Religion or exercise? Debate on yoga raises concerns
By DEBORAH FRAZIER
Scripps Howard News Service
September 06, 2002
ASPEN, Colo. - Steve Woodrow, pastor of the First Baptist Church,
said this week that the words "chant," "mantra," "mandela" and other terms
in a Colorado school district yoga program violate federal rulings that bar
religion in classrooms.
Woodrow made the comments at a public meeting at Aspen High School to air
concerns and hear support for the district's plan to teach yoga to
"You can't separate the religious and spiritual aspects of yoga from the
physical aspects," Woodrow said, noting the Hindu roots of the ancient
"I don't want my children to do that," Woodrow said. "This is scary."
Last month, Woodrow objected to Yoga Ed for about 220 elementary school
students as a conflict between church and state. Woodrow has two sons in
Aspen Elementary School.
At a public meeting attended by about 75 parents, teachers, school board
members, yoga practitioners and other residents, Woodrow quoted from the
Yoga Journal that the meditation, breathing and stretching was "an altered
state of consciousness" that promoted a "oneness with God."
And, Woodrow named four court rulings that found yoga violated the
separation of church and state.
There was polite applause. And then there was spirited rebuttal and
"Yoga is not about faith," said Allison Dailey, a substitute teacher and
mother of two boys. She was a missionary and has done yoga exercises for
five years. "I want my two sons to experience the focusing and stretching."
Ministers, priests and rabbis have contacted the Aspen School District
since Woodrow challenged the yoga classes. A priest at the Benedictine
Monastery in Aspen wrote that comparing religion to yoga is like comparing
religion to running - there is no comparison.
Yoga Ed, the district's yoga program, was developed by the Children's
Health Initiative at the Aspen Center for New Medicine after Sept. 11 as
part of a program to make children feel safer in the schools. .
Few people in the audience had read the 2-inch-thick Yoga Ed Curriculum
statement, but most were yoga enthusiasts that saw no religious
"Semantics is all we are talking about. We can change a few words and
make it all happen," said Lloyd Herman, an Aspen dentist. At the end of the
nearly four-hour meeting, the school board agreed to consider the options
and make a decision next week.