Parents with concerns about mindfulness programs are characterized by proponents in extreme, often inaccurate ways. For example, the chief executive of Jois Yoga Corp. in Encinatis, Eugene Ruffin, said in an interview with the LA Times, "It's hard to know how to respond to someone who says if you touch your toes, you're inviting the devil into your soul."
But then, people who are not Christians often don't know how to respond to Christian viewpoints, period. We don't read the same books. We don't buy the same clothes. We don't speak the same language. For me as a Christian mother to be opposed to my son's being required to do yoga and transcendental meditation in school makes no sense to non-Christians. Neither does my belief that he ought to be able to read his Bible, meditate on God's goodness, and pray in school (which, within certain limits, he can). Christian meditation somehow violates everyone's free speech, but Eastern meditation is neutral and, increasingly, part of the curriculum.
Meditation is the part of Christian practice that is most expressly not allowed to be taught in public schools. You can use Bible passages to teach literature and culture and all manner of things, but you absolutely cannot urge students to meditate on those passages. How, then, is it any more acceptable to teach transcendental "mindfulness" in public schools?
- It's tied to character ed. And the Bible isn't?
- It improves concentration, reduces stress, and boosts test scores. So does adding recess or "free play" time to the day.
- It's not religious. Except that it asks my child to clear his mind and then chant a mantra that probably isn't rooted in the Bible (that would invade others' free speech).
What does the Bible say about meditation? For starters, it's always focused on something specific. The Word of God. Things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good report. God's loving kindness. Beyond that, it does bring benefits to the practitioner, as explored in detail in Psalm 119.
What about the characterization that we fear we'll be inviting the devil into our soul? Ephesians 4:27 says, "Neither give place to the devil" (KJV). So in a sense, yes. It's there.
I know Christians who practice yoga. There's even a ministry called Holy Yoga, whose mission statement reads as follows:
"Holy Yoga is an experiential worship created to deepen people's connection to Christ. Our sole purpose is to facilitate a Christ honoring experience that offers an opportunity to believers and non-believers alike to authentically connect to God through His Word, worship, and wellness. Holy Yoga exists to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth through the modality of yoga."
How should the Christian respond? I am of this mind:
"John answered and said, 'Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us.' But Jesus said to him, 'Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.'" (Luke 9:49-50 NASB)
But Holy Yoga isn't going to find a place in public schools anytime soon. It's. . .religious in nature. I say, so is all transcendental meditation. It's focused on one message or on another.
So where does all of this leave me as a Christian parent? Could my child remain in his public school yoga session and meditate on the Bible verse we're learning as a family this week? It might benefit him in all the ways the studies claim. He could stand to take a moment to chill at school.
Sure. He could even chant the verse out loud as a mantra (Note: legal counsel I am not). The teacher couldn't require all kids to do that. That would infringe on their first amendment rights. I just hope the teacher's not asking him to chant a mantra from Buddhism. Because I don't count on the courts to side with me and my Christian son on religious freedom.
Your thoughts are welcome.