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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Yoga popularized - yet controversial

Yoga is inherently spiritual (not religious) but the way it has been taught in the US is purely as a physical fitness routine, which still provides the intrinsic health benefits. I wonder then - why all this much ado over nothing? American consumerism is all about dipping into the best of breeds and leveraging it to the maximum - thus the Chinese goods, Indian IT brains, then why not Yoga?
Well, read on - here is the controversy.

Stripped of spiritualism, Yoga stretches into U S public schools

When Tara Guber created a yoga program five years ago for a public elementary school in Aspen, Colo., she envisioned students meditating in the lotus position and chanting "om" to relax before standardized tests

She never fathomed her proposal would provoke a crusade by Christian fundamentalists and parents who argued to the school board that yoga's Hindu roots conflicted with Jesus' teachings -- and possibly violated the separation of church and state. Her critics painted Guber as a new-age nut out to brainwash young minds.

But the feisty teacher-turned-
philanthropist never gave up on yoga, a sequence of breathing exercises, stretching and meditation first described in Hindu literature 4,000 years ago. To make it more palatable, she eliminated the chanting and translated Sanskrit words into kid-friendly English -- yogic panting became "bunny breathing," and "meditation" became "time in."

"I stripped every piece of anything that anyone could vaguely construe as spiritual or religious out of the program," says Guber, a Brooklyn native who embraced yoga after moving to California in the 1970s. Guber, who is married to former Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Peter Guber, changed her name from Lynda to Tara in 1991, when a yogi anointed her with the name of a wise Hindu deity.

Now, five years after Aspen rejected her proposal, more than 100 schools in 26 states have adopted Guber's "Yoga Ed." curriculum -- despite continued protests from critics alarmed by yoga's religious undertones. Guber herself has trained more than 300 physical education instructors to teach yoga in public schools and some 10,000 have used Yoga Ed. literature and videos.

Countless other public and private schools from California to Massachusetts have adapted their own yoga regimens, believing it may help calm students with attention-deficit disorder and reduce childhood obesity. And the federal government now gives grants to phys ed teachers who complete a yoga training course.

"I see a lot fewer discipline problems," says Ruth Reynolds, principal of Coleman Elementary School in San Rafael. Her school in suburban Marin County has not compiled objective data since adopting a yoga program six years ago for students in grades K-2, but her observation is that it helps easily distracted children to focus. The Parent Teacher Association provides funding for mats and teacher training.

"If you have children with ADD and focusing issues, often it's easy to go from that into a behavior problem," Reynolds said. "Anything you can do to help children focus will improve their behavior. It's the same principle in adults. If you have trouble concentrating, you go out for a walk and you come back refreshed and able to focus."

In 2003, Researchers at California State University, Los Angeles studied test scores at the Accelerated School, a south-central LA charter school that was one of the first to adopt Guber's curriculum. It found a correlation between yoga and better behavior and grades. And the researchers said yoga students were more fit than the district average from the California Physical Fitness Test.

- Rachel Konrad, SAN FRANCISCO, United States

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Welcome to the spirituality blog

This blog is an offshoot of a website that I had conceived as a result of the spiritual grace and resultant inspiration during Shivaratri Y2K (http://www.jyotirlinga.com) on the joy of Shiva Bhakti and my quest for spiritual progress. Not finding the time (yep, bad excuse!), this blog suits me fine in quickly adding content... my spiritual forays and thoughts - helps log them too. My spiritual journey started with Hinduism and it's simple stories/ teachings as far back as when I was a 2nd grader, with Lord Shiva and has now found convergence with Advaitism / Duality. The Advaitism gurus like Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi, Nisargadatta Maharaj; they have provided that spiritual boost of energy in many lagging moments and have tremendously influenced me ... little baby steps at a time... that will hopefully all lead upto a final crescendo. The merits of satsangh are many!

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