Concerned about yoga's links to eastern philosophy, churches in Slovakia have welcomed a government decision to shelve the introduction of yoga classes for children at state schools.

Slovakia's education minister, Milan Ftacnik, suspended the plans after discussions with leaders of the country's Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches, Bishops Frantisek Tondra and Julius Filo.

Government sources said at least 400 teachers had been trained by the Yoga in Daily Life society to introduce the Hatha Yoga system on a voluntary basis at gym sessions in primary and secondary schools.

But church leaders believed that the plans threatened Christian culture, according to Daniela Zemlova, international secretary of Slovakia's Lutheran church.

She said that the education minister, a yoga adept, had agreed to establish a commission with church participation to devise an alternative "relaxation program" for schools.

Yoga, which combines Hindu mystic and ascetic disciplines, teaches liberation of the self and union with the "supreme spirit," but is better known in Europe and the United States for its breathing and meditation exercises.

Hatha Yoga, which traces its origins to 12th century Indian philosophy, stresses mastery of the body as a way of attaining spiritual perfection.

A spokesperson for Slovakia's Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference, Marian Gavenda, said that independent experts had rejected the "methodological basis" of the scheme, which was designed by an Indian guru, Swami Maheshwarananda.

The bishops' conference had earlier issued a pastoral letter describing yoga as "a path to total atheism" and saying that Slovak Christians did not need to "search for some dubious substitute faith."

The plans had also led to friction within Slovakia's coalition government. Pavol Hrusovsky, leader of the Christian Democratic Movement, one of the coalition partners, said that the proposals were "a continuation of the liquidation of Christianity in Slovakia" and threatened to withdraw support from the government.

Ftacnik, the education minister, is a member of the Party of the Democratic Left, a successor to the Communist party that ruled the country during the Cold War.

Announcing his decision to shelve the plans, Ftacnik denied that he had suffered a "personal defeat." He confirmed that he would appoint a commission including church representatives to gather views on a new project.

Related Elsewhere

Other coverage includes:
Clergy Fight Yoga Instruction in Slovakian Schools —
Slovakia: Churches Say 'No' To Yoga In Schools — Radio Free Europe

The Yoga in Daily Life society is online with information on Yoga and the Yoga in Daily Life system.

The Yoga Site explains what Yoga is and answers other relevant questions.

See an online bio for Slovakia's education minister Milan Ftacnik.