Yoga for third graders

My son’s Catholic school sent home the monthly update on what’s happening at the school. They’ve started a Yoga class for third graders. This has me concerned. The letter just came yesterday, and I haven’t had a chance to question the school about it.

I called into Women of Grace this morning and asked Father Ed Sylvia about it…maybe you heard it. If you didn’t, he told me that its absolutely something to worry about. He said that the school would probably try to brush it off as being purely for exercise and cleansed from any Buddhist or Hindu philosophies, and not to buy into that. Father said that it opens up the door to problems, and that it should not be presented to impressionable young minds.

Well, in my research, it seems that there is no definitive answer. So many articles say that as long as its only for exercise then its okay. Other articles condemn any use of yoga.

Can you give me any advice about this?

You should find, upon looking at exactly what is being taught, that it is going to be JUST the exercise as would be for many fitness oriented programs utilizing yoga poses.

I agree with Father Ed. Yoga is part of a system of religious beliefs and practices. Trying to pass yoga off as mere exercise is like claiming that doing the sign of the cross and genuflecting are mere exercise. While it’s theoretically true that for someone could genuflect and cross herself simply to exercise the limbs, would anyone believe that those actions could be stripped of their meaning and spiritual significance?

Yet many times yoga is used to help back problems and no religious overtone is ever used.

Hi, Eilish Maura,

I guess I don’t really believe that the instructor is going to brain-wash them with Hindu philosophies at this point. But, my concern, as well as Fr. Ed Sylvia’s, was that it opens the door to problems.

Also, I’m listening to a Catholic Answer’s show from a while back with Susan Brinkmann. She said that the postures in yoga are prayer postures to various Hindu gods.

Third graders don’t need yoga for exercise. I was in third grade once, and I got my exercise from normal kid activity…sports, playing, freeze-tag, etc. I mean, what did kid’s do before yoga?

Yoga is not the end-all, be-all of exercise. Surely, there is an alternative for third graders that doesn’t include exposure to an ancient Hindu practice, particularly in a Catholic school.

Our students do yoga in my school as part of their warm-ups for PE. To even suggest that this is part of some underhanded attempt to get the kids into “eastern” religions would be borderline paranoia.

The Sign of the Cross is not an exercise, though it does bear some resemblance to the movements done when conducting a choir. Should music students then not be taught how to conduct music? And genuflecting actually is an exercise. Can’t remember what the exersice is called, but I remember having to “genuflect” across the room as a quad-strengthening exercise. It was penitential to say the least, but it wasn’t Catholic.

Yoga can be presented as a spiritual or paraspiritual activity (centering, meditating, etc.), or it can be presented as increasing balance, flexibility, strength, and focus, as well as encouraging cross-brain connections/activity before a strenuous mental activity (like taking a standardized test). Definitely talk with the teacher(s) at the school, but please keep an open mind. We teachers are also devout Catholics, some of us, and I don’t know of one who doesn’t want to hear from a concerned parent.

Voicing your concerns will do several things:

  • put you and the teacher on the same page about your child’s religious beliefs
  • remind the teacher to be religion nuetral
  • give you a starting point to discuss the role of yoga with your son, as it relates to his school participation

I always want to know who my Jehova Witness kids are before I start teaching songs like “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and I know our PE and classroom teachers want to know of any conflicts between classroom activities and religious beliefs. Voice your concerns respectfully, and listen carefully. Stay in communication until you are satisfied that everything is fine, or until you are sure that your son will not participate if you are still concerned.

But be careful not to be persuaded by anyone here that public school teachers are out to secularize our children. In truth, I try to be the light of Christ to the little ones in my care.


I would suggest balancing out this ‘opens doors’ thing to what good is done using these poses for physical fitness (like back programs).

Kids today do NOT get enough exercise (at least not in the US).

BTW - I learned about yoga watching Richard Hittleman on TV in the 60s (him and Jack LaLane were my ‘babysitters’). Things I learned then in terms of flexibility and being able to isolate the abdomen have lasted to today and have been a big part of my success dealing with MS, Fibro and a other chronic diseases.

With all due respect, it’s naive to think that yoga can be stripped of its spiritual elements.

A Catholic priest from India has a thorough explanation:
"Yoga in philosophy and practice is incompatible with Christianity."

You may also wish to view this previous thread.

My mother is a 1st grade school teacher at a Catholic school here in Canada. The government has legislated that the children do physical activity in the class room every day. My mother has many fitness qualifications and loves yoga passionately.

She incorporates yoga into their daily excercise, but renames the poses to something that children can relate to, such as an animal. The school also has a policy that “namaste” or other sanskrit words are not used. Honestly, the children don’t even know what they are doing is “yoga”. They enjoy the movement and it releases aloto of physical tension that can sometimes bubble up into ungovernable behavior.

I don’t think Hinduism owns excercise.

Mark Shea mentioned yoga in a recent NCR column. From the article:

There are Christians who fear spiritual contamination from yoga exercises that involve absolutely no invocation of pagan deities or non-Christian spiritual elements. According to them, mere adoption of a yoga posture is somehow going to “open you” to the power of fallen angels.

Read the whole article which is not about yoga but is more about this:

That’s why the saints — instead of hiding from the world in fear of contamination by movies or yoga or magic shows or contact with prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners — have waded right out into the middle of it.
Instead of gathering their skirts around them in terror of contracting leprosy (whether physical or spiritual), they have reached out and touched the leper, confident that the power of God was greater than the power of sin, hell and death.

Well, to a great extent it depends on the teacher and what she says during the exercise. I took a Pilates Course at a local YMCA and the exercises were grand, but the little gal teaching it had some patter about certain spiritual benefits that were in my estimation a total turn off and smacked of New Age crapola. Like they say check it out with the teacher and also if possible observe and listen a few times.

Thanks, Larry, for your comments. With all due respect right back at you, I’m sure the early Christians felt the same way about using pagan holy days (around the winter solstice) as the time to celebrate the feast of the birth of Christ. Can’t you just hear them saying, “You can’t just pretend that all these customs don’t have pagan origins!”

Yoga is a physical activity. Just as I can play baseball, football, and sports in general without knowing their historical origins or being connected to their doping scandals, I can also do yoga without concern for my immortal soul.

Just my two cents’ worth. God bless you.


I do yoga and I’m a devout Catholic. But I run and play rugby. After playing a hardcore, 80 minute game that involves throwing people on the ground or running 5 miles, I need a good stretch. It helps with that. I put my own Christian perspective into it:)

There is plenty to go back and forth on whether or not Yoga is acceptable for adult Catholics. I’m of the mind that the stretches used separate from the chants and philosophy can be very good. I do believe that even an adult doing this needs to be vigilant - because if you are accustomed to doing Yoga poses, then you’re more likely to take the Yoga class at the local gym etc… so even an informed adult Catholic has to be ever vigilant with Yoga.

I see absolutely no reason why children need to do Yoga formally. Healthy 8yo’s don’t have back problems. I wouldn’t criticize the teacher (another posters mother?) who has her kids stretch in certain poses, as long as she’s not calling it Yoga. As far as I’m concerned, those are just stretches. But to specifically tell chidlren that now they are learning “Yoga” is dangerous IMO. It sets up a comfort level with the activity that might lead to a willingness to experiment with it in the future. Plus, I also believe that any Catholic using Yoga should have a good understanding of the risks of the Yoga philosophy. And 3rd grade is not the time to try to explain to a child why parts of it are ok and others aren’t.

Personally, I’d be persistent with the school about not having this as a unit, and I’d be looking into ways to keep my child from participating if possible (although I wouldn’t want to make him unusually curious about this taboo thing either…). If not possible, then I’d have the talk with my child about the difference between stretching and meditating and do my best to help him understand that Yoga has some good things to it, but that you need to be very careful also.

The OP said it was a CATHOLIC school.


Ask questions. Sit in on classes and see what you think.

If the class is truly just about exercise and stretching, why call it Yoga at all? How about just “Stretch & Flex?”

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