Colorado school yoga praised by Hindu chaplain shouted down on Capitol Hill

As the worlds of politics and religion seem to collide with increasing frequency in the Obama era, casting new protagonists and pet causes into the public sphere, self-styled “Hindu statesman” Rajan Zed on Monday lauded Colorado elementary schools for introducing yoga into the curricula.

In a release Zed noted that schools across Colorado have “introduced yoga themed recesses and brain breaks.” He urged “all elementary-middle-high schools of the nation to incorporate yoga in the lives of the students.”

Zed apparently was spurred to make his statement by the six-year-old nonprofit Boulder-based Wellness Initiative, which last year provided yoga instruction to roughly 2,000 students in 25 Colorado schools. Initiative teachers use breathing exercises, stretching routines and creative visualization practice to improve student focus and have created partnerships with populous districts such as those in Boulder, Denver, Arapahoe and Jefferson counties.

The bare bones release says little new about the Wellness Initiative program or about yoga. It also says little about Zed, who nevertheless keeps popping up in the news.

In 2007, Nevada U.S. Senator Harry Reid asked him to deliver the chamber’s opening prayer. It was the first time a representative of the Hindu faith was asked to do so and Zed drew hecklers.

Members of the Christian-right group Operation Save America shouted down from gallery seats that the prayer was a wicked abomination that “”placed the false god of Hinduism on a level playing field with the One True God, Jesus Christ.” The group claimed responsibility for the incident in a release that leaned on the increasingly popular talk-radio theme about the U.S. being a Christian nation. The group said Zed’s invocation “would never have been allowed by our Founding Fathers.”

In 2008, Zed traveled to Washington state to deliver the opening prayer of the Senate there. “Parliamentarian prattle and stilted deliberations” gave way to “ancient Sanskrit mantras,” wrote John Iwasaki at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website.

“Wearing saffron-colored clothes and displaying the tilak, a traditional religious mark, on his forehead, Zed spoke in Sanskrit and English and uttered “om,” regarded by Hindus as “the mystical syllable containing the universe.”

Joseph Thomas, an Indian-American musician and blogger, noted in 2008 at his “Just Jo” blog that Zed seemed to be launching a “self-promotional spree,” setting up himself as a semi-official spokesman for Hindu interests in the United States.

“[I]t looks like, there is a self-proclaimed pope-in-the-making for Hindus in America. Watch out for more publicity stunts from Mr. Rajan Zed in the coming days.”

In his release Monday, Zed said yoga was about learning to control the complicated nature of humanity.

“According to Patanjali who codified it in Yoga Sutra, yoga was a methodical effort to attain perfection, through the control of the different elements of human nature, physical and psychical.

[ Image: Rajan Zed via FreeVisuals4U. ]

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