suggest that “mindful movement” such as yoga helps to enhance kids’ executive functions—skills such as working memory, attentional control, and cognitive flexibility. Some studies have gone as far as concluding that yoga has a positive effect on students’ academic performance or engagement, particularly among students who’ve struggled with traumatic experiences such as poverty and struggle with self-regulation as a result. 

However, the research on yoga and mindfulness is of “low quality and dubious rigor,” charges Amy Wax, a University of Pennsylvania law professor, in a 2016 Atlantic story.

School-based yoga usually goes light on the Sanskrit, focusing on “physical exercise or on relaxation and mindfulness,” writes Wong. In some cases, students do yoga-inspired stretches in class or in P.E. classes; other schools offer yoga as an after-school elective.

I tried yoga years ago: I hated it. The instructor said not to do poses that hurt. That included just about everything. I’m not a flexible person (surprise!). Quitting relieved my stress.

I do think there’s some value in teaching breathing exercises to students.

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