Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Teaching woo to kindergartners

A while back I noted that an up and coming generation of kids will be better prepared for the mandatory woo they’ll encounter in med school because it’s now being taught in undergrad. Today I found something even more astounding. Woo, namely Yoga, is being “integrated” into the curriculum of public schools, starting in kindergarten! The integration encompasses multiple content areas of the curriculum as stated in Yoga for Kids Tools for Schools:

Curriculum Integration: All basic curriculum areas are addressed, as well as classroom management, test preparation, fitness, and environmental and multicultural education.

But it’s more than just physical education and relaxation. In this report from WTVJ channel 6, Miami, kids are being taught some fascinating immune system woo:

Some of the yoga poses have actual health benefits, according to DeWitt. "The Tarzan thymus tap in particular, where they're tapping their chest and tapping the glands in their bodies, that helps stimulate and helps the immune system function better," she said.

Although yoga has been catching on in many school systems it is not without controversy. According to an MSNBC report, some parents are concerned that teaching it in the public schools violates the establishment clause:

Tara Guber and her staff demonstrate a typical session where she teaches the teachers in her home in Los Angeles. When Guber created a yoga program five years ago for a public elementary school in Colorado, she never fathomed her proposal would provoke a crusade by some who argued that yoga's Hindu roots possibly violated the separation of church and state.

But proponents of Yoga in the public schools argue that it is merely a form of exercise, or that it is scientific. Well, that's not only woo but another example of a common guise under which Eastern religions are repackaged for the West. We’ve seen this sort of repackaging not only of Yoga but also of other traditions such as Zen Buddhism (as illustrated by the writings of Alan Watts).

Perhaps the best example, and one which provides precedent for an establishment clause challenge, is Transcendental Meditation, a tradition based on Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s brand of Hindu faith. For a time TM was promoted in the West as the “Science of Creative Intelligence” (SCI) and introduced into the New Jersey public schools. With support from the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, teaching of “The Science of Creative Intelligence” was challenged in court. On December 12, 1977 the U.S. District Court of New Jersey ruled that due to the religious underpinnings of SCI its teaching was in violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The New Jersey public schools were thereby enjoined from teaching TM.

I wonder if the case might provide precedent for an establishment clause challenge against the teaching of Yoga in public schools. For that matter, given the religious origins of many forms of woo taught in medical schools, at least those that receive government funding, there may be basis for legal challenges at that level as well.

1 comment:

Vreni said...

I am astonished that Yoga is considered "woo". It is a form of exercise that improves balance, flexibility and strength, while maintaining excellent postural alignment. Exercise that achieves those goals is something everyone should incorporate into their lives for the obvious benefits in disease prevention, joint health, and overall wellness.

And, unlike most gym type workouts, it stimulates the parasympathetic system rather than the sympathetic system, which is useful for the majority of people that are under chronic stress and therefore in sympathetic overload. A gym workout for someone in chronic stress is counterproductive as lifting weights or running on a treadmill further stimulates the sympathetic system, the stress/cortisol response and all that that entails.

I have not been to a yoga class yet that is religious in nature. No one is teaching Hinduism or Buddism. We do sit in silence for a while, but that has no religious purpose whatsoever. It is more to learn to quiet the mind, and to learn to let go and be able to relax. Not a bad skill for most of us to learn, and to teach kids! If anything apart from the exercise is taught, it is loving kindness, empathy and consideration for others. I don't believe that is a religious message at all, and is one we would all support. And I don't see how teaching that can be considered "woo", as that is what parents want to teach their kids anyway.

It is possible that those planning to become yoga instructors learn about the history and beliefs behind the practice, but that is definitely not what mainstream yoga is about at all. It is a "westernized" exercise program.

I regularly incorporate many of the alignment cues from yoga into my personal training and corrective exercise practice, as teaching good posture in the gym is equally as important. I think perhaps you should try a class!

All the best,

Vreni