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Controversy Won’t Stall Encinitas Yoga Plans

Encinitas has been called the yoga mecca of America. But when yoga started in five of the city’s schools this fall, some parents believed the classes were promoting Hinduism. But heated school board meetings crowded with yoga’s supporters and detractors haven’t derailed plans to expand the classes to all nine Encinitas schools.

Aired 1/2/13 on KPBS News.

School board meetings, crowded with parents supporting and opposing an in-school yoga program, haven't changed the Encinitas district's plans.

Third graders at Olivenhain Pioneer Elementary School do the Triangle pose during one of their bi-weekly yoga classes, Dec. 18, 2012.

During the first period of each day at Olivenhain Pioneer Elementary school, Kristen McCloskey leads about two-dozen third graders through familiar yoga poses.

On one recent morning, some kids looked around the room as they moved through the sequences and others teetered as they tried to balance - but they were mostly focused and on-task. When McCloskey turned the lights off for the last relaxation pose, most of the kids lay still. She told anyone feeling fidgety to cross their arms over their chests and many did.

At the end of the half hour class, 8-year-old Jacob Hagen said he felt ready for the rest of his day.

“Because you get to stretch out," he said. "And it’s good to be the first class because it wakes you up.”

Schools across the country are focusing more on teaching students to make healthy choices. Encinitas Superintendent Tim Baird said yoga is just one part of the district’s physical education curriculum.

“We also have a nutrition program, we also have a life skills program where kids learn about perseverance and responsibility,” he said.

The whole wellness program is supported by a $500,000 grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation. The Encinitas-based group promotes a kind of yoga called Ashtanga.

But, when Mary Eady visited a yoga class at her son’s Encinitas school last year, she saw much more than a fitness program.

“They were being taught to thank the sun for their lives and the warmth that it brought, the life that it brought to the earth," she said, "and they were told to do that right before they did their sun salutation exercises."

Those looked like religious teachings to Eady, so she opted her son out of the classes. The more she reads about the Jois Foundation and its founders’ beliefs in the spiritual benefits of Ashtanga yoga, the more convinced Eady is that it can’t be separated from its Hindu roots.

“It’s stated in the curriculum that it’s meant to shape the way that they view the world, it’s meant to shape the way that they make life decisions," she said. "It’s meant to shape the way that they regulate their emotions and the way that they view themselves.”

Eady is part of a group of parents working with Dean Broyles, president and chief counsel of the Escondido-based National Center for Law and Policy.

“And then the question becomes - if it is religious, which it is, who decides when enough religion has been stripped out of the program to make it legal,” he said. “I mean that’s the problem when you introduce religion into the curriculum and actually immerse and marinate children in the program.”

Eady and the other parents want the classes made completely voluntary and moved to before or after the school day. They say school officials haven’t responded to their specific concerns.

Those concerns include the Jois Foundation’s funding for researchers at the Universities of San Diego and Virginia to study whether the yoga classes affect things like attendance, behavior and student achievement. Broyles said the research points to a broader purpose.

“It is the stated goal of both the Jois Foundation and the district itself is to prove – scientifically – that Ashtanga yoga works for kids here in the district and then export it nationally,” he said.

But studying the program is just the responsible thing to do, according to Superintendent Baird.

“As a school district we’re always looking to see, is this effective? Are we making a difference? Where are we making a difference?” he said.

If it is an effective program, Baird and P.K. Jois Foundation director Eugene Ruffin said it could be a model for other districts. And to Ruffin, that’s not sinister--what’s being taught in the yoga classes is typical of athletics programs for kids.

“They provide you with the exercise and the motivation for children and then they give you character exercises, thou shalt not steal, thou shall be honest, thou shall be respectful to adults,” he said.

He said those ideals aren’t specific to Hinduism and don’t conflict with his own Catholic upbringing.

Despite the controversy, most parents are happy with the classes. Including Monique Cocco. Waiting outside to pick her children up just before school lets out, she said they certainly aren’t learning about Hinduism.

“Absolutely not – no. What my daughter tells me is she did the pancake today and she lays down and then she cracks up because it’s so funny," she said.

Cocco hears from teachers that kids are calmer and more focused after yoga so they can spend more class time on lessons instead of settling kids down the way they sometimes have to after traditional gym classes.

When winter break ends Jan. 7, the school district is moving forward with plans to have the classes taught at all nine Encinitas schools.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Victorian'

Victorian | January 2, 2013 at 2:43 p.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

Makes me glad to see such a healthy and positive activity being brought to our schools.
This is a good thing.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | January 2, 2013 at 3:53 p.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

All the hinduism mumbo jumbo aside, I hope the school isn't using yoga as a total replacement for physical education. I think running and other cardio exercises should be done regularly.

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Avatar for user 'dialyn'

dialyn | January 3, 2013 at 11:18 a.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

There is now a Hindu member in Congress, and a Buddhist in the Senate, and more power to them. It is about time we quit being so insistent on our ignorance and realize other religions have a place in a diverse nation. Religion should not be part of the discussion related to Yoga. Only the purposefully uneducated would not realize that enjoying Yoga as an exercise is something anyone, including Christians and atheists, can do. As long as we insist on being biased doe no good reason than insecurity about our beliefs, we can't grow as human beings. What is sad is that so many people insist on living in the country of denial that other people have a right to exist. Why keep children from learning a beneficial physical and mental technique just because the adults refuse to learn something new? The instructors aren't teaching a religion...they are teaching life balance, which is something the naysaying parents could stand to learn.

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | January 3, 2013 at 12:26 p.m. ― 1 year, 7 months ago

should have just started out calling it a stretching class and not set off all the alarm bells of the trouble makers.

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Avatar for user 'Leucadian'

Leucadian | January 5, 2013 at 8:50 p.m. ― 1 year, 6 months ago

Had Superintendent Baird done the "responsible thing" initially, and given adequate notice to all parents, including notice of their alternative to "opt out," then there probably wouldn't have been so much controversy!

Just as some students can opt out of saluting the flag, so can they opt out of Yoga classes. But yes, simply using Yoga positions, with "Americanized" names, instead of Sanskrit, and not doing an invocation or blessing to the sun, would be preferable, in making sure that one system of religious or spiritual beliefs is not given preference over another.

I personally, would not object, to Yoga stretching exercises, but respect the opinions of those who do, and who feel that EUSD Superintendent again acted irresponsibly.

Baird has failed to get a required appraisal of the Surplus School Site, Pacific View, which is donated land, and which should remain in the public/semi-public domain. Baird is again demanding of Encinitas City Council and staff that Pacific View must be privatized, by rezoning, for short term profits and Baird's own career ambitions.

Baird has refused to honor the intentions of the Naylor Act which requires 30% of a surplus school site should be offered to the city and county and other public entities for sale at 25% of its appraised value, for open space, providing the site included playing fields eight years prior to its initially being offered for lease or sale. The property was initially offered for lease to the City of Encinitas for a temporary public works yard, for $1 per year, after the school was permanently closed in 2003, when it was in fact, surplus.

Baird doesn't have deep roots in our community, and has only been here for three years. Before he was Superintendent for the Ojai Unified School District, where Baird tried to privatize a surplus school site, there, for a "strip mall art center" despite much public outcry. The community had been promised they could lease it as a skatepark, which was finally built after Baird came to Encinitas Union School District at $200,000 per year, plus ample benefits, $65,000 more than he was making in Ojai.

Baird recently got a raise, so he's now making $215,000 per year, when teachers have been given pink slips. He's a poor administrator and doesn't represent the needs of the general public, in our opinion. I do feel Yoga can be beneficial, but we feel Baird handled this situation, like others, poorly.

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Avatar for user 'NayeemaAkter'

NayeemaAkter | January 4, 2013 at 5:08 p.m. ― 1 year, 6 months ago

I run a business called Girls On Target which focuses on empowering youth females through fitness and yoga. I have been following the Encinitas school district and its discussion of yoga this fall/winter. I run two after school programs focused on yoga for a school outside of the Encinitas school district, and not once did a single parent comment on feeling that sending thanks to the world around us (as per Eady, the parent from the article, referencing giving thanks to the sun for its warmth and and life to earth...by the way, any religion aside...is a TRUE SCIENTIFIC FACT) was inserting some sort of religious view onto the kids participating. I was a classroom teacher for 7 years and saw first hand the benefits of a classroom yoga practice. The kids gained confidence when they mastered poses, used their morning yoga flow as prompts for writing activities, and many of the kids commented on using the relaxation techniques at night when they couldn't fall asleep or before big tests to lessen their anxiety. I came to yoga, and still teach and practice yoga regularly, without being a "religious" person. And beyond that, Buddhism and Hinduism are everywhere in our everyday lives...as are commandments,etc. When teachers tell students to be kind to others, respect the playground environment, stay calm in a fight, or use their brains before speaking out of anger...are they too, then, teaching religion? I mean come on! It sounds like ignorance is playing a strong role in complaints, and I'm proud to see the Encinitas School District move forward with implementing yoga for the kids in their schools. For more information on Girls On Target visit: www.girlsontarget.com, or check them out on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/GirlsOnTarget

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Avatar for user 'tkdmike'

tkdmike | January 5, 2013 at 8:58 a.m. ― 1 year, 6 months ago

To believe that Yoga is NOT a good thing for children means either you have NEVER done yoga or a your an IDIOT - simple as that

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Avatar for user 'huntuckian'

huntuckian | January 9, 2013 at 5:48 p.m. ― 1 year, 6 months ago

The anti-yoga campaign is led by Mary Eady, an evangelical Christian who asks in her blog article about this issue, "Will you pray that I will have an opportunity to share the truth of the Gospel and the God of the Bible with the people at this school and in my community?" http://truthxchange.com/articles/2011/12/01/the-emperors-new-yoga-pants/ Evidently, it's fine for evangelical Christians to proselytize on public school grounds--just not anyone else.

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Avatar for user 'L_Knight'

L_Knight | January 10, 2013 at 2:41 p.m. ― 1 year, 6 months ago

We wouldn't want kids to be learning how to breathe, relax and meditate when they should instead be learning to suffer from fear and anxiety about sin and hell like good little fundamentalists. What kind of a horrible person would try to prevent such an unequivocally healthy activity for children? Unbelievable.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | January 10, 2013 at 3:07 p.m. ― 1 year, 6 months ago

Nayeem - Sure, it's a fact that the sun lights and heats the earth, but to thank the sun is utterly absurd. While we're at it, why don't we thank gravity for keeping the atmosphere here and preventing us from being flung off the earth?

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