Recently, a mother in suburban Toronto protested when her daughter received yoga instruction in a public school class. A Roman Catholic, the mother was worried that her daughter was thereby being indoctrinated into the Hindu religion.
I’ve taught Hinduism as part of a world religions survey course for close to thirty years. Hinduism is an extremely variegated religion—so diverse, in fact, that many scholars think there is no such (single) thing as Hinduism: the term is just a catch-all for “all indigenous Indian religion.” But yoga certainly is practiced by many forms of Hinduism, and it is Hindu terminology (in the original Sanskrit language) that dominates its practice here in the West.
Still, is yoga in public schools something Canadian Christians should protest? Should anyone? Should everyone?
I consulted a yoga teacher: a young woman raised in a Christian family, educated in Christian schools, churched in Christian churches, and graduated from a Christian university (Wheaton College). She also happens to be my niece, and her picture graces the head of this article. Here’s what Leanna says:
“In high school, there was a local studio that offered donation-based yoga. My friend and I started going to classes as a cheap, fun activity. After a few classes, I fell in love with doing yoga.
“I’ve been doing yoga for nine years. Three years ago, I decided to get certified as a yoga instructor. I have my 200-hour-level training, and with that I’ve taught public and private classes and have trained other aspiring yoga instructors.
“There are so many types of yoga, and people practice them for different reasons. Some people practice for a workout, for mind-body connection, as a treatment for anxiety and depression, for rehabilitation from injuries, or as a spiritual practice.
“Western Christianity often ignores the body in spiritual practice. Growing up in an evangelical Christian household, I was hesitant about attending a yoga class because of the way Christians around me viewed yoga. After practicing just a few times, however, I felt more connected to God than I’d ever felt through any Christian practice I’d experienced. Before doing yoga, I had always loved being physically active, and it made me feel alive. Through yoga, I was able to move my body and connect to God through meditation.
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