Friday, October 28, 2011


New York - To “om” or not to “om”: For those who teach yoga in schools, that is a question that arises with regularity. The little syllable, often intoned by yoga students at the beginning and end of class, signifies different things to different people. But with its spiritual connotations, it is a potential tripwire for school administrators and parents, along with “namaste” and other Sanskrit words, chanting and hands in the prayer position.  The om question ties into the wider debate over the extent to which yoga is entwined with religion. Yoga program directors, who train and place teachers in the schools and develop curriculums, try to avoid setting off a battle like the one that developed over the Lord’s Prayer.  “Every school is different, and every one has their own permutations and parameters of what you can and can’t do,” said Shari Vilchez-Blatt, founder and director of “Karma Kids Yoga” on West 14th Street, which sends teachers to private and public schools in New York.

“Bent on Learning”, a 10-year-old program based on Grand Street that teaches 3,300 students a week in 16 public schools, is a namaste-free zone. “No namaste,” Jennifer Ford, the development director and one of the founders, said. “No om. No prayer position with the hands. Nothing that anyone could look in and think, this is religious.”  At Karma Kids, Ms. Vilchez-Blatt takes a more elastic position on “om.” “We om,” she said. “I don’t look at it as spiritual. When we say ‘om,’ it is all the sounds in the universe.” Still, she checks whether it is acceptable to school administrators before introducing it in class.  If the answer is no, she has creative remedies, leading chants of “peace”.  Jennifer Cohen Harper, director of “Little Flower Yoga”, also discusses with administrators the content of classes. She incorporates “om” and “namaste,” which she translates as “the light in me bows to the light in you.”

It is allowed to teach yoga but do not say "Namaste" nor "Om" and do not place your hands in prayer position. Some Yoga teacher training programs in the USA stress upon this hard-line policy.  One hurdle that yoga faces in the public school system in NYC - and in the West in general - is whether it is a religious practice or not.  Opinions on this question have been argued both ways - but quite a lot of it depends on how one defines ‘religion.’  In this article the issue of whether yoga is a religion, or part of a religion, is further confused by equating spirituality with religion.

Yoga is an integral part of the Hindu religion. There is a saying: “There is no Yoga without Hinduism and no Hinduism without Yoga.”  The country of origin of Yoga is undoubtedly India, where for many hundreds of years it has been a part of man’s activities directed towards higher spiritual achievements. The Yoga Philosophy is peculiar to the Hindus, and no trace of it is found in any other nation, ancient or modern. It was the fruit of the highest intellectual and spiritual development. The history of Yoga is long and ancient. The earliest Vedic texts, the Brahmanas, bear witness to the existence of ascetic practices (tapas) and the vedic Samhitas contain some references, to ascetics, namely the Munis or Kesins and the Vratyas. ... Yoga has a long history. It is an integral subjective science. ... The seeds of the yoga system may be discovered in the Vedic Samhita because the Vedas are the foundation of Indian culture philosophy and religion.

“A Tribute to Hinduism” - “Yoga and Hindu Philosophy”
by Sushama Londhe
Published by Pragun Publications, New Delhi, India

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