Friday, February 02, 2007

More on Yoga

I took a special interest in Anil's excellent post on yoga in classrooms
in India and the United States, as my 5-year-old has been doing yoga
regularly in his NYC public school kindergarten, and, in another class in
the same school, learned a Hindu prayer that he performed as a song with
the other kids in his class. Both the yoga and the prayer were taught as
part of his regular, mandatory curriculum, although I have no idea whether
either would have been mandatory in the strong sense that he couldn't have
sat them out if we'd complained. My wife and I, both practicing Jews, are
fans of the yoga and weren't troubled really by the prayer, either, even
though it was in fact a mantra in Sanskrit that could have been recited as
an element of Hindu religious practice. Constitutional or not, as Anil's
post suggests, it wasn't intended to be coercive, and given the context of
our little boy's school and his society, it plays no part in any larger
coercive environment. Had they been singing Christmas carols, in
contrast, we might have objected.

For a different reason we might also have objected had it been a prayer
from his own (also minority) tradition. In that case we might have been
troubled by the secularizing effect on the prayer itself, at least in our
child's experience of it. In church-state fights of the establishment
varieties, the potential negative effects on the religion actually being
espoused by the state don't get most of the airplay, but concerns about
them have a venerable tradition. Madison made much of them in his
Memorial and Remonstrance, for example. Anil mentions that some Hindus
and other yoga purists have objected to the new American varieties of
yoga. I wonder whether some yoga practitioners might also object to
yoga's association with state authority.