Teaching Yoga to Students Contentious in Encinitas

Kids doing Yoga
photo credit: Ilona

In an effort to fight the obesity, bullying, and unhealthy lifestyles of its students, the School District in Encinitas, California accepted a half million dollar grant from the Jois Foundation to introduce a health and wellness program including exercise, meditation and yoga. This foundation was named for the late Krishna Pattabhi Jois, an influential yoga teacher who once lived in Encinitas. Because of this connection, some parents see the program as a tool for religious indoctrination into Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and metaphysics and devout Christians, Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock sued the School District.

Though yoga is used as a spiritual practice by some, and may seem semi-religious, it is typically used by most people in America as a form of exercise and promotion of wellness but because the foundation is supported by Paul Tudor Jones The II and his wife Sonia, who are researching the effects of yoga on reducing bullying obesity and other unhealthy behaviors, the Sedlock’s attorney, Dean Broyles of the National Center for Law and Policy, accused the foundation of using the children as test subjects.

The School Board stood firm, pointing out that the students whose parents file an objection with the school are excused from having to practice yoga and could still acquire their required 200 minutes of exercise every ten school days through other physical education programs.

Broyles claimed that because the students are taught postures that resemble prayer – such as touching their middle fingers to their thumbs – an explicit religious intent is clear. He also claimed that “The final state and ultimate goal of Ashtanga yoga is samadhi. By ‘samadhi,’ they mean absorption into the universal, or union with the divine, your honor. If that’s not an explicitly religious goal, I don’t know what is.” David Peck, the defending attorney, stated that is "a subjective, skewed, fanatical prism" through which to view the class.

In the trial, San Diego Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer stated, “I suppose when you refer to worship, one is free to worship whatever, whomever one wishes, and that can be virtually anything,I suppose some people are accused of worshiping a sports team. There are traditional religions and very non traditional religions, and I'm not sure what religion actually is.”

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