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Parents, Religious Leaders Want Yoga Out of New York High School

A group of parents and religious leaders in upstate New York want yoga classes out of public schools, saying the instruction violates boundaries between church and state.

Two high school teachers began using yoga last year to help students relieve stress before exams. Special education teacher Martha Duchscherer and Spanish teacher Kerry Perretta also were developing a districtwide program.

But those plans were halted after parents and others in the community complained students were being indoctrinated in Hindu rites.

"We are not opposed to the benefits. We can understand the benefits. We are opposed to the philosophy behind it and that has its ties in Hinduism and the way they were presenting it," said the Rev. Colin Lucid of Calvary Baptist Church in Massena.

The program does not have ulterior motives, Julie Reagan, Massena Board of Education president, said Thursday.

"If the school board felt there was any hidden religious activity behind the motives of our two instructors, we certainly wouldn't allow that," she said. "There is absolutely none of that. The teachers are well intended and trying to offer an aspect of fitness in the classroom that relaxes and readies the children for better learning."

A hundred schools in 26 states use yoga in the classroom to relieve stress, Reagan said. Federal funds and grants are available to educators seeking yoga certification, she said.

According to a statement on the Web site of the American Yoga Association, yoga is not a religion, although its practice has been adopted by Hinduism, as well as other world religions.

There are more than 100 different schools of yoga, which seeks to bring harmony to the mind and body. The most commonly practiced type in the United States is hatha yoga, which encompasses physical movements and postures, plus breathing techniques.

"It's been a little discouraging that this program has taken on a negative tone," said Duchscherer, who has taught in the Massena district for 11 years. "The intention was never to teach religion. ... It was to introduce relaxation techniques."

But Lucid believes the voluntary program causes stress and should be offered as an after-school activity.

"People have made it a religious war, and it's not a religious war. We are basically concerned parents, saying we don't want our children participating in something that could cause them more stress and confusion," Lucid said.

Parents in Aspen, Colo., were successful in demanding the removal of yoga in the local curriculum in 2002. In Alabama, religious leaders pushed for a 1993 law prohibiting the teaching of yoga in schools, citing connections between yoga and Hindu religious training.