Yoga religious? ‘No way!’ says program backer
September 9, 2002
Debate over a children’s yoga program at Aspen Elementary School could be resolved with a simple reading of the program’s curriculum, the program’s founder claims.
Tara Guber, founder of the Yoga Ed. program, said fears of religious influence should disappear if anxious parents understand the roots of the program outlined in the curriculum guide. Yoga Ed. wasn’t designed as a religious influence, Guber said ? instead, it was created to help inner-city youth deal with their turbulent world.
Guber, a Los Angeles resident, is the co-founder of The Accelerated School, an institution founded in the same South Central Los Angeles neighborhood devastated by the 1992 riots triggered by the verdict in the Rodney King case. TAS, as Guber calls it, began in the mid-?90s as a small charter school for neighborhood children. It has become so popular in recent years that the TAS waiting list now holds over 1,000 names.
TAS was recently named by Time Magazine as the nation’s top elementary school, thanks to its innovative programs. One that is frequently lauded is Guber’s Yoga Ed.
Guber, a 27-year practitioner of yoga, said the program began as a way to help her troubled charges focus on their schoolwork.
“Stress is the biggest disease in the world ? and yoga has such a profound, amazing impact on anybody who does it. It can move us from a ‘down’ state to an ‘up’ state by just letting go,” she said. “My mission was to help the crisis in education in the nation by putting yoga and meditation into the school system.”
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Guber enlisted the help of a yoga expert in creating the curriculum, specifically geared for younger participants. The pair crafted a mission statement that would help the Los Angeles school system understand the motivation behind the program.
“‘Yoga Ed. is an education program which uses the exercise system of yoga to support and enhance learning readiness, health and personal responsibility,'” Guber read from the curriculum guide.
Questions of possible religious influence never surfaced before Guber attempted to introduce the program to Aspen schools, she said.
The Aspen Center for New Medicine, which featured Guber as a guest speaker during a health symposium earlier this year, wanted to sponsor Yoga Ed. training for a number of valley schools, including Aspen Elementary and Aspen Country Day. While ACDS was able to begin their Yoga Ed. pilot program last week (See related story on page A1), some parents at Aspen Elementary feared yoga would bring a religious influence into the classroom.
So how much of yoga’s religious heritage was used to develop Yoga Ed.?
“None at all,” Guber said. “Yoga is a physical exercise that makes me flexible … and a meditation is just going inside myself to just calm down and to connect me.”
While yoga began nearly 5,000 years ago as a way to honor Hindu gods, Guber said the practice experienced a shift 2,000 years ago from the spiritual to the physical. Contemporary yoga, now an exercise regimen enjoyed throughout the world, rarely ? if ever ? salutes its religious roots, she said.
During her nearly three decades of yoga classes, Guber said she’s never been forced to pray or chant in a way that would indicate a religious connection.
“Wherever I go [to classes] ? and I’ve been to many ? they do not teach religion,” she said.
Guber admits that she doesn’t hesitate to sign up for workshops with religious leaders such as the Dalai Lama ? however, specific spirituality doesn’t find its way into her curriculum.
“I enjoy learning about many religions, and I think if you do yoga, it can only make you a better Baptist, better Catholic or a better Jew,” Guber said. “Whatever you believe in, it sheds light on your awareness.”