Thursday, January 8, 2009

You Can't Spell Satan without "Namaste"

I saw a charming and brief story on FOX morning news today about a south side Chicago school where they are using yoga breathing and stretching exercises to help calm the kids before lessons to great effect. I'm not a regular practitioner of yoga, but I did take classes years ago and still benefit from some of the relaxation tricks I learned. I've done breathing exercises before particularly stressful tests, and I can't recommend strongly enough having your palms face up when you're back in the dentist's chair. As complicated as the problems with our public school systems are, it was nice to see a story about a simple change (occupying less than a minute of time) that was making things better. I thought about blogging it, but couldn't get past the warm feeling to find an asshat angle. Until... I ran a google search to find the clip I saw on FOX this morning. And then I discovered controversy! Breathing exercises are a violation of the separation of church and state!

Here's school yoga in practice:

“I see a lot fewer discipline problems,” said Ruth Reynolds, principal ofColeman Elementary School in San Rafael. Her observation of the school’s 6-year-old yoga program is that it helps easily distracted children to focus.

“If you have children with ADD and focusing issues, often it’s easy to go from that into a behavior problem,” Reynolds said. “Anything you can do to help children focus will improve their behavior.”

In 2003, researchers at California State University, Los Angeles, studied test scores at The Accelerated School, a charter school where Guber sits on the board and where students practice yoga almost every day. Researchers found a correlation between yoga and better behavior and grades, and they said young yogis were more fit than the district average from the California Physical Fitness Test.

And here's school yoga on drugs:

Despite mainstream acceptance, yoga in public schools remains touchy. Critics say even stripped-down “yoga lite” goads young people into exploring other religions and mysticism.

Dave Hunt, who has traveled to India to study yoga’s roots and interview gurus, called the practice “a vital part of the largest missionary program in the world” for Hinduism. Hunt, of Bend, Ore., and the author of “Yoga and the Body of Christ: What Position Should Christians Hold?” said that, like other religions, the practice has no place in public schools.

“It’s pretty simple: Yoga is a religious practice in Hinduism. It’s the way to reach enlightenment. To bring it to the West and bill it as a scientific practice for fitness is dishonest,” said Hunt.

If you want to read a nice calm explanation of why Christians needn't feel spiritually threatened by yoga, go here. If you want to read a meandering rant about the inanity of most separation of church and state arguments, continue on with me.

First Amendment disputes generally bore me, because I'm as close to an absolutist as possible while still acknowledging the "fire!" exception. The atheists/agnostics/whatever they're calling themselves these days, they are right. Christmas Trees are pretty, but the state and religion will survive without displaying Christmas Trees on government property. "Under God" really shouldn't be in the Pledge of Allegiance. The only way it survives is because of ceremonial deism, which is to say the words "have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content." And every time some Christian group freaks out about a limitation of their ability to encroach the government sphere with symbols of their faith, they pretty much prove the damn point that the separation of church and state is good for protecting freedom of conscience.

Any faith that crumbles for want of a creche display in the capitol building wasn't worth having. And any faith that desires to promote its cultural dominance should not be able to use the government as its instrument. But many Christians do not accept this, and so they wage hysterical fights against the (imaginary) War on Christmas. Washington State was recently the scene of a kerfuffle surrounding the hodge podge of "holiday" related displays that included an atheist solstice celebration that noted that Christianity is myth and superstition. So they had demonstrations, counter-demonstrations, calls to "chase out of the house of God [sic] all the unbelievers and evildoers," and finally a protester noting that she was not with the people who carried "Atheists go to Hell" signs, but felt her attendance was "a way our family decided that we had to stand up for Jesus."

No doubt, failing to attend that protest would be seen in the eyes of the Lord as the equivalent of denying Him three times before the cock crowed. And never mind that the Capitol building isn't the "house of God" and reports of atheists demanding equal time at religious pulpits are unheard of. Details, details! We should all stop over-reacting.

But it never stops. The same insecure bullying impulse that demands public space to promote religious symbols looks at breathing exercises that help children focus as a sinister plot to promote Hinduism, or, heaven forbid, encourage children to "explore." First they taught your kids yoga, next thing you know the kids are requesting first editions of the works of Madame Blavatsky for Christmas after reading Isis Unveiled online. And we can't have that.

post script: how awesome is it that kerfuffle is in the firefox spell check?

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