Education Minister Milan Ftáčnik, a proponent and practioner of yoga.
The yoga proposal was put forth last year by Education Minister Milan Ftáčnik, who is an avid yogi himself and would like the courses to begin in September. But if the plan moves forward, said KDH Chairman Pavol Hrušovský, the party may seek Ftáčnik's recall.
"Yoga is an attempt to eliminate Christianity in Slovakia," Hrušovský told The Slovak Spectator July 19. "We think this is a very serious problem."
"Before this, it was Soviet Communism [which tried to eliminate Christianity]," added party mate Vladimír Palko. "Now it's Asian yoga."
The Conference of Slovak Bishops (KBS) also spoke against the yoga proposal in the form of a Sunday sermon. On July 5, the country's bishops co-wrote the "Shepherds' Letter", a sermon opposing yoga in schools, and distributed it to churches around the country.
Saying that they spoke on behalf of 60% of the Slovak population - the ratio of citizens who claimed in the 1991 national census that they practiced the Christian faith - the KBS likened their battle against yoga to "protecting the home from a stranger who enters, doesn't introduce himself, touches your children, and wants to take them away."
Further excerpts from the Shepherd's Letter read: "Is it really just physical exercise? Yoga rejects faith in God the Creator, it rejects Jesus Christ, the whole act of redemption, and [therefore] Christianity. It is a path to total atheism.
"Yoga leads to a spirituality which focuses on the self. However, the basis of Christianity is a spirituality which is directed towards others. To better understand what yoga is and what the results of it are, let's have a look at India, a cradle of yoga. How is it possible that there are children and old people lying near trash containers and nobody even notices them? It is possible because under the influence of Hinduism everybody lives only for themselves. How is it possible that Mother Theresa had to go there to pick up those who were kicked aside by such a life style?"
"We Christians must not forget that we do not need yoga, but rather our daily bread which we ask in our prayers, which was taught to us by our Master Jesus Christ. With that, all problems can be solved and we won't need to search for some dubious substitute."
Added Bishop Rudolf Baláž of the Banská Bystrica regional diocese: "Yoga is a practice from a strange country."
The ministry responds
Education Ministry spokeswoman Magdaléna Sedláčková said that the statements made by the KDH and KBS were "simply not true".
"The Church's stand is based on a lack of information about the project," she said July 18, explaining that the programme would teach the non-religious hatha yoga, a system of physical exercises and breathing control.
The Education Ministry has proposed that the courses be optional, and that a minimum of 12 students be required to start a class. But the KDH and the KBS maintained that they would only be satisfied with no yoga at all, with Hrušovský saying that the ministry was misleading the public by claiming that the courses would have no ideological or religious background.
"They have gone too far," said Ftáčnik at a press conference on July 13. "Such an attitude is in direct conflict with every child and parent's freedom of choice."
Sedláčková said the ministry would push ahead with its proposal, but added that she hoped the topic would "cool down" during the ministry's one month summer break in August. Ftáčnik, meanwhile, is scheduled to meet with the KBS in August.
As the debate continued in the media, local yoga teachers said that the conflict had piqued interest in yoga classes among the public.
Ivan Slavčev, who leads basic yoga courses at the Professor Černiševský Medical Centre in the Bratislava suburb of Petržalka, said that his sessions were usually conducted with four or five familiar faces, and that newcomers were rare. But at a course July 19, attended by The Slovak Spectator, the class had doubled in size with four new attendees.
"It seems like we're becoming more popular," Slavčev said.
"I've been hearing so much about yoga recently, I had to come here and try it," said one of the newcomers. Another girl told the group that her boyfriend had been irritated by her decision to attend because "he thinks yoga could be dangerous".
Slavčev says that his classes teach the physical discipline of hatha yoga. He tells his students before classes that what he is teaching is not religious, but that other types of yoga - tantra yoga and rahadja yoga - include meditation and contain religious aspects.