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Trick or treat: Is yoga fit for kids?

Kerry Tomberlin, second from right, praises God in a Holy Yoga training class. Holy Yoga is one of a number of yoga disciplines known as Christian yoga. (Be Free Photography)
Kerry Tomberlin, second from right, praises God in a Holy Yoga training class. Holy Yoga is one of a number of yoga disciplines known as Christian yoga. (Be Free Photography)
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What’s scariest this Halloween?

Those Paseo del Norte backups?

The Kathy Korte/Winston Brooks/Hanna Skandera/Susana Martinez Drama Club?

Trying to log on to healthcare.gov?

Answer: None of the above.

The scariest goblin on this All Hallow’s Eve is … yoga.

When I first heard about objections to yoga, I assumed the grievance had to be about the pigeon pose because, seriously, that thing hurts.

But, no, the hubbub here and across the nation concerns whether yoga is fit for children in public schools or whether it encourages them to believe in Hinduism or Buddhism.

State Rep. Alonzo Baldonado stirred the fire when he asked at a legislative committee hearing whether alternatives are being made available in public schools that use yoga in physical education classes and whether parents may excuse their children if they have religious objections.

When I caught up with Baldonado, a Republican, evangelical Christian real estate broker in Los Lunas, to ask him more, he said he didn’t mean to cook up a controversy but added he would never allow his three girls to practice yoga.

He has never taken a yoga class, but his argument is that yoga, a system of poses and postures with roots in Hinduism, is intrinsically religious – even though some of its current forms stress flexibility and strength to the exclusion of spiritual insight.

“I’m not anti-Hindu. I’m not anti-Buddhist,” he said. “I’m not being aggressive about it.”

But even if a teacher is asking students only to stretch and breathe on a mat and never uses the word “yoga,” Baldonado said that as a Christian father he would object to his children taking part.

“I choose to follow the practice of Christianity from the Scriptures,” Baldonado said. “Everything that you allow your child to look at has an impact on how they shape their worldview. So part of my role as a parent is to make sure my children are exposed to things that are appropriate to our beliefs. In my family, we wouldn’t practice that.”

I had never heard the “slippery slope to Eastern religion” argument before Baldonado voiced it. I thought yoga was just a way to make sure I have really sore shoulders while getting permission to buy cute new pants. But Christian leaders from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to the popular Mars Hill Church have voiced the warning that yoga opens a door to Eastern religions.

I had also never heard of “Christian yoga” until I started looking into whether Baldonado’s concerns had merit. Baldonado hadn’t heard of it either.

“That’s interesting,” he said.

It goes under the name “Yahweh Yoga” or “PraiseMoves” or “Holy Yoga.”

One of Baldonado’s Valencia County neighbors, Kerry Tomberlin in Bosque Farms, explained to me how doing chair pose or eagle pose or any of yoga’s other pretzel moves can be acceptable in God’s eyes.

“Yoga is a discipline,” said Tomberlin, who teaches Holy Yoga. “You can use it in a spiritual way, but you don’t have to. Nobody has a corner on yoga.”

Tomberlin practiced yoga for years and taught secular yoga in a gym. And she wondered if it was OK for Christians to do it. She investigated the history of yoga and prayed about it and looked into the Holy Yoga movement and found her answer.

The Christian blowback, she said, “It’s mostly just noneducation. They don’t know what yoga is about.”

Tomberlin said everyone is entitled to an opinion about yoga, but if it’s labeled evil we’re all in trouble: no more physical therapy or stretching for a sore back. “Any type of movement is yoga,” she said. “It’s biomechanics – just the body moving.”

If yoga is intrinsically religious, Tomberlin wonders, “When you were a child and you did a headstand, were you worshipping a Hindu god?”

Holy Yoga adopts the biomechanics and makes the practice nonsecular – only to praise Christ, not just killer abs.

As Tomberlin says: “We spend a lot of time breathing and quieting the body so we can still that mind that’s always constantly chattering and so then we can go deeper into the heart and into our identity with Christ so we can worship him with all that we are.”

So, yoga trick? Or yoga treat?

“The term ‘yoga’ is what’s scaring a lot of people,” Tomberlin said. “Any type of movement is yoga. It’s the word ‘yoga’ that’s freaking people out.”

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Leslie at 823-3914 or llinthicum@abqjournal.com. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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