Alabama Bans Yoga In School, For Fears Of The Practice Spreading Hinduism

A bill in Alabama that would have lifted the 1993 ban on yoga in public schools has stalled in the state’s Senate, CBS News reported Thursday. During a hearing of the Alabama state Senate Judiciary Committee, representatives from two conservative groups objected, stating concerns that yoga could promote Hinduism and guided meditation practices. “This whole notion that if you do yoga, you’ll become Hindu — I’ve been doing yoga for 10 years and I go to church and I’m very much a Christian,” said Democratic State Rep. Jeremy Gray, who sponsored the bill that has stalled in the state’s Senate.

The bill, which was first introduced in 2019, would have allowed yoga as an elective course to students from kindergarten to grade twelve, and they would have learned yoga poses, exercises and stretching techniques. The bill further states that, “chanting, mantras, mudras, the use of mandalas, and namaste greetings shall be expressly prohibited.” “I can give you tons of reasons why yoga is beneficial and those reasons are backed by studies and data. There is no study to my knowledge that says doing yoga exercise converts people to Hinduism,” Gray wrote in an email.

Bill AL HB246 was put forth by Alabama State Rep. Jeremy Gray, who wrote that bringing yoga back to school would be voluntary. It sought to overturn a ban on the practice in Alabama schools in place since 1993. Lawmakers in Alabama’s state Senate voted on the proposal and decided against it, effectively endorsing the existing ban. Gray can attempt to pass the measure again later, but it is a significant setback.

Alabama is the only state with such a rule. The text of the ban says “school personnel shall be prohibited from using any techniques that involve the induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, meditation or yoga” and additionally banned the use of the word “namaste.”

At issue is whether the practice of yoga promotes Hinduism — a claim several conservative Christian groups say is a problem. Because yoga is rooted in Hinduism, Eric Johnston, a legal adviser for the Alabama Citizens Action Program, told The New York Times, “it does not need to be taught to small children in public schools.”

“If this bill passes, then instructors will be able to come into classrooms as young as kindergarten and bring these children through guided imagery, which is a spiritual exercise, and it’s outside their parents’ view. And we just believe that this is not appropriate,” Betsy Garrison of the Eagle Forum of Alabama, argued in session.

Gray’s proposal still included language seeking to address that. It said that “chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas, and 11 namaste greetings shall be expressly prohibited.” But Gray and other yoga advocates say their critics have it wrong, and that yoga can help students focus and relax, which leads to better academic performance.

“This whole notion that if you do yoga, you’ll become Hindu — I’ve been doing yoga for 10 years and I go to church and I’m very much a Christian,” Gray told reporters.  According to a 2016 study, around 36.7 million people practice yoga in the US.

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