Parents complain about yoga in NY school
MASSENA, N.Y. - A northern New York high school is putting expansion of a classroom yoga program on hold after parents complained their students were being indoctrinated in Hindu rites.
The Massena Board of Education agreed to delay a decision and asked two teachers who have been developing the year-old program to demonstrate yoga’s breathing and relaxation techniques at the board’s next meeting on Oct. 14.
“I never thought this would be such a controversy,” board president Julie Reagan said Thursday.
“If the school board felt there was any hidden religious activity behind the motives of our two instructors, we certainly wouldn’t allow that. There is absolutely none of that. The teachers are well intended and trying to offer an aspect of fitness in the classroom that relaxes and readies the children for better learning,” Reagan said.
But the critics say yoga violates church-state boundaries and has no place in the classroom.
“ We are not opposed to the benefits. We can understand the benefits. We are opposed to the philosophy behind it and that has its ties in Hinduism and the way they were presenting it,” said the Rev. Colin Lucid of Calvary Baptist Church in Massena.
Special education teacher Martha Duchscherer and Kerry Perretta, a Spanish teacher, began using yoga in their classrooms last year to relieve stress before exams. They’ve been attending conferences and developing a program across the district.
“It’s a great alternative instructional strategy for children that are over-stressed or who need to relax a little bit,” said Reagan, a professor of classroom management courses at the State University of New York at Potsdam. “I feel bad for the teachers, who wanted to do something different and found it was working, and wanted to share the success.”
One hundred schools in 26 states use yoga in the classroom to relieve stress, Reagan said. Federal funds and grants are available to educators who are going for yoga certification, she said.
“It’s been a little discouraging that this program has taken on a negative tone,” said Duchscherer, who has taught in the Massena district for 11 years. “ The intention was never to teach religion ... It was to introduce relaxation techniques.”
The Watertown Daily Times first reported that a small group of vocal parents raised concerns about the separation of church and state, saying at a board meeting last week that the district should not expose their children to Hindu rituals.
Lucid said it was “inappropriate” to do yoga in the classroom and that it should be offered as an after-school activity. Although the program is voluntary, he said, “How many kids are going to get up and leave the room?”
Lucid has a child in the high school, but not in one of the classes doing the yoga. He said he spoke out on behalf of congregation members and as a concerned parent.
“It’s been blown way out of proportion. People have made it a religious war, and it’s not a religious war. We are basically concerned parents, saying we don’t want our children participating in something that could cause them more stress and confusion,” Lucid said.
Lucid said that even in its most basic form yoga is tied to Hinduism.
However, according to the American Yoga Association, that is a common misconception. Yoga actually predates Hinduism by many centuries, although it has been adopted by Hinduism, as well as other world religions.
“ Yoga is not a religion. It has no creed or fixed set of beliefs,” according to the association’s Web site. “ The practice of yoga will not interfere with any religion.”
There are more than a hundred different schools of yoga, a word that means “to join or yoke together,” and refers to bringing the mind and body together in a harmonious experience. The most commonly practiced, at least in the United States, is hatha yoga, which encompasses physical movements and postures, plus breathing techniques.
Pope warns against agressive conversion efforts
VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI cautioned Roman Catholic bishops in former Soviet republics on Thursday against aggressive means of gaining converts, an issue that has complicated attempts to reconcile his church with Orthodox Christians.
A Vatican envoy to Moscow, meanwhile, reported progress in improving relations between the two communions that could one day pave the way for a papal visit to Russia.
The Russian Orthodox Church has accused the Vatican of poaching for converts. The Roman Catholic Church contends it is simply looking after its tiny flock in former Soviet nations, where Orthodoxy is the predominant Christian denomination.
In general, such countries do not forbid Orthodox worshippers to convert to Catholicism, but Orthodox authorities have complained about other faiths.
For instance, the U.S. State Department recently reported that respect for religious freedom in Tajikistan has declined over the last year.
That was evident on Thursday when Nozirdzhon Buriyev, a spokesman for the former Soviet republic, said a court has ordered the banning of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Central Asian country. He said the group was found by a military court to have breached religious legislation and illegally imported faith literature.
At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI thanked an audience of visiting bishops from former Soviet republics in Central Asia for having worked to keep “the flame of faith lit, despite the tough pressures exercised during the years of the atheist and communist regime.”
But while the pope urged the bishops to keep the Christian faith alive, he said he wanted to remind them that “the Church never imposes, but freely proposes the Catholic faith.”
“ That is precisely why any form of proselytizing, which forces, or induces and attracts someone with inopportune subterfuge to embrace the faith, is prohibited,” Benedict said in his speech.
Tensions with Orthodox leaders after the demise of Soviet Union prevented Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, from realizing his dream of a pilgrimage to Moscow.