- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — In Tara Guber’s ideal world, American children would meditate in the lotus position and chant in Sanskrit before taking stressful standardized tests.

But when she asked a public elementary school in Aspen, Colo., to teach yoga in 2002, Christian fundamentalists and even some secular parents lobbied the school board. They argued that yoga’s Hindu roots conflicted with Christian teachings and that using it in school might violate the separation of church and state.

Portrayed as a New Age nut out to brainwash young people, Mrs. Guber crafted a curriculum that eliminated chanting and translated Sanskrit into child-friendly English. Yogic panting became “bunny breathing,” and “meditation” became “time in.”

“I stripped every piece of anything that anyone could vaguely construe as spiritual or religious out of the program,” Mrs. Guber said.

Now, more than 100 schools in 26 states have adopted Mrs. Guber’s “Yoga Ed.” program, and more than 300 physical education instructors have been trained in it.

Countless other public and private schools from California to Massachusetts — including the Aspen school where Mrs. Guber clashed with parents — are teaching yoga.

Teachers say it helps calm students with attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder, or ADD, and may reduce childhood obesity. The federal government gives grants to gym teachers who complete a teacher-training course in yoga.

“I see a lot fewer discipline problems,” said Ruth Reynolds, principal of Coleman Elementary School in San Rafael, Calif. She said the school’s six-year-old yoga program has helped easily distracted children to focus.

“If you have children with ADD and focusing issues, often it’s easy to go from that into a behavior problem,” Miss Reynolds said. “Anything you can do to help children focus will improve their behavior.”

In 2003, researchers at California State University, Los Angeles, studied test scores at the Accelerated School, a charter school where Mrs. Guber sits on the board and where students practice yoga almost every day. Researchers found a correlation between yoga and better behavior and grades, and they said young yogis were more fit than the district average from the California Physical Fitness Test.

In 2004, Americans spent almost $3 billion on yoga classes and retreats, books, DVDs, mats, clothing and related items. About 3 million U.S. adults practiced yoga at least twice a week last year, compared with 1.3 million in 2001, according to Mediamarket Research Inc.

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