Nepal Introduces Mandatory Yoga Classes in Schools, Sparking Religious Concerns

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Mandate and Rationale

In Nepal, the government has implemented a requirement for students in grades four through eight to participate in yoga classes. The government’s stated goal is to promote exercise and enhance student health. However, this mandate has faced criticism due to perceived religious biases.

Origins and Connections of Yoga

Yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India and encompasses physical postures, breathing techniques, and mindfulness principles. Historically, yoga has been associated with various religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism.

Over time, yoga has gained global recognition as a purely physical and therapeutic practice, with scientifically demonstrated benefits for stress reduction, flexibility enhancement, and pain relief.

Pioneering Mandate

While yoga classes are offered in schools worldwide, Nepal is the first country to mandate its practice in educational institutions. The new regulation places yoga alongside core academic subjects such as mathematics, science, English, and Nepali language.

Controversy and Religious Considerations

The mandate has drawn criticism from certain quarters, who contend that it violates Nepal’s constitutional principle of religious equality. They argue that yoga’s historical ties to Hinduism could create a sense of obligation among students of other faiths.

For example, a particular yoga routine known as the “sun salutation” traditionally incorporates 12 movements that were originally intended to honor the Hindu deity Surya. While proponents of yoga view such movements as mere stretching exercises, opponents maintain that they retain their religious significance.

Government’s Perspective

Representatives of the Nepalese government emphasize that the focus of the new regulation is on promoting physical activity among students. They assert that Nepal’s government is not influenced by Hindu religious beliefs, in contrast to neighboring India.

Challenges and Implementation

The mandated yoga classes were scheduled to commence this month. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, schools in Nepal remain closed. Even after schools resume, implementation of the mandate may face challenges, as the country currently lacks a sufficient number of qualified yoga instructors.

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