An effort by a Maryland elementary school to provide its students with coping mechanisms by incorporating a daily yoga-based program has evoked an outcry by some residents on religious grounds.
Buckingham Elementary School in Berlin, Maryland, announced in early March the addition of a daily "Mindfulness Moment," a locally produced program in recorded video format to help its young students calm themselves both physically and mentally, and thereby help them focus on their schoolwork.
Each morning, according to a March 5 post on the school's Facebook page, "as an extension of our announcements, students participate in a mini 6-10 minute mindfulness and yoga session to help them positively start off their day.”
The program has drawn praise, but some were upset.
“THIS IS COMPLETE LAST DAYS DECEPTION! There is nothing wrong with stretching, or being still to focus on your day, but yoga takes it another step further," wrote Linda Hostelley on the school's Facebook page. "There are spirits invited in by focusing on things not of God … there is an unholy Spirit behind it. If this is allowed in school, than Jesus must be allowed to be enjoyed in school also.”
The objections seem to center on the practice of yoga, which some associate with evil spirits or worship of false gods.
Monika Lupean, owner and operator of Salisbury Yoga & Wellness Center, in Salisburg, Maryland, said in her understanding, yoga provides a way to connect with your God, whoever that deity might be.
Lupean said the root of the word yoga is to "yoke,” as in to yoke your mind with your own spirit — not a spirit God or anything like that, not even Hindu gods.
“I’ve never heard any mention of God, or gods or anything like that in yoga, never been in a class where any God was mentioned,” she said.
Carrie N. Sterrs, coordinator of public relations and special programs for Worcester County Public Schools, said they talked to the people who had concerns.
“In Worcester County public schools, we value the partnerships we have with our parents, their families and the Worcester County community as a whole, which includes our faith-based partners," she said in a statement. "As we do with any concerns raised from these partners, we invited those individuals with questions about the program to come in and observe firsthand Mindfulness Moments at Buckingham Elementary School. After the group’s observation it was expressed that there were no further concerns, and no programmatic changes have been made.”
Sterrs confirmed the school has changed the word “yoga” to “stretching,” but said that’s the only change.
Among those with concerns was Daryl McCready, pastor of SonRise Church in Berlin.
"Everyone was kind and respectful of one another and the meeting went well," he said on Facebook. "I am not sure yet what the result will be but they said they understood our concern. It was clear that everyone wanted the best for the children though we may differ about what that is.”
However, in a March 25 sermon recorded and posted on the SonRise Church website, McCready struck a different tone, denouncing practices like yoga and reiki as teaching a false equivalence between humanity and divinity.
“Christians are being deceived,” he states in the recording.
A phone call to SonRise Church in Berlin on Thurday was answered by a staff member who said Pastor Daryl McCready told her "we have no further comments at this time."
Heidi McNeeley, founder of Worcester County Warriors, a support group for people dealing with addiction or their loved ones, weighed in on social media.
“As a Christian yoga instructor, I am very concerned about some of the statements that have been made,” she said. “I'm definitely a part of the yoga world, and I know a lot of the concerns from the church are coming from concerns about ancient yoga practices. My yoga is taught for the purpose of bringing the word of God to people who might not otherwise experience it.”
Lupean pointed out there is science to back up the effectiveness of mindfulness programs like the one at Buckingham.
"I applaud the program at Buckingham Elementary School," she said, "and I wish my grandchildren had a similar program at their school. In more than 10,000 scientific studies, the advantages of taking time to pause in one's life, as is done with meditation, have proved to help people live happier, healthier lives. Why would we deny this benefit to our children?"