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Yoga as religion debate heats up in India

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 29 2013 5:05 p.m. MDT

Does yoga have a religious element to it? That’s the question the Supreme Court of India is trying to solve, as it is looking to decide whether or not schools may teach the physical and mental practice.

Rafiq Maqbool, Associated Press

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Does yoga have a religious element to it?

That’s the question the Supreme Court of India is trying to solve, as it is looking at whether schools should teach the physical and mental practice, according to Religion News Service.

RNS reported that two petitioners are calling for all federally run or funded schools to offer yoga as a class subject for those between first and eighth grade. The petitioners said the 2005 National Curriculum Framework, which offers the structure for making syllabi, textbooks and teaching practices for India's schools, says yoga "is vital for health and physical education," RNS reported.

Jagdish Chander Seth, a lawyer who is one of the petitioners, told RNS that yoga helps build character and strength, which is important in today's materialistic society.

But the court might not support the petitioners, seeing as yoga might have a religious component to it, RNS reported.

"Can we be asking all the schools to have one period for yoga classes everyday when certain minority institutions may have reservations against it?” asked the court, according to The Indian Express.

Opponents of the move include some Muslims and Christians, who say yoga has religious ties that don't belong in education, RNS reported.

“Yoga, as it is currently practiced in India, is not merely a physical exercise. It has a strong component of faith to it,” said John Dayal, a Christian leader and member of the National Monitoring Committee for Minority Education, to RNS.

This isn’t the first time yoga’s religiosity has been called into question.

Recently, the Turkish Interior Ministry asked the country’s Directorate of Religious Affairs whether or not Yoga is forbidden by Islam, according to Al-Monitor, which covers news from the Middle East. The DRA said “as long as yoga was practiced as a sport activity it was permissible, but if it has a ‘religious mission’ it could be objectionable.”

Earlier this year, a California judge ruled “that while yoga can be religious, it is taught … as simply a way to promote strength, flexibility and balance,” according to a Deseret News story. Parents who considered practicing yoga to be an infringement on kids’ religious freedom raised the case, Deseret News reported. The court asked the San Diego schools to rename the positions, though, according to RNS.

Yoga in education isn't the sole focus of India's concerns with the physical form of discipline. The Indian government is also worried about yoga's commercialization, which is a $5 billion industry in the United States, according to BBC. The BBC detailed the history of the practice, which has been in existence for about 2,500 years.

Email: hscribner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @hscribner

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