A bill that would have lifted the decades-old ban on teaching yoga in Alabama’s k-12 schools stalled in committee this week. Despite the documented benefits of yoga, and overwhelming passage by the House, the bill stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Alabama Board of Education voted in 1993 to prohibit yoga, hypnosis and meditation in public school classrooms. The bill introduced this year by Democratic Rep. Jeremy Gray of Opelika, would have allowed schools to offer yoga classes that would be limited to poses and stretches. All poses would have to have English names and the use of chanting, mantras and teaching the greeting “namaste” would be forbidden.
Under this bill, yoga classes would basically be classes on exercises that improve flexibility, strength and balance.
The health benefits of yoga have been documented by the likes of Johns Hopkins, the American Osteopathic Association and Harvard University. Yoga has been shown to increase energy and athleticism, reduce the rate of injuries and decrease stress.
“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,” Eagle Forum Alabama Director Becky Gerritson told the committee.
Guided imagery - the use of positive, peaceful imagery, such as “picture yourself at the beach” - has proven to reduce stress and anxiety. Considering the mental health crisis facing our youth and the year-after-year increase in teen suicides - and that Alabama’s youth suicide rate is consistently higher than the national rate - teaching children ways to manage stress and anxiety can only be a good thing.
Gray realized the health benefits of yoga when he was introduced to it as a football player at North Carolina State University. He has been doing it ever since.
But in a stretch of reasoning, Alabama Eagle Forum and the Foundation for Moral Law argued that because yoga is common in Hinduism, allowing schools to offer it would be promoting the religion.
According to a survey commissioned the Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal, there are about 37 million Americans who practice yoga and the number is growing. That’s 34.77 million more people than there are followers of Hinduism in the United States.
It would be safe to assume that many of the people who practice yoga are also Christians.
Gray is among them. “This whole notion that if you practice 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,” he said.
His bill offers flexibility: School systems don’t have to offer yoga if they don’t want to, and if they do, students will still have the option of choosing an alternative activity.
The bill passed the House in a 73-25 vote, and failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee on a tie vote. The chairman has said he will bring the bill back when more members of the committee are present. We hope he does and that the members vote in favor of the bill.
It’s time for Alabama to pull itself out of the sleeping yogi pose and allow students to enjoy the health benefits yoga provides.