It is relatively well-understood that a key to a long life and a semblance of contentment is founded on a person’s ability to relieve stress; especially without using pharmaceuticals. Stress is literally a killer on myriad counts and it is also devastating on the learning process. Ask any teacher and they will agree that a student is always going to benefit from the educational experience if they are stress free. It is certain that educators in Georgia are aware of the value of helping students relieve stress, but in one community they will have to abandon their valiant efforts because evangelical Christians are appalled and angry over a simple stretching exercise.
What has the evangelicals in an uproar is the school district’s years’ long mindfulness and de-stressing techniques in the classroom that include yoga. According to the evangelicals, who echo the same assertions as extremist Muslims in ISIS, Indonesia, and Malaysia, children stretching and focusing on the moment is an abomination, and the school district’s attempt to indoctrinate their children into a nasty Eastern religion.
The evangelical parents asserted the Cobb County school officials were forcing a non-Christian belief system on little children by asking them to say “Namaste” in class and hold their hands by their hearts during a classic yoga pose and greeting. The school district’s officials did what people terrified of religious extremists normally do; immediately banned the word Namaste, heart-centered hands, and coloring geometric shapes known as “mandalas.”
The Bullard Elementary School’s principle also noted that since the evangelical malcontents “mistakenly believed teachers were preaching that crystals had healing powers, nothing resembling this will ever be done in the future.” The principle is so frightened of being in non-compliance with the evangelical’s “fatwa” on children de-stressing with yoga stretches, the district banned an insane practice that never occurred.
One of the evangelical parents, Susan Jaramillo, said she was furious that “There’s no prayer in schools. They can’t even say the pledge, yet they’re pushing ideology and those religious practices we don’t want our children doing in our schools.” The outcry was so heated that the school’s principle issued a heartfelt “please forgive us for helping your children” letter. She wrote,
“I’d like to say I am truly sorry that the mindfulness/ de-stressing practices here at Bullard caused many misconceptions that in turn created a distraction in our school and community. While we have been practicing de-stressing techniques in many classrooms for many years, there have been some practices associated with mindfulness that are offensive to some.
As a result, we will pull the following out of our school: ‘If yoga moves are used’ in classrooms, students will not say the word “Namaste” nor put their hands to heart center. When coloring during ‘brain breaks,’ Mandala coloring pages will not be used. Although teachers have never ever used nor taught about using crystals for healing during these breaks, we understand it has become a belief. Therefore we ensure that nothing resembling this will ever be done in the future.
As we begin the healing process, we’d like parents to work with us as we explore research-based techniques and ideas for classroom mindfulness and ways to increase our CCRPI score.”
Now, as a two-decade long yogin and educator, one can say with confidence there is nothing religious about using yoga as a de-stressor and inform the Cobb County school officials that there are mountains of researched–based data to explore on the benefits of using yoga in the classroom. In fact, nearly every major leading university in America has conducted rigorous research revealing that yoga best helps students de-stress and focus on their studies; it also helps reduce bullying.
Those various studies are likely why Cobb County school officials introduced yoga in the classroom to begin with. Based on the angry evangelical parents’ reaction, those mounds of studies will not be “explored” further; there is no Jesus in any of them.
One is curious how the Georgia Christians determined that the term “Namaste” is a means of proselytizing innocent children. The word’s meaning is universally recognized as “one of peace, honor, and respect for human being,” as is putting the hands at “heart center.” Either individually, or done concurrently, saying Namaste with hands at heart center is about as malicious, or religious, as a Hawaiian saying “Aloha,” or some Georgia yokel uttering “hey y’all” while shaking someone’s hand.
In yoga practice, Namaste is the instructor’s greeting to the class at the start, and their ending salutation when the class is dismissed. There is nothing religious whatsoever in putting the hands at heart center and saying ‘Namaste;’ unless, of course, they are white Christian malcontents in Georgia, or Islamic extremists in Malaysia, ISIS, and Indonesia. Like many harsh Sharia Law practices, the Georgia evangelicals are embracing and putting them into practice to impose their religion on America. Seriously, banning the word “Namaste” on religious grounds could not possibly be more religious fanaticism unless they banned children coloring in geometric circles.
Actually, the Georgia school officials did ban children from coloring in a mandala; a circle-like symbol to represent the universe. Actually, mandala is “a generic term for any kind of diagram, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically; a microcosm of the universe.” However, even though using charts, diagrams, and geometric patterns for “coloring” are regularly employed as a sub-modality in pedagogy, Georgia Christians had them banned because they were not “Christian.”
Their idea of proper “mindfulness,” learning respect for other humans, and a method of stress relief for elementary school children is coloring an image of a crucifixion cross with a dying, gasping messiah nailed to it while listening to “The Old Rugged Cross.” As an aside, giving students “down-time” for a “brain break” to “color in patterns” is a long-acknowledged stress reliever in the classroom.
It is a sad state of affairs in a secular nation that when administrators at Bullard Elementary School in Georgia implemented yoga and other mindfulness practices in the classroom to reduce students’ stress, they got the Christian version of a fatwa against yoga. This is precisely the same kind of theocratic “fatwa” extremist Muslims enacted in no small number of Islamic theocracies. It is so typical of American evangelical parents to feel that yoga represented an encroachment on “their” Christian beliefs and not a sincere attempt to help their children live a less stressful life and excel in school with a well-researched and time-tested success like yoga in the classroom.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.