NEW YORK, U.S., October 9, 2011: To "om" or not to "om": For those who teach yoga in schools, that is a question that arises with regularity. The little syllable, often intoned by yoga students at the beginning and end of class, signifies different things to different people. But with its spiritual connotations, it is a potential tripwire for school administrators and parents, along with "namaste" and other Sanskrit words, chanting and hands in the prayer position.
The om question ties into the wider debate over the extent to which yoga is entwined with religion. Yoga program directors, who train and place teachers in the schools and develop curriculums, try to avoid setting off a battle like the one that developed over the Lord's Prayer.
"Every school is different, and every one has their own permutations and parameters of what you can and can't do," said Shari Vilchez-Blatt, founder and director of Karma Kids Yoga on West 14th Street, which holds studio classes and sends teachers to private and public schools in New York.
Bent on Learning, a 10-year-old program based on Grand Street that teaches 3,300 students a week in 16 public schools, is a namaste-free zone. "No namaste," Jennifer Ford, the development director and one of the founders, said. "No om. No prayer position with the hands. Nothing that anyone could look in and think, this is religious."
At Karma Kids, which works with more than 1,200 students in 16 schools, Ms. Vilchez-Blatt takes a more elastic position on "om." "We om," she said. "I don't look at it as spiritual. When we say 'om,' it is all the sounds in the universe." Still, she checks whether it is acceptable to school administrators before introducing it in class.