Yoga can be a wonderful exercise program. I’ve extolled the virtues of DDP Yoga — a program that I’ve used (and need to use again) to lose weight and become more flexible. I have a friend who teaches Yoga Faith, which combines the breathing and poses of yoga with worship of Jesus.
Naturally, there’s a little controversy when it comes to yoga, and it involves the Eastern (Hindu) spirituality often associated with yoga. In 2010, Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, went on record saying that Christians should not practice yoga. He wrote:
Yoga begins and ends with an understanding of the body that is, to say the very least, at odds with the Christian understanding. Christians are not called to empty the mind or to see the human body as a means of connecting to and coming to know the divine. Believers are called to meditate upon the Word of God — an external Word that comes to us by divine revelation — not to meditate by means of incomprehensible syllables.
As with anything, it is a matter of intentionality. What are you meditating, contemplating or dwelling on? What are you setting your heart and mind toward at any given moment? Scripture says, whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Colossians 3:23 reads, “Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others.” Christians, no matter what we choose to do to honor our “temple,” do it all for the glory of God. When we take care of ourselves, we are honoring and glorifying Christ.
Needless to say, the controversy surrounding Christians and yoga probably won’t go away anytime soon, which brings us to a lawsuit currently underway in Cobb County, Georgia, a suburban area northwest of Atlanta. Bonnie Cole, an assistant principal in the Cobb County School System, was transferred from one school to another school 16 miles away, and now she is suing the district over it. The reason for the transfer? Cole introduced a yoga program to calm disruptive students, and that idea didn’t sit well with some parents. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:
She is seeking financial recompense for the resulting distress, inconvenience, income loss, “humiliation” and “indignities” and the effect on her career.
The lawsuit against the school district filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia says that yoga, as Cole introduced it, was not done as a religious practice and the school district was being hypocritical because during that period emails containing “Christian-based Daily Scripture Devotionals” were being sent to all staff.
Cole, who says she is a Christian, says school leaders and ultimately the school board buckled under pressure from parents who held a prayer rally at Bullard “for Jesus to rid the school of Buddhism.” The next day, two women put their hands on Cole’s office window and prayed.
Despite the fears of some parents over the yoga program, it was effective. Students were calming down, and many of them were getting exercise they wouldn’t otherwise have gotten. The exercises were done without injecting obvious spirituality into them or attempting to convert the kids to any sort of belief system.
Still, the parents’ concerns have led the school to enact some changes — some of them unrelated to exercise programs. The AJC reports:
When yoga moves are used in classrooms, students will not say the word “namaste” nor put their hands by their hearts, according to the email. The term and gesture are often used as a greeting derived from Hindu custom.
When coloring during classroom teaching breaks, students will not be allowed to color mandalas, spiritual symbols in Hinduism and Buddhism.
Moore also wrote that, 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.”
The idea of using even non-religious yoga practices in schools is a thorny topic, and the flap over such programs isn’t likely to go away soon, even with the proven effectiveness of the exercises. It will be interesting to see the outcome of the suit and to see what happens next for Bonnie Cole.