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Debate over School Yoga Program Heats Up

School board trustees got an ear full from both supporters and opponents during an informational session Tuesday.

In a community that is known as an epicenter of yoga in North America, the Encinitas Union School Board heard from more than a dozen speakers divided over yoga instruction within the schools.

The overflow crowd packed the board’s chambers Tuesday as parents, teachers and community members made their voices heard after a presentation of the district wellness program.

Dr. David Miyashiro, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services reported that the district, composed of nine elementary schools in Encinitas and southern Carlsbad, told the trustees that the “overall goal of the P.E. curriculum is the health and well-being of our children.” He said the inclusion of yoga in the curriculum has helped to meet the statewide standards for physical education, including developing “social and emotional skills.”

The state requires 200 minutes of physical education instruction per 10 days in kindergarten through sixth grade. Several schools rely on classroom teachers rather than a dedicated P.E. instructor to ensure the timeframe is met. 

However, beginning this year, the district received a $533,000 grant from the Jois Foundation to incorporate Ashtanga yoga into the curriculum. At least three schools already had some form of yoga instruction prior to the grant. Currently, five are participating, with all of the schools slated to be on board by the spring.

While students are given the choice to opt out of the instruction, Miyashiro told the trustees that very few declined the sessions.

Related: EUSD and Jois Foundation Respond to Concerns About Religious Yoga

Superintendent Dr. Timothy Baird clarified several questions he’d received for the board. “There is no religious instruction,” he said, “only the physical component of yoga is taught.” Baird said the “cultural elements” had been taken out of the yoga program, referring to Sanskrit and any references to the Hindu roots of Ashtanga yoga. 

Yet, some parents were not convinced. “Ashtanga yoga is inherently religious and does not belong in our schools,” Stephanie Pena told the trustees. Shawn Welch, whose child attends Capri Elementary agreed. “It is undeniable that yoga is spiritual,” she said. 

Escondido attorney Dean Broyles, who demanded in October that the yoga program be scrapped, threatened the district with legal action. Broyles addressed the trustees briefly saying the instruction amounts to religious indoctrination and is therefore unconstitutional.

David Peck, a district parent and an attorney said his firm, The Coast Law Group, was prepared to represent the district pro bono if necessary. “But I really hope this doesn’t result in litigation,” he said. “We’re here because we want the best for our children,” he told the crowd. 

Local resident Karen von Dessonneck, 72, said she’s been practicing yoga for 30 years. “I don’t see why there’s such a fuss over this,” she told the trustees as the crowd applauded loudly.

Several parents, a teacher and a district nurse gave anecdotal evidence that the program was a success.  Delores Lodel, a mother of two children in a district school said her children love the program. She said it had a calming impact on them and helped them to focus.

Trustee Gregg Sonken asked whether Ashtanga yoga was the best form of practice to incorporate in the curriculum. “I guess I just don’t know enough about the different types,” he said. But he said he was concerned with the controversial nature of the issue. “How are we going to address this division in our community?” he asked the other four trustees. 

Trustee Carol Skiljan said she had taken various yoga classes and encouraged him to observe a class at one of the schools. “It was absolutely uplifting to watch those kids,” she said. “It made me want to run out and take a class.”

The board took no action at the meeting, as the agenda item was only informational in nature. 

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Yoga Love December 05, 2012 at 01:18 PM
As a Yoga instructor I think it is very effective to add Yoga in Schools and Colleges. Kids and Teens have to take a lot of pressure and if they get the opportunity to practice Yoga at school or college, it will help them to maintain healthy, happy, peaceful and balanced life. Nayeema Akter www.anamayaresort.com
Anna Miley December 05, 2012 at 02:15 PM
Now a days Kids and teens have to take extra pressure in their school and don't get enough time to practice Physical or mental workout. So it is better idea to add Yoga in their School activities. It will make them relaxed, refreshed and energetic enough. Anna Miley http://www.personal-development.info/centerpointe.html
Judd Handler December 05, 2012 at 05:25 PM
In response to both comments above (by Nayeema and Anna), which may just be promotional plugs, the issue isn't whether or not yoga should be taught in schools. Nearly everybody, including the parents who don't like the current program, agree that yoga is great for kids. The real issue is whether or not Ashtanga Yoga in particular is, at its core, quasi-religious in its philosophy. When I take a yoga class and the teacher encourages everyone to sing the "invocation" at the end of class, which is in Sanskrit, I abstain. Children should not be forced to chant and as long as the EUSD has removed these elements, I think it's fine. The Sean O'Shea Foundation, who for the last 5 years has been teaching yoga in local schools, never ever incorporates Sanskrit terminology or philosophy; but they don't have the big bucks like JOIS does. The EUSD should have made sure none of these Hindu philosophies were present to start with, but now that they have been removed, the threat of a lawsuit should be removed by attorney Broyles immediately. But Broyles probably loves the publicity and will keep the threat looming over EUSD.
Rich Williams December 05, 2012 at 05:41 PM
I'm an agnostic secularist, yet I have absolutely no objection to having schools add Ashtanga Yoga to the PE curriculum. Why? Because I "do" (not "practice") Ashtanga myself, and for me it's a great workout, a great way to stay limber, a great way for me to be a "better breather", and the exercise is good for my head. I have NO interest in seeking some spiritual aspect of doing yoga, in fact it would turn me off. I think that if some of the people who are objecting to bringing Ashtanga to schools actually did some Ashtanga classes themselves, they would find that they are not exposing themselves to "religious indoctrination." I know that there are a lot of yoga studios and instructors who bring spirituality to Ashtanga classes, but there are plenty out there that don't. I'm sure that they schools are being very careful about making it just a "workout" for the kids and are avoiding bringing any religious context to the classes being taught. At the risk of offending those who object, I think that this is a classic case of fear being born of ignorance. Ashtanga is just a fantastic workout for our kids, and that's all it needs to be. They will be healthier and happier for doing it, and I applaud the courage of those people who are standing up to those who object to having Ashtanga classes in our schools.
Cheri Sheridan December 05, 2012 at 05:42 PM
As a single parent who has raised two grown daughters through this school system, I believe we are seriously lacking in our educational efforts to help our children prepare for the stress in daily life. We owe our children instruction on ways to strenghten their bodies without the stress of competition and relaxation techniques. Not every child can play football or soccer, but every child can learn to strengthen their own bodies, gain flexability, strong posture, and valuable breathing techniques - physical activities that will have value their entire life. We are doing them an injustice to deprive them of these simple tools for coping with the stressful lifestyle we have created. Cheri Sheridan
Jay Berman December 05, 2012 at 06:23 PM
It's YOGA ... yeeesh ... Encinitas seems to have a yoga studio every other block .... If you don't want your kid to do yoga, fine ... pull them out of it .. this shouldn't EVEN be an issue ...
Cliff December 05, 2012 at 07:46 PM
I am curious to hear from those who object to the Yoga in class. Have they attended a class to see if "spiritual" elements are included? If not, seeing is believing. If they have, and there is spiritual content, then they have a point and that content should be removed. respectfully, Cliff Keller
Robert Paulson December 05, 2012 at 08:38 PM
I'm an atheist and I've been doing yoga for over forty years and I'm not a Hindu yet. There is enough idiocy to go around and those opposed to yoga in our schools caught their idiocy early. Perhaps they should see their doctors and get an Rx for some "I don't give a shit" pills. They need to do some yoga and mellow out.
Dev Marcus December 05, 2012 at 10:10 PM
Since the objections seem to stem from an alleged spiritual association, just rename it Encinitas Yoga and be done with it. Certain people sure must have a lot of time on their hands to have made this an issue. Yoga is nondenominational and is a boon to society.
Dave Peck, COAST LAW GROUP December 05, 2012 at 11:44 PM
For a productive discussion it is important to separate the FACTS from the FEAR. As Dr. Baird and the Board of Trustees made clear last night, and as supported by the EUSD health & wellness curriculum and the actual District instructors, the yoga program does NOT involve chanting, Sanskrit, Eastern iconography, philosophy, religion or spiritualism. In sum, despite all the noise to the contrary, what is being taught in the classrooms is objectively devoid of religion. Because the instructors are not transmitting spiritualism, the students cannot be receiving it. Despite these FACTS, many opponents continue to cling to a FEAR that positioning one's body in yoga poses is necessarily spiritual - in other words, students may not know it but they are unintentionally practicing religion through body movement. Think about that one for a minute. Can our bodies alone truly engage in spiritual practice? Don't spiritualism and/or religion necessarily involve the brain? Even the Catholic church apparently rejects the opponents' theory: "Let's be clear: The body postures of yoga are in themselves neutral. Moving the body into a certain position does not necessarily engage the person in any particular spiritual activity." (See http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/the-trouble-with-yoga#.ULzbuq1iKEY.email). While we certainly hope it does not come to a legal battle, our firm reiterates its offer to defend EUSD on a pro bono basis should this matter be dragged into court.
Surfing Siren December 06, 2012 at 12:02 AM
I wish I could represent with you Coast Law Group, I would do it for free too! Let's get these weirdos, yes, weirdos out of our area if they disagree with our culture.
Robert Paulson December 06, 2012 at 12:56 AM
Is yoga catching?
pam December 06, 2012 at 02:16 AM
My son LOVES the yoga class and comes home showing me how to stretch and relax. We live in Yoga central. I love that our schools are always on the cutting edge. Have your kids do something else. Don't ruin it for everyone! Please keep Yoga!
juerosteve December 06, 2012 at 03:08 PM
If all elements or references to Hinduism are removed from the class there should be no objection. Afterall we wouldn't prevent a P.E. teacher from working at the school if they attended bible study on weekends would we?
Robert Paulson December 06, 2012 at 04:17 PM
I think high school football is more "sacred" than yoga.
Lynne Karle December 06, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Make love not war, people! The holidays are coming for Pete's sake - we have so MUCH for which to be thankful! Why fight and ruin it for everyone when you can simply have your child sit out...I agree with the other comments about helping kids to manage stress. We have a son who does so with baseball, and a daughter who takes karate, plays softball, and participates in our school's wellness program. Even so, she gets incredibly stressed out over tests and about school in general. This program would help her tremendously and we look forward to seeing it added to the daytime PE instruction at Ocean Knoll! Lynne District Parent
Kristen Kathleen Enyedi December 07, 2012 at 05:48 PM
I enjoyed reading all of your comments. As a mother, I want only the very best for my daughter. That's why the Health and Wellness Program is so important to me. Wishing you all the best, Kristen Enyedi
Lynn Marr December 08, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Yoga is related to body, mind & spirit. I'm not sure how one can really separate spiritual from religious, but I feel that integrating our lives is healthy. I understand EUSD is being paid to allow this instruction thru an agreement with certain Yoga practitioners? I don't feel that which is presented as healthy physical exercise promotes Hinduism. But if prayers aren't allowed, then should chanting be? Interesting question, & I'd have to agree: invocations or chanting wouldn't be appropriate. Calling out Sanskrit positions seems ok, to me. But Superintendent Timothy Baird DIDN'T do a good job notifying parents of what the Yoga exercises would entail, BEFOREHAND, & DIDN'T give them opportunities, in writing, to opt out of the instruction, as he should have. I feel Baird has been negligent in this area, as well as his ongoing efforts to force the City of Encinitas, thru past & reoccurring threats of litigation, AT TAXPAYERS' EXPENSE, to privatize the surplus school site of Pacific View, taking it out of the public domain, thru rezoning, in order for Baird to "enhance" his resume' & for short term profit that he would like to get as a pay off, from private redevelopment of our historic, community asset. DONATED LAND, should remain public/semi-public. Baird recently got another raise, when He WAS making $200,000, over $65,000 more than in Ojai, at OUSD; he's been here only 3 years, doesn't have deep community roots. Teachers are being given pink slips!
Lynn Marr December 09, 2012 at 12:18 AM
Baird wrongly directed Trustee Mo Muir, whom many of us voted for, due to her position on surplus school Pacific View (that PV should remain public, but could be leased out as an art center, within the current zoning) that she should recuse herself. EUSD's Board of Trustees is Baird's "boss," NOT the other way around. To pressure a Trustee to recuse herself is disenfranchising us, who voted for her and/or her husband, Encinitas Councilmember Mark Muir BECAUSE of their independent but shared perspectives on saving donated land, for public use. Although the lawsuit has been dismissed, Baird has NOW, belatedly, pressured Mo to recuse herself from the PV issue, because he is attempting to STIFLE DISSENT! Mark Muir gave me permission to share this, which he recently wrote to me in an e-mail: "when Mo asked Tim why she was excluded from the vote he stated `The Board will be discussing various strategies that may or may not include legal actions or possible discussions with the City. Because Mark represents the City as a council member, it would not be appropriate for you to be part of those conversations and decisions.' She stated publicly at the meeting that she did not agree with his or their counsel's opinion but will accept their professional and paid for advice." Councilmember Muir has now written to the the Fair Political Practices Commission re this alleged conflict, & we're waiting to hear back. Normally, conflicts involve private interests.
Robert Paulson December 09, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Don't grind that ax too sharp or you'll cut yourself.
Lynn Marr December 09, 2012 at 06:23 AM
Robert, from my perspective, and to those of us who have been working for years to save Pacific View from privatization, Superintendent Tim Baird is the one grinding his axe, attempting to cut us off from part of our heritage, our community character, & an irreplaceable asset. I was disappointed that no public speakers addressed Baird's raise. Previously, the trustee Gregg Sonken and Maureen Muir had voted against a raise, as Baird already makes $200,000 plus benefits, for being superintendent of EUSD, which is $65,000 more than he was making in Ojai as Superintendent of OUSD, in 2008. Initially, Gregg and Mo voted no on the raise. One trustee was absent, so with a tie vote, no raise was given. But soon thereafter, another meeting was scheduled. I didn't know until afterwards. Gregg changed his vote, so the final outcome was 4-1, with Mo voting no. I feel his actions on that issue are relevant here, where he failed to give parents adequate notice, and neglected to offer them alternatives to the Yoga program, as an "opt out." I also feel it's relevant that he wrongly has told the one Trustee who disagrees with his course of actions re privatization of Pacific View, that she must recuse herself, when Government Code that specifies what constitutes conflicts of interest has nothing that approaches two elected officials being married, except when one public entity is voting on a matter that involves compensation for members of another public entity.
Tim von Zweck December 12, 2012 at 05:49 AM
Physiological, Cognitive and Psychological Benefits of Yoga Here is a list of the physiological, cognitive and psychological benefits of Yoga: PHYSIOLOGICAL and PHYSICAL BENEFITS Reduced sympathetic dominance/increased parasympathetic activation Reduced blood pressure Reduced resting heart rate Reduced cholesterol Reduced blood glucose levels Improved lipid profile Decrease in inflammatory markers Improved endothelial function Decreased body weight Reduced j-hip ratio Increased strength Increased core stability Improved balance Improved lung function Improved breath control Improved immune system function Reduced muscle tension Reduction in chronic pain, including lower back pain COGNITIVE BENEFITS Improved concentration Sharper focus Increased mental clarity Increased ability to be present PSYCHOLOGICL (mental health, emotional) BENEFITS Reduced sleep and sleep disturbance Reduced anxiety and negative affect Reduced depression Increased feelings of well-being Positive shifts in locus of control Improved coping Adopting a Yoga Prac
Lynn Marr December 12, 2012 at 08:12 AM
I feel the program offers positive benefits. Superintendent Baird should have given parents better notice and alternatives to opt out, if they choose. The controversy could have been avoided by better administration, through the Superintendent, who just was voted a raise, after requesting that it come before the Board of Trustees, again. The first time, the vote was two to two, with one Trustee absent. The second time, one of the Trustees apparently succumbed to pressure, and the vote was 4-1, with none absent. Baird was already making $200,000 PLUS benefits, before the raise. This seems obscene in a time of economic decline, for many, or stagnation, and when many teachers have been given pink slips.

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