Is yoga instruction religious? San Diego court case may decide

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Children practice yoga at El Camino Creek Elementary School in Carlsbad, Calif. Photo by Lilly Fowler

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(RNS) Although experts point to a 1979 federal court case that grappled with the instruction of transcendental meditation in the public schools, no court has ruled on whether it is appropriate to teach yoga in public schools.

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  • David Thompson

    Christianity is a serious mental illness and should be recognized in the DSM V.

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  • William Doherty

    Believe it or not, the issue whether yoga instruction is religious will be resolved by an American court right here in the USA. The San Diego Supreme Court will pronounce its verdict this week.

    I think I could resolve this lawsuit by advising the Encinitas School District to change the name of their physical education course from “Yoga” to “Pilates”. But that would spoil all the fun. Everybody would be mad at me even though I saved both sides a bundle in very expensive legal fees.

  • Alka Van Haren

    Yoga doesn’t have to be religious (it is totally up to you) I am a practicing Christian who was born in India. Body, mind and spirit is what yoga is all about. Not a bad thing at all. It helps you deal with your life in a way you never imagined. In my humble opinion, everyone should be practicing Yoga. Namaste 🙂

  • I have a cranky, perverse view on this: Yoga is religion lite–it’s a secularizeable and in the US largely secularized Hindu spin-off. I’m fine with that. What bothers me is that Christianity lite isn’t equally acceptable. In fact the view seems to be that Christianity can’t be lite–that any Christian symbols or ceremonies are intrusive preaching or proselytizing.

  • David Thompson

    That’s because Christianity has too many vocal evangelical/fundamentalist, politically active, divisive and subversive actors to ever be a Christian-Lite. What other religion other than the 33,800 sects of Christianity do you know of that goes state by state, town by town, and country by country proselytizing where ever it can. It’s surely not eastern religion. Jewish don’t do it. Muslims took over by conquest, but not proselytization. Christianity is just intrusive and obnoxious. If you are not that way that’s great, but there are 100 million evangelical/fundamentalist who want creationism taught in schools, so Christians have to be fought at every chance.

  • H

    Of course given the obnoxiousness of evangelical/fundamentalists–which I recognize–you could argue for quite a different conclusion, viz. that the best way of squelching these detestable people is precisely by promoting Christianity lite–a variety of customs and practices evangelicals would regard as trivial or idolatrous. Why can’t we make a distinction between religiosity as such–the harmless, entertaining symbols and ceremonies, and the ridiculous garbage evangelicals promote, e.g. creationism and their absurd “values,” and say: sure, when it comes to religiosity, to symbols and rituals, enjoy, but absolutely no accommodation for false empirical claims or religious “values.” Why is that so hard?

  • Is Kung fu as practiced by monks also religious? The truth is, most exercises are done to maintain balance. It is an Asian viewpoint that to have a balance life you must have yin and yang combined. What will you do inside monasteries…just pray and sit all day and lock your legs sitting down till you cannot stand? You have to stretch like a bamboo swaying with the flow of the wind making its poles sturdier…. and also of how you see and view things altogether.-:)

  • Don108

    Yoga is a form of Eastern spirituality. However, they are NOT teaching yoga. They ARE teaching something called Hatha Yoga, a way to stretch the body and mind to prepare if for spiritual practices, whatever those may be: Christian, Moslem, Hindu, Taoist, Atheist, whatever. So what they are teaching is neither religion nor “religion lite.”

    Think of it this way: in Minnesota, it is common to have church get togethers where they serve a couple of food dishes known as lutefisk and lefse. However, it’s possible to make and eat those dishes with no reference to any religion. The same is true with the hatha yoga being taught in Encinitas.

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  • The country with the largest Muslim population (Indonesia) was made Muslim via proselytization.

  • Yes! Yoga is a religious ritual ! For more information visit

  • Encinitas Mom

    Don … it is not Hatha Yoga, it is Ashtanga yoga. If you do some reading, you will find that this form of yoga is full of a philosophy that is not secular. The founder of Ashtanga yoga has quotes all over the internet and in books that speak to their belief that through practice, all will come. Also, the students were read to from books that described how the poses were imparted to yoga from the gods and they were made to watch videos (I believe in these videos, followers of Jois were bowing down at his feet and kissing his feet … though I am unable to verify this as I have not seen it myself… only been described what happened from a student). The kids were required to memorize sanskrit terms and understand why we are “thankful” to the sun (the sun salutations were designed to be worship of the sun). There are many actual experiences that students had over the last 2 years which violated the separation clause. Now the district wants us to believe that the grant is not being implemented as required in the Memorandum of Understanding (however, they have not amended the MOU formally). Who is to ensure that when the attention is off of the program they don’t go right back to those practices? This should be a free after or before school program in the district. I would not have a problem with the stretches apart from all of the other teachings, but they should not call it yoga. Call it CORE (for CORE strength) and work on balance, strength, flexibility.

  • It boils down to the fact that real Yoga is Hinduism and phony yoga is not.

    Swami Param
    Classical Yoga Hindu Academy

  • jan@veda

    Ashtanga yoga means literally “eight-limbed yoga”, i.e. yoga of eight parts. Hatha yoga is usually understood and practiced in the West as only two of those parts – asana and pranayama (i.e. 3rd and 4th, skipping entirely the first two – yama and niyama – various dos and don’ts) and these are non-spiritual in themselves. Following parts – pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi – are various levels of concentration or meditation and thus can be spiritual or nonspiritual depending on the focus of the meditation (e.g. watching TV is also meditation). To practice ashtanga yoga in full is possible for only a handful of people. It’s a spiritual practice of bygone ages. Nowadays the recommended type of yoga for spiritual realization is bhakti yoga, yoga of devotion, which is the essence of all theistic traditions.

    Bowing down at the feet of a guru is done in the East but not feet kissing. That was invented in Judeo-Christian traditions.

    Surya namaskar (“obeisance to the sun”) is a traditional bowing-stretching exercise.

    Hari Hari

  • Yoga or Hatha Yoga is, factually, Hinduism. One can deny the facts, but the facts remain. The amount of misinformation is stunning. Hatha Yoga is deep into Hindu devotions.

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