Incorporating mindfulness programs into our primary education system is on the rise and it’s not just because yoga is “in” across country, whatever that means. The truth is, early childhood is a crucial time for the development of self-regulatory skills and socioemotional competence, and using yoga as a tool to aid in that development isn’t just a bunch of mystical malarky. It’s a researched fact that using age-appropriate activities supports children's reflection on their moment-to-moment experiences. Thinking about yoga in a “mystical” or “religious” sense in this scenario, or in any other scenario, makes it easy for people to miss beautiful opportunities to help the world’s children, and/or themselves develop into more loving, consciously aware human beings.
Yoga and mindfulness classes allow children to make connections; physical, mental and emotional connections. It allows them to envision and nurture a positive view of themselves and maintain a hopeful outlook. It teaches them to pause before reacting; to develop discernment. It helps them pay attention. And maybe most importantly, it teaches them to take care of themselves. As I mention yoga throughout, I invite you to think of it more as grounding, orienting, resourcing, breathing and dispelling anything that doesn’t serve growth (stress, anxiety, worry, etc..).
I recently read an article telling the story of how some parents in Georgia are very upset, and very scared, that they “can’t say the pledge of allegiance or pray in our schools but they are allowing this Far East mystical religion with crystals and chants to be practiced under the guise of stress release meditation.” This lead to the word namaste and holding your hands at heart center being banned. I want to make sure anyone who’s reading this understands the difference between praying and saying the pledge of allegiance in school and practicing all-inclusive, non-denominational, mindfulness. Quite frankly, that difference is there isn’t any scholarly research that shows prayer and pledging allegiance to a flag bought at Wal-Mart in a classroom aiding in cognitive and emotional development.
Furthermore, namaste can be translated and taught to mean “the teacher in me recognizes the teacher in you.” As a child, hearing a teacher say that he or she recognizes you as an equal and integral part of the education process is nothing but empowering. It could provide a child with the confidence, strength and stability needed to achieve, or at least gain a glimpse of their potential.
In all, words are not religious. As-salamu alaykum means peace be upon you. If someone said as-salamu alaykum to me, I’d gratefully offer the same greeting with a smile. The point is, the power and endearment of these words shouldn’t be diluted or misunderstood because of the ideology or practices that they’re most commonly associated with. Just as the words love, compassion and tolerance shouldn’t be shunned by those who don’t believe in Christ, who held those as his tenets.
The ironic thing about all of this is the word yoga translates into union. This yoga stuff is meant to bridge the gap between those areas of separation that we create within ourselves and between each other, not create more of it. It doesn’t matter your religion or creed, yoga transcends the pettiness and helps us transcend the aspects of ourselves that cause us to be so judgmental; so characteristically human. Yoga strengthens your relationship with all. If you believe the temple of Heaven is within, you will find it even more vast and vibrant when you take the time to close your eyes and explore that infinite sacred space. If you think God is real, you will know he’s real when you feel him in your soul. Through this union of the mind, body and spirit, you will not only feel the divine, you will feel divine. And if you believe yourself to be a child of God, what better way to feel? Yoga does not create the conflict. We create the conflict. If the word yoga causes some emotion in you, I think that’s just its way of showing you what you need to work on.
Yoga has shown me how to live fully; to accept all parts of who I am without judgement; to be present; to see myself in everyone; how to heal and deal with all life throws my way. And all of my transformations along this mindful path have been met with joy, love and support from a like-minded community. That's why it hurts my heart to hear of people fighting to deny children of a practice that has the power to light up their world due to fear and misunderstanding.
We have a moral obligation to bring more peace into the world, and that starts by finding it within; by bringing more and more peace into our inner world. Peace does not come from labelling things as good, bad, right or wrong; it does not come by condemning practices or beliefs you know nothing about, or haven’t experienced... That behavior only brings about more separation in a world that so badly needs union - that so badly needs “yoga.”
Yogi Bhajan used to say “if you can’t see God in all, you can’t see God at all.” I think it’s important to keep that in mind at all times.