Classroom yoga exercises prompt parent concerns in Cobb

A group of parents at a Cobb County elementary are upset over the school’s use of yoga and other mindfulness practices for students because they believe it endorses a non-Christian belief system.

School leaders at Bullard Elementary held a meeting recently with parents to address the “many misconceptions” over the issue that “created a distraction in our school and community,” according to an email to parents from Bullard principal Patrice Moore.

“While we have been practicing de-stressing techniques in many classrooms for years, there have been some recent practices associated with mindfulness that are offensive to some,” the email states.

As a result, the school is making changes. When yoga moves are used in classrooms, students will not say the word “namaste” nor put their hands by their hearts, according to the email. The term and gesture are often used as a greeting derived from Hindu custom.

When coloring during classroom teaching breaks, students will not be allowed to color mandalas, spiritual symbols in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Moore also wrote that, although teachers have “never used nor taught about crystals having healing powers during these breaks, we understand it has become a belief. Therefore we will ensure that nothing resembling this will be done in the future.”

She did not return a phone call Monday requesting comment and more details about the school’s yoga controversy.

In her email, she asked parents to be part of a new committee to get input on a variety of topics, including mindfulness and curriculum practices.

Over the past decade or so, a growing number of school systems across the U.S. and Georgia have started using yoga and other mindfulness practices to help students deal with stress and increase focus on academics in the classroom.

At a time when student obesity rates are high and schools are pulling back on recess and physical education time, yoga-based health and wellness classes and practices are aimed at offering more opportunities for students to get exercise, education officials say.

In some high schools, the yoga-based activities are offered via elective courses. At lower grade levels, students often do yoga poses and breathing exercises at their desks or in physical education classes.

Cheryl Crawford has trained hundreds of faculty and students in metro Atlanta schools in yoga-based practices via Grounded Kids Yoga. She’s worked in Fulton, Atlanta Public Schools, Decatur and DeKalb school systems, which all incorporate yoga-based practices, she said.

Crawford is not aware of similar outcries from parents at other public schools in Georgia, though there have been instances in other states involving conservative Christian faith groups.

One of the more well known cases in recent years involved a group of California parents, who protested against school yoga classes, arguing they promote Hinduism. School system officials said the yoga classes were not religious and did not endorse any faith but are a form of schools’ wellness curriculum.

Crawford said a number of students have been helped by yoga-based activities in schools, which are not intended to endorse any faith. Yoga can especially help calm students, who are anxious over testing, as well as those dealing with anger and bullying issues.

“It’s a way to get children aware of their breath patterns, their tendencies and habits,” Crawford said. “Often times they’re focused outwardly, they’re not focused inwardly. It helps them if they’re very worried…and to use that energy to do something else.”

“It’s a physical act, but you’re using your mind and your breath. It’s linking body and mind through the breath.”

A statement the Cobb school district released called Bullard’s meeting with the group of parents last week a “local school conversation,” attended by Cobb’s deputy superintendent John Adams and assistant superintendent Barbara Swinney.

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