In Yoga, We Don’t Pray, We Balance our Brains

SONY DSCYoga 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.

About the Author:

Shakta is an AMS certified Montessori teacher, and the author of five well-known Yoga books, CDs and DVDs. Her latest book, The Yoga Way to Radiance: How to Follow Your Inner Guidance and Nurture Children to do the Same, is scheduled for release in summer of 2016, (Llewellyn Worldwide)   Visit Shakta's Writing and Poetry Site


  1. childlightyoga December 4, 2012 at 12:37 am - Reply


  2. Mary Beth Quick December 4, 2012 at 2:40 am - Reply

    Thank you Shakta for this insightful article!! So very true ….

  3. leelee December 4, 2012 at 5:42 am - Reply

    SaaaaaaaaaaT NaaaaaaaaaaaM………Shakta……..Big Thanks for your great article ! Big Hugs ! Big Love ! Peace, Love & Light to all……I live and practice in an environment where even the word Yoga is highly sensitive and religiously connected, but nevertheless, when we see the impact and enthusiasm of the special needs kids and normal kids enjoying Yoga, it’s a joy ! When we balance our minds, we open our hearts and open our minds for the spirit to soar, open ourselves to all possibilities, holding no limitation to ourselves, only love, compassion and kindness to all whom come in contact with us. Thank you so much again, Shakta, Sat Nam, leelee@OmYogaZone

  4. Karuna December 9, 2012 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    Well said. Feel sorry for the child.

  5. tyler December 11, 2012 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    The poor child… that must have been very confusing and unsettling for him.

  6. Barbara January 23, 2013 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    What a shame for that little boy! Couldn’t they have taken him to the library to read or to do another activity with some other kids? He must have felt so left out! I am so glad to see this topic addressed, however. Although schools, educators, therapists and families have come a long way in recognizing the benefits of yoga in classrooms, I stiil find that there are concerns over how it is presented, and this stops many schools from offering yoga programs. As a yoga teacher, it fruestrates me, but being a parent myself, this is also understandable: while I want my daughter to be exposed to new people and things, I also want to be comfortable with the understanding, mindset and intent of the person guiding her in her exploration. Much of how we (yoga teachers) are perceived by parents is in the language/vocabulary we use and the way we explain things. With kids & teens, I use simple everyday language, and focus on the “science” of yoga. We do sing-because they like to sing-but we don’t chant. If a child askes me a question that deals with religion, I always refer them to their parents or caregiver. If they want to know more a bout the history, Sandskrit or philosophy, I keep it simple and only answer their direct question. I also send home a letter before a program even begins, explaining my background, my philosophy, my objectives and intent, and include my contact information so that parents can talk with me directly about their questions, concerns or specific class content. I let them know that this is a sectarian, “classroom-friendly” yoga, especially adapted for children. These small details have made a huge difference in how people respond to me as an educator and how willing they a re to allow their child to participate.

  7. Edna Reinhardt November 1, 2013 at 9:57 am - Reply

    Great article Shakta.

  8. (Dr) Ulhas Kashinath Ganu May 26, 2014 at 3:53 pm - Reply

    Liked the article. I did my Yoga Teacher’s Training Course in a good institute way back in 1983-84. My institute then also did not teach us spiritual or religious aspects at all. In fact many institutes I came across in Mumbai (Bombay) never referred to religion as an aspect during Yoga training. A Researcher by profession, I also never thought to link it that way. Your writeup made me understand the gravity of the subject and I admire you and the likes of you who have taken to Yoga and teach it respecting the sensibilities of the parents in case of kids.

    For adults & especially elderly people, we insist on ‘slow’, ‘steady’, ‘rhythmic’ and ‘as per capacity’ as the essential attributes to be followed for their safety (as the body/joints can be rigid). It is difficult to inculcate this in younger children as their mind is so difficult to restrain or control because of the inbuilt enthusiasm and being supple they can execute majority of asanas well.

    While a 5 year old would like to mimic parents if practicing Yoga (at home), it becomes our responsibility to choose asanas for children (age group 7 – 9 versus 10 – 14 yr old) giving due regard to the flexibility but also taking care of the weak cervical vertebrae.

    I admire your approach to Yoga and must state that while it could be easier to teach Yoga to adolescents and adults, I visualize that it must be extremely difficult to select asanas & teach Yoga to children as per the age group.

  9. Lisa Danahy April 21, 2017 at 5:01 pm - Reply

    Great article, Shakta. Below is a link to a video that demonstrates the benefits of deep breathing and the coordination of the hand movements described above to bring greater focus and calm (click on the link or cut and paste the link in your browser):

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