Is Yoga Pagan? Is thanking the Sun Hindu? And does any of this belong in public school?

I came across this article on Yoga as the “New Satanism” recently on MMM.  It would have been more accurately titled, “Yoga is the new Satanic scare” — since it has nothing to do with actual Satanism, but rather is about certain Christians’ demonization of yoga.  The article called to mind an earlier report in NPR about the yoga in the public schools and the allegation that it is promoting Hinduism.

Let me start with a caveat: There are many types of yoga, ranging from what I would call a purely secular form of exercise to a New Agey form of spiritual practice to a form of Hinduism.  So every practice would need to be examined individually if we are questioning the appropriateness of its inclusion in the public schools.

But what really caught my attention was this part of the article:

“… when Mary Eady visited one of the yoga classes at her son’s school last year, she saw much more than a fitness program.  The third-graders at Olivenhain Pioneer take three deep breaths in the downward dog position during one of their two weekly yoga classes.

” ‘They were being taught to thank the sun for their lives and the warmth that it brought, the life that it brought to the earth and they were told to do that right before they did their sun salutation exercises,’ she says.

“Those looked like religious teachings to her, so she opted to keep her son out of the classes.”

Yoga Sun Salutation

Yoga Sun Salutation

Part of me thinks this is awesome: schoolchildren thanking the sun for their lives.  But that’s because I’m Pagan and this looks pretty Pagan to me — or at least Pantheistic.  In fact, greeting the sun with an attitude of thankfulness is part of my daily Pagan practice.  This isn’t Hinduism.  It is Pagan.  And that’s religious.  And that’s not okay in public school.

"Pythagoreans Celebrate Sunrise" by Fyodor Bronnikov

“Pythagoreans Celebrate Sunrise” by Fyodor Bronnikov

If it were Bible stories being taught, I would not be so enthused, so I can sympathize with the concern of some of the parents (who are probably no Pagan).  For Christians who believe in a transcendent Creator, teaching their children to thank the sun (which is part of creation) for their lives is understandably problematic.  It is precisely the type of religious practice that the Biblical writers condemned.  Sun worship is condemned in Ezekiel 8:16 and 2 Kings 23:5.  Mark Smith discusses how Yahweh appropriated the solar imagery of paganism in The Early History of God.

Akhenaten worshiping the sun-disc Aten

Akhenaten worshiping the sun-disc Aten

So I have to admit to myself that this practice is not okay in a public school.  We all love to see our own religions promoted … but public school is not the place.  Keep the exercises, loose the worship.  Or keep the exercises in school, and leave the worship for home.

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  • http://www.12stepwitch.com 12StepWitch

    It would be fairly easy to get around this. “Cultivate a sense of gratitude within for the sun, for how it warms our world and provides light and food to our plants” would be a much less loaded way to get across the same message.

    • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

      That’s interesting. I’m glad you suggested that, because it highlights something for me. What’s the difference between “Now kids, feel the gratitude in your hearts for the warmth and life from the Sun” and “Now kids, thank the Sun for warmth and life” and Well, first of all I agree that the first one is okay for public school, and the second isn’t. But the real question is why. I do think something is lost between the two versions … something Pagan. And so I guess it makes sense that I would think that the first one is okay for public school, since it looses (some of) its Pagan-ness. What is lost is that sense of engaging the natural world, even thanking the natural world.

      • http://b.rox.com/ Editor B

        Feeling gratitude and saying thanks are different? I suppose they are. But the subtlety of this distinction!

        • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

          It is subtle, but I think it’s the difference between a completely ego-centric experience and a transcendent experience. A few months ago I visited Pike’s Peak and I found myself overflowing with gratitude so that I started saying, “Thank you. Thank you. …” out loud. By putting the words out there I think I had a different experience than I would have had I held it in.

    • http://ladyimbriumsholocron.wordpress.com ladyimbrium

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought to try and make an acceptable version of this thought- though yours is certainly more eloquent than what I was working on. I think I’d be willing to see the politically correct version you offer if there was some physical exercise going on. I hated being stuck in a desk for hours at a time, I know I would have preferred the chance to get up and move.

  • http://druishinthedesert.wordpress.com wilderquill

    I agree John.
    Any forced religious practice in school is not good.

  • http://druishinthedesert.wordpress.com wilderquill

    I agree John.
    Any forced religious practice in school is not good.

  • http://humanisticpaganism.wordpress.com B. T. Newberg

    Good point, John. We all have to be consistent in our assistance on freedom of and from religion in public schools.

  • http://b.rox.com/ Editor B

    I often wonder about such things, because much of my practice would seem to fall within the realm of secular and presumably acceptable for public school teaching. In fact, I have taken it into a public school on several occasions over the last year, with no controversy. I don’t even think anybody perceives it as religious in character — though to me it is.

    Personally I don’t see how thanking the Sun is problematic, exactly. Giving thanks isn’t the same as worship, is it?

  • http://b.rox.com/ Editor B

    I often wonder about such things, because much of my practice would seem to fall within the realm of secular and presumably acceptable for public school teaching. In fact, I have taken it into a public school on several occasions over the last year, with no controversy. I don’t even think anybody perceives it as religious in character — though to me it is.

    Personally I don’t see how thanking the Sun is problematic, exactly. Giving thanks isn’t the same as worship, is it?

    • http://dreamusewritings.wordpress.com vflower

      That’s an interesting question… Is giving thanks the same as worshiping? I think that question should definitely be explored in one of my blogs. Thanks for the thought provoking question! And I totally mean that in a non-worship type of way. ;-)

      • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

        I think anything that involves transcendence of self-consciousness can be worship. Evelyn Underhill defines worship as “the absolute acknowledgment of all that lies beyond us—the glory that fills heaven and earth. It is the response that conscious beings make to their Creator, to the Eternal Reality from which they came forth; to God, however they may think of Him or recognize Him, and whether He be realized through religion, through nature, through history, through science, art, or human life and character.” I would remove the references to “God” and “Creator” for this statement to apply more broadly, but I like it. Worship, in this sense, is the acknowledgement of what lies beyond us, a response of conscious beings to reality, however they think of it and however it is realized. Thus, worship is, at its essence, a response to an experience of otherness which transcends the self to one degree or another.

  • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

    That’s interesting. I’m glad you suggested that, because it highlights something for me. What’s the difference between “Now kids, feel the gratitude in your hearts for the warmth and life from the Sun” and “Now kids, thank the Sun for warmth and life” and Well, first of all I agree that the first one is okay for public school, and the second isn’t. But the real question is why. I do think something is lost between the two versions … something Pagan. And so I guess it makes sense that I would think that the first one is okay for public school, since it looses (some of) its Pagan-ness. What is lost is that sense of engaging the natural world, even thanking the natural world.

  • http://ladyimbriumsholocron.wordpress.com ladyimbrium

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought to try and make an acceptable version of this thought- though yours is certainly more eloquent than what I was working on. I think I’d be willing to see the politically correct version you offer if there was some physical exercise going on. I hated being stuck in a desk for hours at a time, I know I would have preferred the chance to get up and move.

  • http://b.rox.com/ Editor B

    Feeling gratitude and saying thanks are different? I suppose they are. But the subtlety of this distinction!

  • http://allergicpagan.wordpress.com John Halstead

    I think anything that involves transcendence of self-consciousness can be worship. Evelyn Underhill defines worship as “the absolute acknowledgment of all that lies beyond us—the glory that fills heaven and earth. It is the response that conscious beings make to their Creator, to the Eternal Reality from which they came forth; to God, however they may think of Him or recognize Him, and whether He be realized through religion, through nature, through history, through science, art, or human life and character.” I would remove the references to “God” and “Creator” for this statement to apply more broadly, but I like it. Worship, in this sense, is the acknowledgement of what lies beyond us, a response of conscious beings to reality, however they think of it and however it is realized. Thus, worship is, at its essence, a response to an experience of otherness which transcends the self to one degree or another.


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