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Swedish parents block 'gateway' yoga exercises

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Swedish parents block 'gateway' yoga exercises
You won't find Rachel Bråthén criticizing the school. Sweden's 'Yoga Girl' has 1.9 million followers on Instagram. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
11:32 CEST+02:00
Parents at a Swedish school have put a stop to yoga exercises over fears about the religious influence they might exert on their children.

A pastor and his wife were among a group of Christian parents who pushed for the school in Rydaholm, southern Sweden, not to start teaching yoga to their children, a practice that was about to be introduced by a new teacher.

Linda Olsson contacted the local school authorities and pointed out that her husband David, the town's pastor, was obliged to keep religion out of ceremonies held to mark the end of the school year. Shouldn't yoga be subjected to the same scrutiny, she wondered. 

Rydaholm is part of Sweden's Bible belt and other Christian parents shared the Olssons' concerns about yoga and its links to Hinduism and Buddhism. 

“Yoga is used by Buddhists as a form of meditation. We don't know what it might lead to,” she told local newspaper Värnamo Nyheter. 

The parents said they supported physical activity for their children but wondered why the school didn't offer more traditional exercises. 

Their efforts succeeded: just before the yoga classes were due to start the principal announced that they would not go ahead. Linda Olsson was elated. 

“It feels really good that we managed to stop this. Now we just need to be vigilant to ensure it doesn't sneak back in again,” she told Christian newspaper Världen Idag, which first reported the story. 

Not everybody shared the parents' concerns and the story sparked much mirth among secular Swedes on social media. Johan Hilton, theatre editor with the Dagens Nyheter daily, tweeted:

“Regarding the parents who blocked the lessons. One has at some level sensed that yoga is in league with the Devil.”

The Local spoke to Samuel Teglund, an editor at Världen Idag, which has recently published a series of articles about the rise of yoga in Sweden. 

“We've been writing abut yoga for some time and think it's an important issue to problematize because not everyone agrees it's religiously neutral and harmless. We hear from people working in schools and the healthcare system who are concerned about the spiritual effects.”

“When it comes to Christianity, the education authorities are very specific about what can and cannot be said and what psalms can be sung at end-of-year school ceremonies in churches. This doesn't happen at all with yoga even though it also has a divine connection in Eastern religions.” 

The yoga discussion had split readers into two camps, said Teglund. 

“Some are very glad we've created a debate about yoga; others think it's completely unproblematic and have a giggle about Christian parents who are upset about the religious influence on children. It's very polarized, which I think shows why it's important to talk about it.”

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