The Jois Foundation’s program director Russell Case said Encinitas is building a national yoga model for public schools.
“Kids are under a lot of stress. There are a lot of mandates on them to perform. We think it would be extremely helpful to have 10 to 15 minutes possible to sit and be reflective instead of go, go, go,” he said.
Researchers at the University of Virginia and University of San Diego will study the program, including analyzing data on students’ resting heart rates.
They want to know if public schools can impact not only children’s learning, but instill in them good eating habits and skills to help their well-being.
The program started in several schools in September but will go district-wide in January after months of protests by a group of parents.
Mary Eady pulled her first-grade son out of the classes.
Eady said she observed a kindergarten class in which the children did the motions referred to in yoga practices as a sun salutation. The folded over children, stood upright, sweeping up their arms toward the sky.
She said while the teacher called it an “opening sequence” the connotation was the same in her mind: Students were learning to worship the sun, which went against her Christian beliefs that only God should be worshipped.
“It will change the way you think,” she said. “What they are teaching is inherently spiritual, it’s just inappropriate therefore in our public schools.”
Their attorney, Dean Broyles, says they are considering suing to halt the program.
Despite the long debate over prayer in school, constitutional law experts say the courts still have not clearly defined what constitutes religion.
“You might get litigation on a program like this because it’s not totally settled what the boundaries of religion are,” said New York University law professor Adam Samaha.
He points to the 1979 ruling by a federal court that blocked transcendental meditation classes from being taught in New Jersey public schools, deeming those particular lessons to be religious.
But the court did not go so far as to rule that meditation in general is and Samaha thinks courts would not deem yoga a religious practice. If they did, it would open the door to scrutinizing a host of activities.