There’s no stressing out before class in this school, when high school students practice yoga as a physical education elective.
Jessica Smith breathes deeply and stands tall and stretches into the warrior pose, connecting herself with the planet’s energy.
“Yoga opens my mind,” said Smith, a 16-year-old Bethel High School student. “It brings out my creative side in my English class. It helps me focus.”
Smith is one of 20 students enrolled in a new yoga class offered at Bethel High School. It’s believed to be the first such class in the state to have a specific, state-approved yoga curriculum.
It’s also among a growing number of yoga courses offered as an elective in physical education programs in public schools around the country.
Yoga, an ancient discipline rooted in Hindu and Buddhist culture and belief, is known for its practice of mindfulness. But it has raised concern among some U.S. parents that it promotes Asian religions.
Last year, parents filed a lawsuit against a San Diego school district arguing that their child’s elementary school yoga class was a religious practice.
“I don’t refer to any religion at all in the class,” said Bethel High health teacher Stacie Kaye, who created and teaches the course. “Yoga knows no religion. It knows no god. It’s an inner journey.”
Kaye said parents, administrators and students have been supportive of the class and no one has raised religious objections.
Bethel High Principal Christopher Troetti said Kaye’s yoga class was approved by district officials, mindful of the separation of church and state. He praised yoga’s holistic practice, especially among teenagers who face daily stress.
“Our students have a lot of pressures. They are asked to do a lot of different things to achieve their goals,” Troetti said.
Schools Superintendent Christine Carver also praised the course as an elective that promotes “fitness” and “relaxation.”