Yoga Causes 'Psychotic Episodes,' Strokes, Hinduism, Say Alabama Christian Groups

Yoga Causes 'Psychotic Episodes,' Strokes, Hinduism, Say Alabama Christian Groups
File:Project Yoga Richmond 1.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

As you may or may not be aware, there has been a whole debate going on in Alabama about whether or not it should be legal to teach yoga in schools. It seems like a strange debate to be having, in this, the year 2021, but apparently things are different in Alabama.

Teaching yoga has been illegal in Alabama schools for almost 30 years, basically because Alabama conservatives think it is some kind of gateway drug to Hinduism, and also because they're kind of bitter about the whole "no prayer in school" thing. Some Christians also think it opens people up to "demonic possession."

However, recently, there's been a push to legalize yoga in Alabama. This largely comes from Democratic state Rep. Jeremy Gray, who sponsored the bill and who has practiced yoga since he was first introduced to it while he was playing football in college. The bill to lift the ban and allow yoga in schools — so long as kids didn't actually learn any Sanskrit — passed the House in March but had stalled in the Senate, largely due to these "concerns." It finally passed the Senate judiciary last week and will be debated on the floor this week, and some Christian groups are ready for a fight.

Via The Guardian:

"Yoga is a very big part of the Hindu religion, and 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," Becky Gerritson, director of the conservative Alabama Eagletold state senators recently.

The National Center for Law & Policy, a group of Christian lawyers who usually spend their time freaking out over LGBTQ people and abortion, has even produced a totally batshit "fact sheet" meant to discourage lawmakers from legalizing yoga.

According to this "fact sheet," yoga can turn your kids into Hindus whether they realize it or not because just doing yoga makes you a Hindu. Somehow. By osmosis, probably.

Religion functions to explain ultimate problems of human life; connect individuals with suprahuman energies, beings, or transcendent realities; or cultivate spiritual awareness or virtues of ethical/moral character. There are two broad families of religion in America today: 1) belief/Word (e.g. Protestant Christianity) and 2) practice/experience (e.g. Hinduism). Protestants may not recognize practice/experience-oriented religions as religious because they think of religion as requiring that one believe and say certain things (doctrines/creeds); yet, for many Hindus/yogis, ritual practice expresses and instills religion even when no words are used because knowledge of the divine comes from experience, rather than intellectual study.

Hinduism is more accurately described as a dharma or a "way of life" more than a religion in the Western sense of the term, but it involves a whole lot more than just sitting in a lotus position and practicing mindfulness for 15 minutes.

That’s unless you ask the weird Christian lawyer group, which also maybe thinks Hinduism and Buddhism are the same thing.

The lotus position (sitting with feet crossed above or beneath the knees, depending on one's flexibility) symbolizes spiritual purity and enlightenment and is believed to aid the flow of spiritual energy Qtrana), facilitating meditation and ultimately samadhi, or union with God.[...]

Mindfulness is the seventh aspect of the eightfold path of Buddhism and the "heart of Buddhist meditation." Mindfulness relieves suffering by calming the mind to prepare for enlightenment.

Sure, yoga is a spiritual practice for billions of people and it is part of their religion. But that's really not what is going to be taught in schools. What's going to be taught in schools is the westernized version of the practice that actual Hindu people will happily assure you has almost nothing to do with their religion.

As an outsider, it seems to me that some Protestant Christians think that if something is "in" a religion, it necessarily comes from that religion, which is why they seem to think basic moral things like "don't steal" or "don't lie" or "don't cheat on your spouse" are "Christian values" and always talk about how our laws in the United States come from the Bible. As if people could not possibly have figured out that killing people was bad without God etching it into a tablet. Thus, they think that someone can't do something Hindu people do without actively going and becoming Hindu themselves, even if it's rebranded as "Christian Yoga."

What about Christian Yoga, Holy Yoga, Christoga, WhollyFit, Praise Moves, etc.? Relabeling yoga as "Christian" may not remove religious meanings associated with postures and breathing borrowed from non-Christian religions such as Hinduism.

How is it that they think religion works? Do they think that you can breathe yourself into Hinduism?

Of course, if the "Yoga is gonna make all the kids Hindu" tack doesn't work, they have a backup. The group also claims, without actually showing any evidence, that

Claims that scientific research supports yoga are based on poor-quality studies. Higher-quality studies show that yoga can be dangerous, causing injuries, death from stroke, and psychotic episodes. The American Yoga Association warns that yoga is unsafe for children under 16; the Mayo Clinic singles out Ashtanga yoga as inappropriate for children. There is scientific evidence that non-religious exercise (e.g. running, jump rope, soccer. aerobics, weight training) benefits physical health and self-esteem of children/youth, and the mole vigorous the better.

There are also studies showing that prayer and Bible reading are more effective than physical exercise in improving physical/mental health and lengthening life; teenagers who attend religious services at least weekly have fewer problems with substance abuse, are less violent, commit fewer crimes. and are less likely to get into trouble with school or legal authorities. Even if science did show that yoga is beneficial, this would not make it non-religious.

See how they try to slip the Bible in?

The only kind of "yoga" that has been known to cause a "psychotic episode" is Bikram yoga (aka Hot Yoga). Does this group seriously think they're gonna have third graders doing Bikram yoga? The only example I can find of someone suffering a stroke while doing yoga is of one adult woman attempting a very advanced hollowback headstand pose. Do they think children will be doing that? Because no, they're not going to be doing that. They're gonna be doing child's pose and downward facing dog and warrior pose and they're going to do relaxation exercises. All of these things are far less likely to result in "injury" than anything I was doing in gymnastics when I was six.

The fact is potentially dangerous for anyone with no experience to jump right into an advanced form of practically any physical activity there is. That is why the bunny hill exists. That is why you can't go en pointe at your first ballet class. Obviously.

No one has to let their kid do yoga if they don't want — surely, schools would allow kids to opt out if their parents felt very strongly about it. But having it actually be illegal is patently ridiculous.

I'm gonna go do some half-pigeon pose for a bit (while still managing to be an atheist, just an atheist with limber hip flexors), but you can all stay here and chat, because this is now your open thread!

[The Guardian]

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Robyn Pennacchia

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


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