School Keeps Yoga, But Won't Let Kids Say 'Namaste'

by Ashley Austrew
Originally Published: 
A girl in a pink shirt and grey trainers doing yoga at school

Georgia parents are outraged at students practicing yoga in the classroom

As parents, we worry a lot about the stresses our kids face at school and often argue that they deserve more time for exercise, play, and relaxation. Some Georgia schools have started addressing those needs by implementing yoga and mindfulness exercises into their school days, but a group of Kennesaw parents is fighting to end the practice because they say it violates their Christian beliefs.

Administrators at Bullard Elementary have been forced to apologize for practicing yoga in the classroom after parents voiced concerns that kids were being “indoctrinated” into “Eastern religion.” One mom, Susan Jaramillo, explained the controversy to 11ALIVE, saying, “Some don’t even say the pledge, yet they’re pushing ideology on our students. Some of those things are religious practices that we don’t want our children doing in our schools.”

The controversy apparently began with rumors posted by concerned parents on social media. In a Facebook post that’s since been deleted, the Washington Post reports dad Christopher Smith even wrote:

“Now we can’t pray in our schools or practice Christianity but they are allowing this Far East mystical religion with crystals and chants to be practiced under the guise of stress release meditation. This is all without parents knowledge or approval. This is very scary. Parents beware of what your children are being taught without your knowledge.”

In reality, students at Bullard have been doing simple breathing exercises and stretches to help them focus and get more activity throughout the day. Teachers aren’t hypnotizing students with healing crystals, teaching them witchcraft, or brainwashing them through guided chants. In fact, the wildest thing they do is say “namaste” — a respectful Hindu greeting that means, “the light in me sees the light in you” — and occasionally place their hand on their chest to find their “heart center.”

In an attempt to ease parent’s fears, Principal Patrice Moore held a meeting so they could voice their concerns. She also sent out an email explaining how yoga is used at school, announced a ban on the word “namaste,” and reminded parents to take a deep breath because no one is using magic rocks. She wrote:

While we have been practicing de-stressing techniques in many classrooms for years, there have been some recent practices associated with mindfulness that are offensive to some.
When yoga moves are used in classrooms, students will not say the word ‘Namaste’ nor put their hands to heart center…. Although teachers have never used nor taught about crystals having healing powers during these breaks, we understand it has become a belief. Therefore we will ensure that nothing resembling this will be done in the future.”

While yoga does have roots in Buddhist and Hindu tradition, the mainstream, commercialized version of yoga that we see in the U.S. is not in any way religious. Schools aren’t trying to brainwash kids by having them stretch or meditate. They’re just doing what they can to help kids relax through shortened recess periods, a million standardized tests, and a much more structured and difficult curriculum than most of us dealt with when we were young.

It’s a shame that a few fearful parents have to turn the one part of the school day that’s supposed to be soothing and relaxing into yet another rigid, rule-driven activity. Yoga is not dangerous, nor is it a “Far East mystical religion,” and namaste is not a dirty word. There are a lot of things worth striking a Warrior Pose over, but mindfulness in the classroom isn’t one of them.

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