Asana & Dhyānam in U.S. Schools: Reflections on Research, Gatekeeping & Decoloniality
This reflection is the first in a series, exploring how U.S. K-12 schools and their surrounding institutions are complicit in the continued distortion, theft, erasure, and exploitation of Dharmic traditions and societies. By mapping out the mechanisms of this phenomena, I hope to illuminate some of the spaces and tangible possibilities for authentic Dharmic voices to begin reclaiming stewardship of our traditions.
We cannot afford to continue being complicit in measuring, validating, and conceptualizing indigenous practices using non-indigenous values, paradigms, and metrics.
We belong in the conversation. We have to change the conversation.
For several years, I was entrenched in the world of research on meditation and yoga in K-12 schools. I served as the Director of Research & Evaluation for a push-in school-based social emotional learning (SEL)+ yoga (asana, pranayama, and dhyanam) program. This was an authentic Indic program, emerging from and honoring a lineage-based tradition and led by teacher-practitioners who had been initiated by a Guru. The connections between yoga, self-awareness, and social responsibility came from ancient Indic knowledge, and not from Western psychology. (This is important.) This was in stark contrast to the flurry of “mindfulness and yoga” programs that had cropped up in the past decade or so. The bulk of those programs appeared to be animated by some whimsical mix of YouTube videos, 200-hour yoga teacher training graduates, “positive psychology”, and catchy branding. These programs flaunted “secular mindfulness”, casting aside any hint of “religious roots”; these were public schools, after all. In effect, they were casting aside any real recognition of or reverence for the Dharmic knowledge traditions from which these practices sprang. Instead, they simply skimmed some approximation off the practices off the top and placed them within a Western onto-epistemological paradigm, in the name of secularism, neutrality, and innovation.
A part of my role was working with researchers from multiple disciplines, including psychology…