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OCTOBER 12, 2011 10:15AM

Is Namaste Okay in Public School?

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I started teaching yoga classes several years ago in the after-school program at my elementary school. At first, I used it in the kindergarten classroom and eventually  expanded it to other grades after school.

It has been an extremely popular class.

Recently I read a cautionary article about teaching yoga in public schools. After all, yoga is steeped in Hindu tradition, and there's a lot of Buddhism to be found in yoga practice as well. Some schools welcome yoga as an extra-curricular activity but there can be no "Oms," no "Namastes," and nothing that looked like meditation. (Too much like prayer.)

Yoga is nothing if it is not body and mind together. The "mindfulness" piece is one of the most important parts of yoga. Helping teach children to be mindful will serve them in all area of their lives, not to mention being able to focus better when it is testing time.

In my yoga class, the kids know they will have fun. We play games and learn new positions, and they even invent their own. They learn to breathe. It's amazing how many people don't know how to breathe. I didn't know how to breathe before I took yoga classs. Deep breathing relaxes kids. It helps calm them during the day, and helps them sleep at night. 

In my class, we do Savasana just like in adult classes, although we add "Iggy," one of my daughter's old Beanie Babies. Iggy sits on each child's stomach as they lie in Savasana (corpse pose) and if Iggy is moving smoothly up and down, they know they are breathing right.

One second grader told me she puts a stuffed animal on her stomach every night to help her get to sleep. I'm happy they are incorporating so much of what they learn once a week into their actual lives.

We start in Lotus position. Many children put their thumb and index finger together, although I did not teach that. Many children already do yoga at home with their parents. This year, one little boy began chanting, "OM" while he was in lotus position. I had a momentary feeling of I hope no one hears that.  Being in a public school, I am mindful of not crossing any boundaries I shouldn't cross. But inside, I couldn't have been more pleased. I "OM" my way the whole walk to work. It helps me release tension and clears my head for the day. It is my favorite sound first thing in the morning.

In my training, we learned to massage kids' feet during Savasana. I knew without a doubt, that would not be something I would incorporate. It was a lovely ritual, but not one that would fly in a public school yoga class.

I do end every class with "Namaste." It's a beautiful phrase. I explain to the kids it means "The light in me, honors the light in you."

Oh, it's about respecting each other, one first grader said. Kids get it. 

I know there are schools that forbid the OM's and the Namaste's and all the good stuff in yoga that makes kids more grounded and compasionate. 

I hope I never have to leave the good stuff out of my yoga classes. It's the stuff that comes as naturally to kids as downward dog.

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Such a sweet image-- little kids doing yoga , Iggy(does he wear yoga pants?) and you as the teacher. Glad they let you use Namaste and OM ,but it wouldn't be terrible if that wasn't allowed. Hard to figure why that would offend, but I can see an argument -- all religion out etc.
The first time I heard the word I had to look it up. I believe the word is full of peace . Peace and harmony should be in he minds of children but sad to say it is not these days.
Good on you Joanie for doing this.
Namaste as Candace has already said.
Reading your post truly makes me want to learn yoga. Over the years I have spoken with people who love yoga....but I've never tried it. Not only do I love running and walking, I am concerned I wouldn't have time for it. What do you think?
What a wonderful thing. So sweet to think of kids chanting "OM", oops, but that's not allowed. Keep up the good work. R.
You make me want to get into Yoga again. Too bad no foot massages. I hear teachers don't have kids sit on their laps either or give huts. No No.
I think that primarily you are the good stuff in your yoga classes. The gift of your gentle presence is something wonderful they are receiving. I love ending yoga classes with Namaste. I hope you can always continue saying it with the children, and you are right, they do 'get it'. Great piece, Joan. R
You won't find a more dyed-in-wool church-state separatot than I am...yet it seems to me that banning "Namaste" is at best silly and at worst totally misunderstands the Court's rulings and intentions in the bible-reading cases of the early '60s.
You Go, Joan!
Namaste. My children and I have practiced yoga for years; it's the uptight people who don't understand the whole mind, body and spirit connection who often the same ones we witness praying in public schools.

Talk about hypocrisy.
It's lovely to think of kid having OM without the "G" on the end. This is a very good thing you are doing; it will create rewards for these children in many areas of their lives.
Namaste is MORE than ok in school. It's good that the school in which you practiced was open to it.
Obviously I find this to be an interesting issue, and you covered it well, both the spiritual nature of yoga, and the need to avoid a call from an irate parent or administrator. It's hard for me to sort it out, since I would be horrified if my kid was made to say The Lord's Prayer in school, but delighted if he meditated during a yoga class. That, however, is my own personal bias.
Namaste, Candace my friend. :)

Fernsy, Iggy is an iguana, and I now simply must find him a pair of yoga pants.

Linda, it's really so simple, just teaching peace...

Patricia, when I first tried it, I really didn't care for it. I think it often depends on the teacher. Now I love it. I would give it a try. Sometimes you can find a free introductory class and see if it appeals to you. I think it is a perfect complement to other things like running and walking. Helps with flexibility, for one thing!
love this and you for doing it. If anyone questions, just explain you are also teaching a foreign language.
Erica, I have never tried chanting with them, but I know they'd love it.

Zanelle, foot massages in public school? Never. Thank goodness hugs are still okay at least at my school.
It is more than okay in my world. Keep up the good work!
@Ann I don't see any harm nor an equivalency betw Namaste/The Lord's Prayer in public schools. I don't bc there's simply never a question of doctrinal or indoctrinal intent in the case that Joanie's citing here. There WAS doctrinal intent and state governments nearly wholly populated by Protestants then. Even the Douay Version (Catholic) of the bible was not read then. I don't think one has to be in any way conflicted abt this.
My wife works in a public school with developmentally disabled children. After school some of the teachers participate in a yoga class, but not with the children. They use the phrases in question here, right there in a public school. Nobody seems concerned.

My favorite though is when she practices at home. She doesn't think I fully understand the purpose but I know I like it when when she does the pose I call "Downward Babe".
You are my idea of a perfect teacher, Joanie. Namaste.

I have never done Yoga, many friends years past recommended it to me. I have always admired people who do it and enjoy it. My daughter being one. You are a great teacher and fine example. Namaste dear Joan.
You are a gift to those kids.
You are teaching them balance which is a skill we all need.
Namaste Joan!
Honor and light are always acceptable in public.
"Oh, it's about respecting each other, one first grader said."

Beautiful! Namaste, Joan.
It's a sad comment on modern life that you have to wonder if it's okay to honor the light in your students. Or worry about a kid saying Om. But keep teaching them Yoga Joanie. I wish it were standard practice all over the nation for both the physical and mental benefits.
Namaste and rated.
"The light in me, honors the light in you."

How on earth could anyone have a problem with this, especially with the spotlight these days on self-esteem and bullying. And drugs. I'd rather schools teach yoga and concepts like Namaste than subject kids to the worthless DARE program; I have no doubt learning yoga would go much further toward curbing both bullying and drug use.
Namaste is one of the most beautiful words that I know of when filled with spirituality .It is a Sanscrit word,also part of a spoken language.Whenever I was addressed in this manner,I felt honored and also invited into a tradition that lives with God,daily .I have never felt God's presence more than during my stay in India.
OM,as I understand it,is like Alpha and Omega in One.
Joan;I wish I could be in your class and bring my two grandchildren with me.
Thank you;you opened a door to a chamber which is most precious to me.
The kids (and the school) are lucky to have you Joanie.
Here in Lubbock, all the yoga instructors I've had except for one omit the namaste at the end. I could not have been more pleased when our new instructor not only used aromatherapy oil on those of us who wanted it when we were in "rest" time (corpse pose) but also ended with namaste.

Namaste, Joan
There is no law that an iguana can't wear yoga pants. Thanks for implanting these delightful images today.
Beautiful piece. Your class sounds wonderful!
Rita, thank you for such kind words.

Jonathan, it seems absurd to me too. But I know that many schools view yoga as some kind of religion. To me, yoga for kids is a natural.

Belinda, I think it is great that you and your kids practice yoga. I'm sure you see how good it is for them. I wish I had not come to it so late!

keri, thank you for coming by. I think yoga and kids are a natural combination.
" I explain to the kids it means 'The light in me honors the light in you.' "
Thanks for passing the light to your young students. I love hearing a bit more about your teaching, Joan. Last winter I sat in on a class with the intent of training to teach (their program), and it was horrifically Barney-ish, or something I have no words to describe. You, I would gladly follow! Namaste!
It is usually the more fundamental people and organisations that object to it since they believe in their own monopol and interpretation of how to live a life that God wants and tolerates.
I have had the troubles with letting children draw mandalas,for the same reason.(I was told that mandalas were coming from the devil)
My argument that famous churches had mandala windows did not help take the wind out of the sails.
I love the fact that kids are learning yoga in school and that they are staying after school to participate. Glad you are using Namaste, it is such a loving word.
rated with love
Namaste. It's not about religion. It's about peace, respect and health.

My version of Iggy is my cat Silvie, although she's a bit heavier. More often than not, she will lie there and purr when I put her on top of my stomach, instead of running off in a huff to do her own thing.
Love this (and you) for teaching kids yoga and helping them get in touch with their breath via Iggy. OM is universal. Too bad it can't be chanted. Really 'mindful' piece here and written with such clarity. Namaste, sister.
The silly things people have to worry about these days ...

Like bikepsychobabble said, it's about health, not religion. No indoctrination involved.
Like you said, kids get it. The hell with everyone else. I really enjoyed this. I wish you taught in my son's school.
I can't imagine my life without yoga or to be honest, Buddhist teachings. The stuff about breathing and letting go...well it's just so empowering and liberating. I was surprised when speaking to an acquaintance who is very religious that she felt yoga was evil. No I wasn't surprised. I was stunned and I started laughing and saying, "Are you kidding me?" Fortunately since I was involved in evangelical Christianity for over fifteen years, I can engage quite logically with the religious minded and even have some bible verses to support my position. Those students are so fortunate to have you Joanie. We all should be so fortunate. And this was most beautifully written. R
A wonderful practice for young and old alike! Good work, Joan!

I'm pretty sure that a kid saying OM of his own accord would be OK...there is no law against children praying in public schools, just mainly rules against the teachers pushing their religion onto the kids.
I once had a fundamentalist Christian patient tell me she couldn't do yoga because it was a way of worshiping buddha. I pointed out that it didn't need to be, but she was uncomfortable with the buddha statue at the head of the class. I suggested she ask the teacher if she could put a cross up there, next to buddha, so she could have something she could feel right about focusing on. (don't know what happened). It was hard for her to recognize that the wisdom of yoga was not religious, but that the eastern religions used that wisdom in their practice.
In India, Namaste is just used like Hello, Good Day, or Goodbye. No particular religious connotations in everyday use.
Finding a bit of peace in a life they grow into can only be a very good thing.
Sadly for me...I often say yoga but think yogurt!!!
Need to get my priorities right.
I certainly hope it's okay. I don't want to live in a world where your kind of teaching isn't okay....and what's so religious about love and respect? But we're living in weird times so I understand your feelings.
Linnn, I think it's more than okay, too. I think we should say it to the kids as another way of saying "good morning."

Annie, I hear you. But I would be horrified if my kid were made to say *anything* religious in school. Yoga is often very misunderstood. :)

Mime, well, it's true, right? It is another language and the word is a greeting. A beautiful greeting, but a greeting.

desert_rat, many thanks for coming by.

alsoknownas, "downward babe" is a very popular pose...

Lezlie, you are so kind to say that. Namaste.

Sheila, it took me a while before I liked yoga. I really think the teacher makes all the difference. I tried it off and on when I was younger and it kind of bored me. :)

ladyfarmerjed, thank you and thanks so much for coming by.
This is a deceptively provocative post, Joan. Bravo. I'm like everyone else here who thinks Yoga is just good for health, period, but I get the point. It may feel "all good" to you and me, but so do prayers for others. I am not intellectually rigorous enough tonight to sort this out. But thanks for trying to make my neurons flow!
I share Ann's bias. I am not religious, nor am I spiritual--but I think there's something beautiful, peaceful, and respectful about honoring the light in one another. Namaste, Joan.
I love that word and use it all the time. I hate what they've done to our schools. -R-
What a screwed up sytem that tolerates kids say fuck and shit they hear from grown-ups but cautions about Ohm and Namaste?
Good for you! = - }
I wish I had the courage to teach yoga to my kids. It would be so good for them. But I know I'd hear from someone.

And hey, there's "God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, right?
@Sweetfeet, we don't say the pledge of allegiance in our school. Do you? I know we always said it every morning when I was a kid.
You are so good. How is the little grasshopper stomper doing?

I too begin class with a brief period of meditation. I don't call it that, or place it in a Buddhist context. We're just settling, quieting down, preparing to focus on the work. In one drawing exercise, we spend an hour drawing an artisan cookie I bring in for each student. We then spend twenty minutes slowly and mindfully touching, smelling, and finally eating the cookie. Then we draw the cookie again, from memory, using the additional sense experiences besides seeing–touch, smell, taste. They think I'm a freak at first. Eyes roll, nervous giggles ensue, then at some point, it kicks in. The better are drawings are always the later ones. They surprise themselves.
I get a little down-hearted when I see good people trying to do good things in this world and the 'powers that be' try to quash them.

But the upside is there are good people doing good things! Best wishes, Joanie. Keep on keeping on!!!
My jaded perspective.

There is a core element of what you are doing that is as American as apple pie and independent of spoken language, abstraction, and symbolism.

Sort of like an automobile that can be purchased in 10 colors. The color isn't that important.

It may be a PITA, but why not try to rigorously work through this before it may become an issue.

Be mentally prepared to change the paint job or just do it in transparent metallic.

I have no idea who might be offended and why. Don't forget we had an American Civil War and a lot of people still like the Stars and Bars. Which are nice enough to look at if you ignore a chunk of history.

The Hindus and Muslims managed to beat each other to death with sticks prior to splitting into separate states. As I recall from the movie, Gandhi.

The point being is that, imo, its about the kids and the core elements of the practice. To the extent that it relies on symbolism, it will offend someone for some reason.

Just think about the kids and forget your ego.
When people through Namaste around with the same casualness as "have a nice day" it annoys the hell out of me. When it's presented as beautifully as you've done, it's incredibly special. I used to teach yoga to kids too (that sister thing again); they seem to tune in to it much faster than adults. Ah, the tabula rosa.
I have no idea why I spelled throw as through. Damn iPad.
i think this must be the most rewarding kind of work. when you can see children having fun, gaining poise, and learning relaxation techniques. i bet you grin from ear to ear.
Good for you! I love the idea of children doing yoga. Namaste, Joan.
Mary, what a great line. I'm going to remember that.

nanatehay, that kid kind of said it all. Namaste.

Shiral, I think people always focus on the precisely the wrong things... thank you for coming by.

Margaret, you said exactly what I'm thinking. Yoga classes would do so much for bullying and all sorts of stuff we don't want our kids into. I remember that D.A.R.E. program from when my daughter was in elementary school. pffft.

Heidi, thank you for such a beautiful comment. I too, feel honored to hear "Namaste." What could be bad?

Aw, trilogy. :) Thanks for coming by.

Blue, in adult classes they omit it? Wow, I think you were put in Lubbock to open people's minds.

fernsy, I'm putting pants on him next week. :)

Christina, thank you. I appreciate you coming by.

dirndl, your comment made me laugh out loud. "Barney-ish?" Oh, wow, I'd run from that too.

Heidi, I think that is so amazing that people had trouble with mandalas! Crazy.

RomanticPoetess, thank you so much for reading and commenting.

bike, exactly. "Peace, respect, and health." Who *wouldn't* want their child incorporating that into their day?

Scarlett, Namaste, my friend. Hey, maybe that same kid will start the chanting again next week, and we'll all follow!

Cranky, right? People worry about the dumbest things.
I wish one of my teachers had taught us yoga. Of course, yoga hadn't been invented yet back then.
Matt,you made me laugh.
Yoga is probably as old as Hinduism.But you might be right:It needed to be re-invented for the Western world.
C'mon,let's enrol in Joanie's class.
Joan,you should have heard this young woman argue.
It was so penetrant that my stomach started hurting.I stopped the discussion there and then.
What can you do?Fundamentalists are extremely hard to cope with.
A minister even accused me of having a pact with the devil.At a different place and a different issue,this time "Indigo Children"
Heidi...Ahhhhh! Makes me crazy!
I also learned to breathe when I started yoga. Lovely piece. Namaste.
kids are a lot more intelligent than we give them credit for
they know what is right
thank you for teaching them
Ridiculous how much misguided "political correctness" denies people, including children, of richer cultural experiences.

Namaste, Joan!
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Thank you.
buying a house
Buyfix profit, you are without a doubt, my biggest fan.
Your students are very fortunate to have you in their lives, Joan. My daughter's favorite pose is the cobra. Mine? The Warrior! :)
I love the mind body connection of yoga and am thrilled to hear you teaching it to elementary age kids! I teach older adults....It's surprising how many people get to 40 or 50 without learning to breath. Namaste, I love anytime. In India, it's used anytime we would say hello or goodbye. What a lovely sentiment. Namaste.
How sad that this should be a predicament! Your class sounds great - and I have also experienced the many benefits of yoga. I love "Namaste" and what it means. Of course, I guess it's also good that a school be vigilant - but still. At any rate, I think your class - and what it's doing for its participants - sounds amazing.
How lucky the little ones who learn so much from you. Just reading your words here, Joan, brings its own sweet calm.
Lovely to teach yoga to little ones.

Om, namaste....a shame to not be able to use them. But if at the same time there's no damned school prayers, then okay.
I think doing yoga in schools is a great idea. The idea is starting to spread to Canada, I think. I haven't heard about it at the high school level, though. A shame. What a load of nonsense this thing about yoga being an indoctrination into eastern religions and banning the words "namaste" and "Om". Why are people so uptight?
greenheron, ah, your students are sooo lucky.

Namaste, and thank you everyone for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it.
You bring hope to the future. Kids get it, so got to get the light to them while the window is open! Namaste to you, and to everyone else who has a problem with that term, "The light in me, honors the light in you."
I'm sorry that I'm so late to commenting on this. But this is lovely.