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Reaction to yoga classes is anything but relaxed

SLOVAKIA

EDUCATION ministry plans to introduce yoga classes into primary schools in Slovakia have caused a media uproar in the traditionally Catholic republic.

The proposals, first mooted last year by education minister and yoga devotee Milan Ftacnik, provoked a rash of lurid headlines accusing officials of attempting to introduce cult religious practices by sleight of hand.

Mr Ftacnik had hoped to introduce the lessons, focusing on physical stretching exercises and meditation techniques, during this academic year but delays in the approval of a new curriculum integrating the techniques into PE sessions and other subjects mean they are unlikely to begin until September.

The strength of the reaction of the press, religious groups and psychologists took ministers by surprise, said education ministry spokeswoman Magdalena Sedlackova.

Officialshad assumed that the ancient postures of yoga, together with meditation, would help improve the health and well-being of children.

"I'm not sure yoga itself is controversial, but certainly the media made a big fuss," Ms Sedlackova said. "Relaxation before classes will help children in their studies."

The curriculum, which would be delivered by teachers trained by the Slovak branch of the Yoga In Daily Life organisation, part of a world-wide network run by guru Swami Maheshwarananda, will be optional for both staff and students, she added.

The political reaction, although muted by Mr Ftacnik's powerful position in the ruling coalition, is not guaranteed to be favourable. Martin Fronc, the political state secretary at the education ministry, is on record as calling yoga an "oriental spiritual culture" with nothing in common with Slovak life.

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