Ah, the joys of physical education. Most students are able to look back fondly on days spent running around the track, climbing on monkey bars and playing kickball with their friends. Some schools even go out of their way to provide students with exposure to obscure niche sports like archery, badminton and frisbee golf. But one activity that has remained absent from schools for far too long is also one of the most significant and beneficial—the art of Yoga.
‘Yoga’ is a term that encompasses a wide range of techniques including breathing exercises, meditation and the mastery of specific bodily poses. These practices, when combined, form a discipline that is intensely physical, spiritual and mentally stimulating. Unfortunately, yoga is often-times thought of more as a punch line than as a legitimate exercise. It frequently gets written off as just another example of new-age quackery, and this could not be further from the truth. On the contrary, yoga is actually one of the oldest and most storied practices in human history.
Yoga is believed to have originated in the Indus River Valley, around three or four thousand years ago. In the centuries that followed, the art would grow to become a central part of Vedic culture, the primary inhabitants of India at the time, before spreading to nearby regions like China and Vietnam. Religions of the area like Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism began using yoga in their religious ceremonies and rituals, because they believed it to be a tool for achieving enlightenment.
Yoga’s association with religion has actually been one of the major roadblocks it has faced in being introduced to public schools. In California, a 2013 lawsuit by the National Center for Law & Policy attempted to bar yoga from being practiced in a local elementary school, claiming that it was an unlawful crossover between church and state. By practicing yoga, they asserted, children were being forced to learn about and adhere to Eastern religions. The lawsuit failed after the school was able to successfully argue that yoga was being practiced solely for its physical benefits, but only after they had eliminated several Hindu elements from its practice, including the discontinuance of several poses said to represent the worship of Hindu deities, as well as the removal of several posters containing Sanskrit, the holy language of Hinduism.
However, it should be of little surprise that they were able to argue yoga’s health benefits, due to the sheer number of them. Scientific studies have revealed countless other obscure health benefits, including, but not limited to: boosting your immune system, aiding in weight-loss, strengthening bones, increasing blood flow, and reducing the risk of diabetes and cancer. For an art that emphasizes remaining calm and relaxed throughout its practice, it can actually be incredibly strenuous—holding and transitioning between poses requires an immense amount of coordination, flexibility, and muscular strength, in a way that students may not be used to.
Robert Ennis, Steinbrenner’s weight-training and aerobics teacher, is a known advocate of yoga, and includes it in all of his classes:
“I’ve made it part of the aerobics curriculum. It’s a great stress reliever, and it’s great for flexibility. I see yoga fitting into physical education not as a religious practice, or anything like that, but as functional for athletes and for a healthier lifestyle.”
The art is just as much mental as it is physical. Yoga requires practitioners to remain calm and focused throughout its practice, even while holding complex and physically demanding positions. Relaxation is also a major focus of the art, and part of the reason why it is such an effective stress reliever. For students feeling overwhelmed by homework and other responsibilities, yoga can be extremely useful in helping them cope.
All in all, there are many reasons for schools to include yoga in their physical education programs. It is accessible to students of all fitness levels, and its practice will help them build muscular strength, improve flexibility, reduce stress, along with countless other benefits to their health. And contrary to popular belief, its practice does not require a religious element to be effective. While it’s a good sign that yoga is already being included as part of existing aerobics and weight-training classes, I really do hope to see yoga with a class of its own one day. Namaste.

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