They come into the classroom like gangbusters. After school yoga starts at 3:30 p.m., but the students have only been untethered for fifteen minutes. It takes a while for them to settle into calm. I remind them to take off their shoes at the door and come in quietly.
Mrs. H! I gave a presentation to my Girl Scout troop this weekend. Guess what it was?
She barely stops to take a breath.
I gave the entire presentation on YOGA. She gives the word yoga extra emphasis.
She is beaming, excited to tell me about it. But the other kids also are vying for my attention, showing me poses they’ve been practicing. One boy is standing on his head.
No headstands! I remind him quickly. Some of the kids are busy shaking their mats out, others are looking at the hamster in the classroom. It takes a while to get settled some days.
My second grade Yogi/Girl Scout is eager to show me some of the poses she demonstrated for her troop. I am surprised and delighted when she executes a lovely “goddess pose.” Everyone likes it, even the boys want to try it in spite of the feminine name. It is one of my favorite poses. It is powerful and strong. (And you will be able to bounce quarters off your thighs if you do it enough.)
But it is one of the poses I avoid because I teach in a public school. I am all too aware of the small yet vocal group in California who are hell bent on getting yoga out of their school. They are convinced that yoga goes against their own Christian religion, and is indoctrinating children into Hinduism.
I teach yoga to kids in a school district that gets it. But I’m careful. The word Goddess might be misconstrued. I use some Sanskrit words for some of the poses because I think it’s great for them to learn the ancient and beautiful words. Besides, it’s more fun to say Tadasana, than Mountain Pose. We use both. We say Namaste at the end of class as a sign of respect. If there is any aspect of Hinduism I am teaching, then I am teaching the basic tenets of all religions. Kindness, caring for others, remembering the Golden Rule. These things are found in all religions.
But I am not teaching religion. I am teaching yoga. I am teaching children poses to help make their bodies strong and flexible. I am teaching children to breathe, to get quiet, to get calm. And in all of that, there are aspects of teaching kindness, and caring for others, and remembering the Golden Rule that come through naturally.
If I were queen, I would make yoga part of the curriculum in all public schools. What better way to start the day than with a calm, focused mind, and a strong yet relaxed body?
Goddess Pose, I discovered, goes by another name, so next week I will add it to the class using Fierce Angle Pose instead. I know my beautiful goddess/girl scout will correct me. I want children to feel good about themselves and others. To be the best they can be. To be strong in body and mind. Yoga is a firm foundation for all of those things.
For the critics who worry we are teaching a “religion,” I remember the Dalai Lama’s answer when asked his religion: My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.
Now who could argue with that?
Joan Haskins has been writing her popular blog on Open Salon since 2009. She teaches yoga to children at Balasana Yoga, which provides material for many of her pieces. She also writes memoir pieces, which goes against everything she was taught as a child about not telling family business. She has one daughter in college who she misses on a daily basis.