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Education Reporter

S-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g Public School Curriculum to Include Yoga
ASPEN, CO - Aspen Elementary School students in 1st through 4th grades have a new subject added to their curriculum this year: "Yoga Ed." On Sept. 9, the school board approved yoga lessons, supposedly to help students "relax" and adjust to the new school year. A controversy arose when some parents objected to the lessons on the ground that yoga is based on Hinduism and other eastern religions and therefore violates the so-called separation between church and state.

The objecting parents, including First Baptist Church of Aspen Pastor Steve Woodrow, insist that yoga is more than stretching and exercise, and that it cannot be separated from its religious roots. At a public meeting before the lessons won final approval, Woodrow pointed out a number of religious terms in the curriculum, including "mantra," "mandela" (a Buddhist spiritual term), and "meditation." The parents also objected to the use of non-teacher instructors who may view yoga lessons as "spiritual."

In addressing parents' con-cerns, Aspen School Superintendent Tom Farrell vowed that any and all religious references would be removed from the program, but Woodrow noted that this promise merely reinforced his contention that the program does indeed have religious content.

According to the Aspen Times (8-28-02), the yoga program was introduced to teachers last spring by its sponsor, the Aspen Center for New Medicine. Aspen School Principal Barb Pitchford stated that she and "a majority of the school staff liked the idea of alternatively calming and invigorating exercises for their charges."

The Aspen Center's website states that its mission is to focus "on the relation of mind and body and the ways in which emotional, mental, social and spiritual factors can affect the whole of human health." The in-school yoga program was created after an "expert yogi" visited the Center in February.

While the Center for New Medicine, the School District, and the American Yoga Association all insist that yoga is not religious and that it actually predates the Hindu religion "by many centuries," yoga has long been associated with ancient Hindu practices, and its ties to spirituality and meditation are difficult to dispute.

According to the Washington Post, yoga is "a multi-hundred-million-dollar business in America," claiming some 15 million adherents. The Post chronicled charges (8-27-02) by former yoga teacher Thom Birch that the practice "has become cutthroat and mafia-like." Birch asserted that many yoga practitioners "are the biggest thieves, bullies and sex addicts - all of it under this veil of spirituality."

High-profile instructors including Bikram Choudhury, the self-proclaimed "Guru of the Stars," have trademarked yoga poses and spiritual terms in order to collect fees for their use. Choudhury reportedly compares himself to Jesus and Buddha and claims he can cure diseases.

None of this is reassuring to the parents of Aspen Elementary School students who are allegedly being cured of their "rowdiness" with weekly yoga classes. Although an attorney for the Aspen Schools expressed confidence that the lessons don't violate the Constitution, Steve Woodrow and fellow parents expect the dispute will end up in court.

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