In-school yoga, meditation and other mindfulness practices are continuing to stir up controversy in some districts where parents say the activities promote non-Christian beliefs.
The Cobb County School District in Atlanta recently reached a $150,000 settlement with an assistant principal who claimed she was transferred after parents complained about her introducing students to yoga, District Administration reports.
Indiana University religious studies professor Candy Gunther Brown doesn’t believe yoga violates school religion laws, though she suggests administrators should be more thoughtful about how the practice, which has been shown by research to improve "psychosocial quality of life" at the elementary level, is implemented.
Schools embrace yoga and similar mindfulness practices as a way to help students manage behavior and reduce stress. Teachers at McKinley-Brighton Elementary School in Syracuse, New York, for example, see positive results from daily, 30-minute sessions in the morning to meditate and practice mindfulness.
It’s also being used in some schools, including Denver’s Doull Elementary, as an alternative for detention in the hope that students will learn to self-regulate their emotions. An experienced yoga instructor was hired with grant money from the district’s “whole child innovation fund.”
In 2016, Denver voters approved a tax increase that included $15 million for social-emotional student programs. The instructor — who focuses on how students can use yoga as a life skill —teaches three sessions per week: Two are reserved for those in trouble, while the third is open to any student.
Despite the positive research on yoga and mindfulness, many hesitate to support the practice at school due to parental concerns that it conflicts with Christianity. Cobb County parents aren’t the only ones to protest the practice. A group of parents in San Diego County sued the district, saying that yoga promotes Eastern religions with its “namaste” greeting and “om” chants.
Depending on the application of the yoga at school, however, these components can be removed all together, and schools that want to include yoga in curriculum should be transparent about their intention and its benefits while also making it optional.