Christian Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts

School Yoga Fitness Programs May Be Unhealthy, Author Warns

  • 2005 1 Oct
School Yoga Fitness Programs May Be Unhealthy, Author Warns

An award-winning medical journalist and Christian author is expressing concern that some American schools are introducing students to yoga, a practice that he maintains has spiritual as well as physical implications.

Three Pittsburgh area schools are taking part in a 16-week pilot program called "Yoga in Schools," designed to calm elementary and middle school students and improve their physical and mental health. But Dr. Walt Larimore, author of such books as "Super Sized Kids and Alternative Medicine: A Christian Handbook," says people of any spiritual tradition need to be aware of yoga's religious background.

"Yoga has spiritual roots," Larimore points out, noting its integral connection to Hindu religion and its popularity among many proponents of New Age spirituality. "Adherents of yoga claim that it leads to spiritual enlightenment and union with the divine," he explains. "In fact, the pinnacle of that is called Kundalini arousal; and I've got some real concerns about the spiritual roots – especially when yoga is being sold to people and those roots are hidden."

The author also says intense involvement with Eastern spiritual practices is known to cause psychological and emotional problems in some people. And since yoga has religious roots, he adds, one could argue that promoting it in schools violates the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, or the so-called separation of church and state.

Larimore believes there are alternatives to yoga that would provide schools with better ways to improve young people's physical and mental health and help kids to be more alert and perform optimally in school. He says the No Child Left Behind law has "sealed many kids into the classroom" when they need to spend time being physically active as much as they need to learn. The medical journalist quips, "I feel maybe there should be a new law called 'No child left on his or her behind."

Research bears out the impact of physical fitness on school performance. Schools that offer recess and physical education, Dr. Larimore notes, tend to have students that are more alert, get higher grades, and score higher on standardized tests.

Meanwhile, another children's health issue that is sometimes overlooked, the author points out, is rest. "Going to bed too late and not getting enough sleep impacts kids during the day," he says, "and we know that children and teens operate the best at school and have the least risk of obesity when they have nine hours of sleep per night."

Larimore insists that schools and parents seeking to help kids attain the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of exercise have many options without resorting to yoga. Conversely, he warns that the "deeply religious practice" of yoga, with its roots in Eastern mysticism, may put kids in a position to be influenced by elements that are not at all healthy.

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