Yoga in the same sentence as religion tends to make my red flag go up. I’m not the only one. In my training classes for children’s yoga the question invariably is asked; “How do we deal with parents/administrators who are fearful that teaching children yoga will mean that children are being steered into a religious belief system?”
Parents are often about protection, which in itself is not a bad thing, thought being watchful can tend toward fear-based thinking. So fears may or may not be eased by knowing the foundation of yoga is not about religion as much as it is about connecting with the best in oneself. For the administrators, the fear is that in offering yoga in schools or other programs, there will be a backlash from parents who believe yoga is religious-based.
I remember one public school class I taught where a 6 year-old boy was not allowed to join the class because of a perception that yoga would clash with his (parents) religion. He quietly sat and watched on the sidelines while the rest of us hissed like snakes, jumped like frogs, rocked like boats, and relaxed in an imaginary trip to the beach, breathing like the ocean waves. I can only imagine the confusion he might have felt in watching the fun and wondering why he was forbidden to join in. He might have thought, “What is so wrong about this type of play that I have to miss out on it?”
The answer is there is nothing in yoga practice that threatens religion, unless you think there is… For example:
We start out class by “tuning in”, by bringing our hands into what is known as prayer pose. It is not praying, but it is pressurizing sensitive pressure points on the hands and fingers. These pressure points reflex to the right and left hemispheres of the brain and help to create a more whole brain effect, thus centering the mind. Check out acupressure meridians and how they work if you want to know more.
I talked about this subject in a recent course. The video may help enlighten the situation. Then again, it might create more controversy and questions, but that is all part of the excitement of life. We do not all think the same and that is a good thing. For the boy who missed out on the yoga, maybe he will wonder about it enough to check it out for himself when he gets older. Maybe not, but we can hope and send good thoughts for all sides to honor each other’s gifts, religion and yoga included.