Yoga at schools – to OM or not to OM

Teaching Yoga to kids at school is great. They come without that bag full of preconceptions adults normally drag along to class, are open-minded and absorb quickly. They don’t even have the problem of feeling stiff, rather the contrary, they are so overly flexible that teachers needs to pay great attention not to overstretch their growing bodies. Ever tried sitting in Lotus for more than ten minutes? Kids don’t even see what’s difficult here.

So it’s great news that more and more schools are adding Yoga classes to the curriculum. BUT. In essence, what is taught here is not Yoga. It’s some stretching exercises followed by a relaxation.There’s no “OMing” and you don’t say “Namaste”. You don’t bow your head. And don’t even think of bringing your palms together in prayer position.

A sadhu performing namaste (W:Anjali mudra) in...

A Sadhu with hands in Namaste

Prayer position. That’s exactly the sticky point here. Schools are in a really tricky position – nothing that is even borderline religious is allowed by law or tolerated by parents, which brings us back to the question: Is Yoga a religious practice? There’s a really interesting article discussing the issue in the NYT, where it says:

Perhaps a teacher accustomed to working in other settings inadvertently puts hands together in a prayer position, for instance. “It is easily explained, and fixed,” Ms. Ford said. “We weed it out quickly.”

Weeding it out? Fixing it? Wow, there must have been something wrong with Yoga in the first place then? Glad we fixed it. (OK, I stop here…) What is really worth discussing to my mind is the following:

Is it better to teach a stripped-down version of Yoga, without any deeper meaning, just so that kids get an introduction even though it fails to make the point – or not teach it at all and preserve its beauty and wholeness?

What do you think?

Namaste 😉

Categories: Controversial

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4 replies »

  1. I think there is absolutely nothing wrong about saying Om while doing Yoga. It is the right thing to do anyway. Or else it would not be yoga — it would just be exercise and should not be advertised as Yoga.

    A practitioner of Yoga must be told that Yoga has its roots in Hindu scriptures, it is thousands of years old and has a deep spiritual meaning to it and that what is taught in studios around the world is just one aspect of Yoga (as explained by the Bhagavad Gita).

    As far as saying Om being connected to blasphemy, maybe these staunch non-Hindus should think twice before saying “marketing Guru”, or “political Pundit” or “marketing Mantra” or even watching the movie Avatar or creating a Yahoo Avatar for themselves !!

    Just my two-cents 🙂


    • You’re of course absolutely right – am just wondering if it’s better to introduce yoga this way, hoping some of the kids want to dig deeper, or just not do it at all so that the tradition doesn’t need to be compromised. A tricky one, really…


  2. Interesting post! My mom is a pre-school teacher and taught “yoga” to her students (4-year-olds love pretending to be animals– apparently cat-cow was a big hit) until a parent complained because yoga was “against her religion”. The next day in class, instead of saying “Okay, kids, today we’re going to do some yoga” my mom said, “Okay, kids, today we’re going to do some stretching and breathing” and did the exact same exercises she had been doing. There were no complaints about stretching and breathing from parents. Attached to the word yoga, the activity was blasphemous, but without the label, it was accepted.

    I think it’s fine to teach a stripped-down version to kids; I see no problem in introducing them at a young age. Anything that gets kids moving and more attuned to their bodies is fine by me! I’d rather see a kid do “stripped-down yoga” than sit in front of the TV for hours.

    With that said, I also think it’s very sad that parents would be opposed to yoga. It just demonstrates the level of ignorance about the history and practice of yoga among the general public. Imagine the impact if all students practiced yoga in school! I can only see benefits, though I suppose I’m biased. Who wouldn’t want calmer students who are more aware of their bodies?


    • Thanks for your comment and yes, you’re absolutely right, kids doing cat-cow and lion roars are ten times better than those kids glued to their computers or TVs. It’s just sad that parents would be opposed to yoga just based on something they might have heard or read about it, without any first hand experience. I guess all these so called dodgy “gurus” you can see and read about in the media don’t help to improve yoga’s image.


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