Alabama Kids May Soon Do Yoga In Gym Class, So Long As They Don't Learn Any Sanskrit
On Thursday, the Alabama House voted to end the state's nearly 30-year ban on yoga in schools, so. This is a very big step for the state, which at the behest of conservative groups back in 1993 banned "hypnosis, meditation and yoga" in public schools. Given that list, it seems fair to say that these conservative groups did not actually know what yoga (or meditation) was.
While this was supposedly because yoga is a practice related to several religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, the ban was never really about people thinking that teaching Americanized yoga in schools was a violation of the First Amendment ban on state-sponsored religion. Rather, it had to do with the fact that Alabama Republicans were mad that the First Amendment ban on state-sponsored religion meant that they could not have Christian prayer in schools and that they would have to fight a decades-long battle to keep a ridiculous Ten Commandments monument in their statehouse. Also the fact that a lot of weirdo evangelical types think that yoga opens people up to "demonic possession." [Rebecca here! I was covering an Eagle Forum convention in '96 or so when the speaker got extremely MICHELE BACHMANN EYES about Satanism in the meditation room at the UN! So yes, as always Robyn is correct and this was very very much a thing!]
A list of things that supposedly invite demonic possession, including yoga and being goth. Also levitation, which is a real thing that people can do, 'pot parties,' and the British alt-rock band XTC.
In order to prevent any incidental demonic possession, the Alabama House bill would require schools to follow some pretty strict rules regarding the implementation of yoga in school curriculums. These rules also seem specifically designed to prevent any Alabama child from accidentally finding out about another culture or language — a cancelling of culture, if you will.
(1) Instruction in yoga shall be an elective activity. Students shall have the option to opt out in favor of alternative activities, which shall be made available.
(2) Each local board of education shall have exclusive discretion to determine the duration and frequency of periods of instruction in yoga.
(3) All instruction in yoga shall be limited exclusively to poses, exercises, and stretching techniques.
(4) All poses shall be limited exclusively to sitting, standing, reclining, twisting, and balancing.
(5) All poses, exercises, and stretching techniques shall have exclusively English descriptive names.
(6) Chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas, and namaste greetings shall be expressly prohibited.
That seems a little excessive! We had yoga in gym class when I was in high school 8 million years ago and it was not nearly this fraught. Most asanas have English names these days, but like ... what is it that they think would happen if kids learned their actual Sanskrit names? Are kids in Alabama schools not allowed to learn any languages other than English, or is it just certain languages that are banned?
I also have some questions about the poses being limited to "sitting, standing, reclining, twisting, and balancing" — because I'm trying to figure what it is that they're getting at. What yoga poses do they not want the children doing? Is it downward dog? Are there certain yoga poses they consider particularly sinful? Is there a sliding scale?
Apparently, there was already some yoga being taught in schools prior to this because a lot of people didn't know it was even banned, because that's too ridiculous a thing to assume. It sounds like one of those weird blue laws like "You can't walk your pet lobster on a leash on Sundays" or something. But it was banned, along with tag! (Just imagine the Fox news cycle if a liberal state banned tag — we would never hear the end of how we were destroying their childhoods.)
The yoga ban gained attention in 2018 when an old document listing inappropriate gym class activities was circulated. Yoga, along with games like tag, was on the list, the AP reports.
The sponsor of the bill, Democratic state Representative Jeremy Gray, is a former cornerback at North Carolina State University and was introduced to yoga through football. He said the exercises can provide mental and physical benefits to students, according to the AP.
"I've been in yoga for seven years. I know the benefits of yoga, so it was very dear to my heart, and I think Alabama will be better for it," Gray said. He said teachers had been doing yoga instruction for years, before realizing it was actually banned in the state.
The bill passed in the house on Wednesday, with 25 representatives voting against it. Gray said some of his colleagues said they received "a lot emails about it being part of Hinduism."
Well, those sending the emails should rest easy. I have done yoga for years and I am still an atheist.
Even with all these xenophobic adjustments, it's still a nice thing for the kids to be able to do, and it would be really great if the ban did end. Yoga has a lot of benefits for students, including reducing anxiety, helping with issues like ADHD (for me, anyway), and obviously improves physical fitness. It seems a tad ridiculous to ban something known to be helpful, just on the off chance that someone might go Linda Blair.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse