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Yoga is revered for its holistic health benefits for the mind, body and soul — but can yoga as an exercise be divorced from its Hindu roots? That’s the question that parents began to ask in Encinitas, California when they learned their children practice Ashtanga yoga during elementary school hours, as part of a comprehensive fitness program. The wellness program is made possible by a $500,000 grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation, who wholeheartedly defend their mission to teach children yoga — and their goal is to expand their yoga classes to the rest of the schools in the area.

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Encinitas California Elementary Schools, Student Yoga Practice, Elementary School yoga classes, Parent Protest, Children Physical Education, California physical education, yoga practice for children

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The controversy began when one parent, Mary Eady, visited her child’s fitness class last year and was disturbed by what she saw. “They were being taught to thank the sun for their lives and the warmth that it brought, the life that it brought to the earth, and they were told to do that right before they did their sun salutation exercises,” she argues. Eady is part of a group of concerned parents who feel that yoga can’t be separated from religion. They want the class to become optional so that those with concerns can remove their children.

Proponents of yoga practice argue that it is simply part of a healthy physical exercise education program, and that doing yoga is just one way in which children are taught to care for their bodies. They also argue that yoga teaches mental discipline, allowing children to learn to regulate their emotions. Encinitas Superintendent Tim Baird explains that in Encinitas classrooms, yoga is only part of a broader curriculum to teach children nutrition, life skills and responsibility.

What do you think? Should teaching yoga in schools be allowed or protested?

via and KPBS