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Parents Who Don't Get It Shouldn't Ruin It For the Rest of Us

Photograph by Twenty20

Recently, parents in Kennesaw, Georgia lost their shit over a local elementary school's use of yoga and mindfulness practices in the classroom because "they believe it endorses a non-Christian belief system."

Concerned parents took to the internet to complain, with one parent posting to Facebook that "they are allowing this Far East mystical religion with crystals and chants to be practiced under the guise of stress release meditation. This is all without parents knowledge or approval. This is very scary. Parents beware of what your children are being taught without your knowledge."

As a result, school administrators have made the decision to discontinue the use of the Sanskrit greeting "namaste," the placing of hands to heart center, and the coloring in of mandala symbols.

To which I say: Shut the hell up, parents. You're ruining it for the rest of us.

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I may be biased. After all, I'm a yoga teacher, spreading the gospel of mindfulness meditation and hip stretches to all who come in contact with me. But let's be clear here: I don't consider yoga to be a religious practice... especially not within the context in which we tend to practice it here in the United States. In fact, I first tried yoga because I wanted to look cute in skinny jeans.

Yes, I stayed because of its impact on me emotionally. Yes, my burgeoning practice saved me at a really difficult time in my life. Yes, I suddenly found myself part of a fantastic community on which I leaned heavily. Yes, I am now a yoga evangelist. And yes, all of this smacks of a religious awakening.

But I am not a religious person, and yoga is not my religion. If anything, I consider yoga to be a therapeutic practice, a therapeutic modality I can use to manage my stress, my anxiety, and my depression. A means of learning to love myself, and of boosting my self-esteem. An education in gratitude. A tool I can use in order to respond to life in a healthier, less reactive way. Aren't all of these things we would also want for our children?

Which is why I am trying to teach my 21-month-old what I can.

Your irresponsible behavior only keeps the rest of our kids from reaping all of the awesome, yogic, healthy benefits.

And so I have a baby-sized yoga mat just for her, which I roll out next to my own so she can watch me do sun breaths and try to do the same. And at night, I read to her "Good Night Yoga," "You Are a Lion!" or "Moody Cow Meditates" and encourage her to take deep, yogic breaths. And sometimes we do downward dog together, just to be silly. And other times, when she is wild beyond belief and bedtime is fast approaching, I hold her close to me and try to get her to sync her breath with mine.

But as fabulously zen as I am (ha!), I can't handle all of this education on my own. Because I am not just a yogi. I am also a work-at-home-mom. And a wife. And a task-juggler. And sometimes, I am incredibly un-zen.

Which is why I need all the help I can get.

I wish there had been school-based yoga and mindfulness programs available when I was young. I think they're amazing, and I think that the teachers who provide them are also amazing. I once spent part of a day following a fellow yoga teacher around as she taught in one elementary school, and I was in awe of her ability to impart yogic wisdom to her rambunctious young charges.

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At one point, she passed around a pair of Tibetan hand cymbals so everyone could have a turn with them. She asked students to remain quiet so they could hear the sound ringing out and reverberating on and on and on.

You guys, I have never seen a group of children maintain silence for so long.

THIS IS A MAGICAL SUPERPOWER WE SHOULD ALL WANT.

This is old news by now but, in addition to magical periods of silence, research has shown that mindfulness exercises can improve attention, reduce stress, and result in better emotional regulation and an improved capacity for compassion and empathy. Mindfulness is also considered effective in psychotherapy for children and adolescents with aggression, ADHD, and anxiety.

In short: these types of exercises are good for our kids.

So protesting parents, stop spreading fear-mongering messages to other parents about things you in no way understand. Your irresponsible behavior only keeps the rest of our kids from reaping all of the awesome, yogic, healthy benefits.

Seriously. Stop it.

And maybe sit with your breath for just a minute or two.

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