Yoga, Religion and Reality

I read a letter this morning written by Kate Carlin where she decries the fact that a local elementary has begun to provide yoga instruction:

After reading about the PTO funded program for students at Memorial Elementary School in Milford, I researched yoga. I have developed an explanation that clarifies why Memorial should not allow an instructor to teach yoga sessions for students during school hours:

Yoga is a practice derived from Hinduism and Buddhism. Meditation, breathing, and exercises are done simultaneously in order to be one with God, self, or nature.

Religious practices are not to be initiated by a school or by its employees because the First Amendment states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” Publicly funded establishments, such as schools, are not constitutionally allowed to provide religious activities for students to participate in. The public building may be used to teach yoga, but yoga should not be taught during school hours.

There are a number of problem with Ms. Carlin’s statements, I will address the issue from a Yogic standpoint first.  As I have alluded on more than one occasion, there is Yoga and there is yoga.  It is true that Yoga is a spiritual practice and as such it is, by definition, a religious practice.  Now, before anyone starts the Yoga is not a religion! mantra, here is the primary definition of the adjective religious:  Relating to or concerned with religion or spiritual things.  As Yoga is related to and concerned with spiritual things, it is religious.  Unfortunately, very few people practice Yoga.  On the other hand, many people practice yoga.  When written, the only difference between Yoga and yoga is, of course, capitalization.  In practice, however, that capitalization means quite a bit.  Practicing yoga means practicing the asanas, with a brushing of pranayama and a meshing of pratyahara, dharana and dhyana into something claimed to be meditation that is really just guided relaxation.  In short, yoga is a system of flexibility and body strength exercises with a smattering of biofeedback.  This yoga, while much less than true Yoga, is still extremely beneficial to both body and mind.  This, then, begs the question Is Memorial Elementary teaching Yoga or yoga?  The first would, by tradition, be a problem while the second would not.

Now for the legal flaw in Ms. Carlin’s letter.  I find this flaw entertaining for a number of reasons.  The first is that it is so very wide spread and the second is that Ms. Carlin pointed the flaw out herself.  Ms. Carlin quoted part of Amendment I to the Constitution of the United States:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Note that the Amendment states that Congress cannot make any laws establishing a religion nor can it enact any laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion.  In regards to religion, that is all the Constitution says.  No laws to establish a religion and no laws to prohibit free exercise of religion, that’s it plain and simple.  Unless Memorial Elementary is Congress and unless providing the class is mandated by law, then the class, Yoga or yoga irrespective, does not violate the Constitution.  In reality religious activity, so long as the activity—like human sacrifice—itself is not illegal, cannot be legally prohibited anywhere nor at anytime.  While that is the reality according to the Constitution, we, unfortunately, abandoned that reality as a nation long ago.