Austrian primary school bans yoga

A primary school in the town of Dechantskirchen in Styria has banned yoga from gym classes after a mother of one of the students protested against it for religious reasons.

Austrian primary school bans yoga
Children in India practising yoga. Photo: APA/Sanjeev Gupta

“All I heard was that according to the Bible yoga should not be allowed and it would lead the children in the wrong direction,” yoga teacher Ingrid Karner told the Kleine Zeitung.

She was disappointed as her monthly yoga classes had proved to be a success with both parents and children.

“We introduced children’s yoga and concentration exercises into gym classes. I presented the project to the headmistress and the district school inspector in advance and they were both happy with it,” Karner said.

“In Germany yoga has long been a part of the curriculum for children,” she added.

Headmistress Maria Hofer confirmed that she and other parents had been happy with the inclusion of yoga exercises in gym classes but that since one mother had complained and said that “she did not want her child coming into contact with yoga for religious reasons” it has had to be stopped.

Many parents are outraged that their children can no longer do yoga. "What happened to tolerance and democracy?” Siegfried Kogler said. He added that his daughter’s performance at school had improved after doing the yoga exercises.

District school inspector Helga Thomann said that in principle she thought children’s yoga was a good idea but said that “anything from the Far East that touches on the esoteric has no place in schools”.

She said that drawing and painting Tibetan mandalas had also led to protests from parents.

Historically yoga was an ancient spiritual practice with connections to Hinduism and Buddhism, but there are many different forms of yoga, some of which are more overtly religious than others.

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Austrian MPs give green light to headscarf ban in primary schools

Austrian MPs on Wednesday approved a law aimed at banning the headscarf in primary schools, a measure proposed by the ruling right-wing government.

Austrian MPs give green light to headscarf ban in primary schools
Illustration Photo: AFP

So as to avoid charges that the law discriminates against Muslims, the text refers to any “ideologically or religiously influenced clothing which is associated with the covering of the head”.

However, representatives of both parts of the governing coalition, the centre-right People's Party (OeVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), have made it clear that the law is targeted at the Islamic headscarf.

FPOe education spokesman Wendelin Moelzer said the law was “a signal against political Islam” while OeVP MP Rudolf Taschner said the measure was necessary to free girls from “subjugation”.

The government says the patka head covering worn by Sikh boys or the Jewish kippa would not be affected.

Austria's official Muslim community organisation IGGOe has previously condemned the proposals as “shameless” and a “diversionary tactic”.

The IGGOe says that in any case only a “miniscule number” of girls would be affected.

Opposition MPs almost all voted against the measure, with some accusing the government of focusing on garnering positive headlines rather than child welfare.

The government admits that the law is likely to be challenged at Austria's constitutional court, either on grounds of religious discrimination or because similar legislation affecting schools is normally passed with a two-thirds majority of MPs.

The OeVP and FPOe formed a coalition in late 2017 after elections in which both parties took a tough anti-immigration stance and warned of the dangers of so-called “parallel societies”.