Exercising and proselytizing

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By Optic Editorial Board

One of the most beneficial things a body can do after a solid night’s sleep is to stretch, to kick-start the body into motion.

Few would argue with that prescription. However, according to one New Mexico lawmaker, you need to be careful what you call it. According to 8th District Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, a Republican, if the stretching takes on the appearance of some yoga motions, that puts the practitioners in danger of getting too close to Eastern religions.

Baldonado, who home-schools his own children, recently made the news when he expressed opposition — quite a stretch — to a physical education teacher’s using yoga during her classes. At a recent meeting of the Legislative Education Study Committee, Baldonado reacted to a report that an elementary school teacher, Ann Paulls-Neal told the committee that she instructed yoga as part of “stretching and mat work” for her students.

Although Baldonado might not buy it, the teacher said the stretching exercises don’t refer to or identify with any particular faith.

The Republican representative’s question was, “Are we teaching yoga in public schools now? Are parents notified?” He also compared the innocuous exercises to reading Bible scripture while in school.

Baldonado fears that such stretching and mat work by the students “tends to open a door to a practice tied to a religious belief.” Finding backers of his unusual position on exercising as a path to proselytizing might be a daunting task for the representative. For example, Sen. Bill Soules, a Democrat and fellow committee member, calls Baldonado’s take on the issue “a concern of the far right.”

And to that, we ask, is there a school child on the planet who would suspect that the proven benefits of stretching might tend to steer them to some Eastern religion, or any other kind?

As one writer of a letter to the editor in the Albuquerque Journal said of Baldonado, “He is afraid that his children and others may be tainted by religious influences other than Christianity.” And another letter writer regards the entire issue as “a lame excuse to cut gym class.”

School-age children, some teeming with energy, are known to conjure up all kinds of moves — on the basketball court, the dance floor and even on their skateboards. Let’s hope none of the kids’ gyrations lead the state representative to construe such movements as baby steps toward the adoption of another religion.

We say, let the kids stretch; it does a body good. And to paraphrase Shakespeare, literature’s top bard, “A stretch by any other name would feel as good.”