Holy Wars are erupting all over America! People are dying for their metaphors of the eternal, Joseph Campbell would say. Alternately, let’s introduce mythology and science in public school classrooms to discuss yoga science, hear some great world mythology and educate our youth in reason, empiricism and enlightenment.
Every now and then somebody with a strong identification with their metaphor for the eternal gets upset about something called yoga in the public schools. As a yoga scientist and mythologist, I can tell where the confusion can come in. We need another age of enlightenment where reason and science can help us clearly understand reality and make practical decisions rather than emotional ones that are based on fairy tales that assuage us in dealing with our anxiety of death, which all religions originally did.
Yoga is a science. It’s a fact that deep breathing will calm the nervous system. It’s a fact that meditation develops concentration. It’s a fact that yoga asana improves muscular skeletal alignment. A string of beads is just a string of beads. You call it a rosary? A mala? A tiglly wiggly? People project names and meaning onto things. They do it to help them cope with the anxiety and overwhelm of life and its chaos. People like to create meaning out of yoga poses, too. That’s a personal preference, and the best way to discuss these preferences is through a mythology class. It’s a great way to learn history and English as well as social studies and geography!
I think every elementary school teacher public or private should be telling lots of myths and stories from other cultures, and middle and high school kids should have full-blown mythology course electives, speech debates and scientific research done on subjects and their mythology of preference. We can examine history for evidences where the mind played tricks on people with false cognition of events, such as the Salem Witch trials. Turned out a mold on wheat produced psychoactive results on its victims, much like LSD! Bring out pictures such as the Rorschach Test to give an example of psychological projection of the mind and story. Kids can compare and contrast mythological symbols, such as the snake, which in Christian mythology is evil, but in Hinduism is not necessarily, or in Western ideas the dragon is evil, while Eastern a dragon is a bringer of luck. They can discuss how religions are similar, such as many cultures around the world have myths of a virgin birth or savior king. One can through the science of yoga practice benefit from the physical and scientifically proven aspects, supplemented by a good anatomy class, and use empiricism to make up one’s own mind about the philosophy or meaning behind the practice and its results. Everything else is just reality open to interpretation!
The best part of all that is when one starts to recognize and become aware of these symbols through reason, it becomes a vehicle for self-awareness and higher levels of intelligence and evolution. The Second Enlightenment is coming!
A lot of people, Christians, Jews, Buddhists and others, understand this and don’t have a problem with yoga in the public schools. Here’s an article I appeared in the Denver Post about kids yoga, and it features Regis Catholic School teaching yoga!
Here is an excerpt from a Blog Post I wrote March 8, 2010 during a school residency in which parents were upset about yoga in school where I was artist in residence.
Typically, a few parents are misinformed that yoga exposes their children to Eastern religion and had them pulled from class. I gave the teachers this response to give to parents.
I understand your concern about unfamiliar concepts being taught in your child’s school.
Storytime Yoga is a firm supporter of the first amendment and separation of church and state.
The dictionary definition of religion is:
• the belief and worship of a super human controlling power, especially a personal God or Gods
• details of belief as taught or discussed
• a particular system of faith or worship
None of these definitions apply to Storytime Yoga and what your child will be doing in school.
Storytime Yoga is an educational program based on scientific and factual methods of exercise combined with the art of storytelling intended to improve children’s health and literacy.
Any meaning that an individual creates about the stories and postures and projects onto these factual methods is up to him or her.
We invite you to come and observe or participate for yourself to better understand these facts and the benefits your child will receive from experiencing Storytime Yoga.
Here is a chapter from my book
Storytime Yoga: The Treasure in Your Heart = Stories and Yoga for Peaceful Children
By Sydney Solis
Using Interfaith Stories and Teaching Yoga in the Public Schools
Mythologist Joseph Campbell said that one person’s religion is another person’s mythology. We may be offended to consider our religion a “myth,” but myth comes from the Greek word mythos, which means story. According to Campbell, the human mind cannot access the ineffable transcendence of God without myth and story. The word religion comes from the Latin religio – to re-link, and it is through storytelling that we link ourselves to the divine within ourselves.
In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell tells us that all the world’s religions and cultures have a common hero theme. Humans have always been on a quest for the divine, and in fact the divine is found within us, in our unity with the entire universe. Mythology provides the road map to find this reunion.
…we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.
Because we can present yoga from an interfaith and mythological standpoint, it is well suited for public schools. When I teach yoga, I do not proselytize; I do not even teach “spirituality.” I teach self-esteem and mental health with yoga, and I find that the interfaith stories presented in this book serve that purpose, and teach yoga universally. How do the children react? In one after-school program I taught, a little girl always said that she saw Jesus in her heart during shavasana. Another girl was an atheist and said, “I don’t believe that. I saw something else.” I honored each child’s ability to say what she believed and felt. My class provided the space for acknowledgement and acceptance of each student’s individual search for happiness and meaning. The stories in this book speak to Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Wiccans, atheists, and others. Yoga is what you bring to it.
To find peace, we must be aware that the truth is unlimited; there is no untruth in another religion’s teaching. In The Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta, Swami Prabhavandanda says that Christianity cannot be the sole originator of the truth of God. It would not be truth; for truth cannot be originated; it exists. He recounts St. Augustine as saying,
That which is called the Christian religion existed among the ancients, and never did not exist from the beginning of the human race until Christ came in the flesh, at which time the true religion, which already existed, began to be called Christianity.
In my classes, I say sometimes we are going to hear a story about Jesus, and sometimes we are going to hear a story about the Buddha or Allah or the Great Spirit or nothing at all.
I teach that this expands our minds, expands our possibilities, and makes us unlimited.
I teach my students that we show respect when we listen to each other’s stories. By allow- ing ourselves to witness different perspectives, we sacrifice our need to be right. We can still believe in our stories and let others believe in theirs, too. We can see the commonality in the stories, and we can see that indeed all of these stories have the same themes: the search for happiness, the search for God and wholeness, the joys, pains, sorrows, and fears of life. When we listen to each other’s stories, we realize that there is only one story in the world — the human story.
When we start to examine our own stories using the yamas and the niyamas of Patanjali’s 8-fold path, we realize that we have been mis-identifying with the mind and the mind’s story. Something happens to us in our life, and we make it mean something. We carry this story around – which exists only in memory, smriti – and we begin to identify with it. It takes us out of the present and allows us to be consumed with the fear and desire of I, me, and mine. We lose sight of our connection to the divine.
Yoga stories free us to look beyond the barriers of gender, socio-economic situation, and race. When we can relate our lives to these larger stories, we make connections to a larger meaning. Then we encounter those ah-ha moments that ultimately bring peace.
•As we go deeper in the practice of yoga, we find that we are not separate from one another. In Hinduism, it is said that the universe is threaded together by Indra’s net — where the net is stranded together by jewels, and each jewel is reflecting the others, and each jewel sees itself in the other jewel. We need each other to see ourselves, to make sense of the world, to find community and love. Otherwise, like Jonah in the belly of the whale, the loneliness of facing our inner selves is unbearable. Man is not meant to be separate from the divine, from his fellows, or from himself.
Occasionally, parents of public school children who may not be familiar with yoga may feel threatened by the practice. Some fundamentalists fear that by going inward, their children may encounter “the devil.” I try to reassure these parents that the guilt and fear produced by separation from Self is itself a form of ego, but often I find it easiest to refer to yoga as movement and meditation as silence. We should always remind the adults that these are tools for discipline and character education. The positive result of the children’s yoga practice — the improvement in school performance, the benefits to mental health, and the overall sense of calm the children exude — will become the best advocates for the course.
WELCOME TO THE SECOND ENLIGHTENMENT!!!
Love and Peace, SYDNEY SOLIS