by Nikhil Ramburn & Karma Carpenter
The expansion of yoga into the public sphere has come with increasing international cross-pollination of ideas and sharing of practices best suited to bringing yoga in schools. Kaivalyadhama, one of the oldest yoga universities in India is organizing its 8th International Conference on Yoga in Education. The conference seeks to explore the principles and practice of integrating yoga into school curricula worldwide. Amongst the panelists of this global conference are educators and researchers like Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a leader in the field of yoga therapy research. Micheline Flak who has advocated for school-based yoga in France for thirty-five years and Dr. Shirley Telles, research director at Patanjali Research Foundation in India are amongst the notable conference speakers. Numerous Indian professors and yogis will also be in attendance and Karma Carpenter of K12yoga.org was invited as a panel contributor to provide implementation insights from her 20 years of field work with school-based implementation of CAM Complementary & Alternative Medicine, including yoga and mindfulness.
Governments around the world are starting to recognize the importance of yoga and body-mind health in public education. In July 2013, the French Ministry of Education accredited Micheline Flak’s Research on Yoga in Education (RYE) which trains educators in school-based yoga approaches. School-based yoga has the potential to create a calmer, safer and more engaged learning environment. In addition, new research is starting to show that students with learning disabilities may greatly benefit from yoga instruction. Earlier in 2015, the Indian Human Resource Development Ministry released a syllabus for yoga in public schools. Yoga has also been added as a compulsory training module to teacher education programs. While India has a long history of practicing yoga, it is only recently bringing the practice to the public arena. Just as in the US, when yoga was first introduced, yoga was long considered a fringe and occult practice in India. Furthermore, the association of yoga with Hinduism has long put off secularists and the thousands of Indians of different faiths.
In fact, it appears that the US has greatly contributed in making yoga accessible to the masses. While India is leading the way with the government institutionalizing yoga, the US has contextualized yoga into a broader healthcare category of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). America has demystified the practice through clinical research and adaptation for popular, secular settings for weight management, fitness and relaxation. The ubiquitous presence of yoga studios is quintessentially American and has fueled the pioneering steps that India is taking to implement yoga in the educational system. The wide acceptance of yoga in the US and its separation from the strict guru culture of India has made yoga more palatable for the public arena. However while India struggles with the guru-lineage, the US has a different version of the same problem; divided factions along the lines of branded curricula. Yet, when yoga is taught in public school settings in the US, students and educators can enjoy its non-sectarian charm.
American public schools have shown that yoga can be taught, free of dogmatic restrictions and this secular approach may well satisfy India, one of the most culturally, politically and religiously diverse countries in the world. By integrating yoga into compliance initiatives, America has shown that, with evidence-base and careful implementation, yoga assists such noble causes as civil rights in schools and reduction of learning barriers, including educational, behavioral and health disparities. On the other hand, by taking this giant step towards implementing yoga in schools right at the level of teacher education, India is poised to set the standard in Yoga Teacher Education. With the new possibility of earning a Master’s in Yoga Education, India may well one day export its training and vetting process worldwide.