Yoga group seeks to expand Hindu’s Yoga in public schools in San Diego & Nationwide

San Diego – The group that helped bring yoga to public elementary schools in Encinitas wants to expand the program to all of San Diego and to the nation.  The Sonima Foundation, formerly the Jois Foundation, held an open house Wednesday night to demonstrate what they said were the positive effects of yoga for children.

Yoga started being taught to elementary school students in Encinitas in 2012.  But a lawyer who filed suit against the Encinitas Union School District said the effort by the Sonima Foundation to expand the teaching of yoga in schools is actually a thinly veiled effort to bring Hindu spirituality to young children.

The scene at the Sonima Foundation in downtown Encinitas Wednesday night was festive.  Children and their parents crowded into the yoga studio to do yoga and to hear presentations about how it helps young people.  “I’m so proud of them,” said Chandra McAtee, who teaches yoga at the Monarch School in the East Village.  The Monarch School is for young people who are homeless or who are at risk of being homeless.  “We’re here to teach each other, teach everyone, children teach me too… about our bodies, how they work and how we can thrive.  That’s it,” McAtee said.

When it comes to the Encinitas school district or the Monarch School for that matter, attorney Dean Broyles sees it differently.  “The district is immersing the children two times a week, 30 minutes at a time in the PE program, in Ashtanga yoga which is hinduism,” Broyles told San Diego 6.

Broyles sued the Encinitas district to stop the yoga program.  He lost, and is now appealing the ruling.  “The Sonima Foundation has a clear agenda to promote the Ashtanga yoga nationwide in the public schools and they don’t care about the first amendment, they don’t care about the establishment clause, they don’t care about the tender consciousness of the children who will be infused with Hinduism through their program,” Broyles said.
Chandra McAtee said nothing could be further from the truth.  “No spiritual connotations are involved whatsoever.  We don’t do this, we don’t say Namaste, we don’t “ohm” anymore, we do none of that,” McAtee said.
“I am Hindu and when I heard they’re doing yoga, the first thing in my head, I thought oh wow, it’s religious.  But thenwhen I saw what they were doing and the way the teacher teaches it, there’s absolutely no religion involved.  It’s just breathing,” said Ratna Chatlani.  Chatlani’s 10-year old sonhas been doing yoga for two years and Chatlani said he’s now more focused and physically more flexible.  10-year old Nitin said he likes what yoga does for him and his friends.  “I think it really helps the kids at school and it focuses them and it calms them down,” Nitin said.
But Dean Broyles said social science research shows the mere practice of stretching and breathing will draw children toward Hinduism and what he calls a new age spirituality.  he said he expects a decision on his appeal by late fall or early winter.  San Diego 6 will continue to monitor developments.