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Yoga Stretches Into Public Schools

Despite mainstream acceptance, yoga in public schools remains touchy. Critics say even stripped-down "yoga lite" goads young people into exploring other religions and mysticism.

Dave Hunt, who has traveled to India to study yoga's roots and interview gurus, called the practice "a vital part of the largest missionary program in the world" for Hinduism. The Bend, Ore., author of "Yoga and the Body of Christ: What Position Should Christians Hold?" said that, like other religions, the practice has no place in public schools.

"It's pretty simple: Yoga is a religious practice in Hinduism. It's the way to reach enlightenment. To bring it to the west and bill it as a scientific practice for fitness is dishonest," said Hunt, 80.

"I've talked to too many people who got hooked on the spiritual deception of yoga. They come to believe in this and become enamored with Hinduism or eastern mysticism," he said.

Concerns about yoga's spiritual implications have also fueled a cottage industry of books and videos that offer the purported benefits of yoga _ flexibility, strength and weight loss _ without mentioning the y-word.

Laurette Willis, 49, wrote an exercise regimen called "PowerMoves Kids Program for Public Schools." The stretching routine includes pauses for children to contemplate character-building quotes from Martin Luther King Jr., Emily Dickinson, Harriet Tubman and William Shakespeare. Willis, who lives near Tahlequah, Okla., also created an exercise regimen called "PraiseMoves: The Christian Alternative to Yoga."

"I'm not here to say that yoga is necessarily bad, but it is counter to what I think the public education system is for: It should have programs without any form of religious overtones whatsoever," Willis said.

The dispute confuses some yogis, particularly Westerners who say they yoga as it's practiced in the United States is primarily about fitness and stress relief.

Baron Baptiste, who owns three studios in the Boston area and practices with his 7-year-old son, loves Guber's program. He said his son takes yoga far less seriously than he does.

"We adults need to be reminded to lighten up, breathe in the joy and have some fun," he said.

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© 2007 The Associated Press