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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Explained: Why Alabama might allow yoga to be taught in schools again

Alabama passed a bill last week that may reverse a ban on teaching yoga in public schools. Why was it banned in schools? What changes with the bill?

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: March 16, 2021 7:40:13 am
As per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017, the use of yoga among adults aged 18-44 was more than twice that of adults 65 years or older. (Representational Image)

Alabama state’s House of Representatives passed a bill last week that may reverse a ban on teaching yoga in public schools. Yoga was banned by the state’s Department of Education in 1993.

The bill was passed by a vote of 73 to 25, and if enacted will authorise local boards of education to offer yoga to students from K-12 (Kindergarten to 12th-grade covering ages 5-18 years).

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The bill will now go to the Senate after which it will need to be approved by the Governor. The legislation is sponsored by Democratic Representative Jeremy Gray, who has said that yoga can be beneficial for physical and mental wellbeing.

As per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017, the use of yoga among US adults aged 18-44 was more than twice that of adults 65 years or older.

What changes with the bill?

If the bill is enacted, yoga will become an elective activity and each local board of education will have the discretion to determine the duration and frequency of periods of instruction in yoga. Further, the bill emphasises that the instruction of yoga will be limited to poses, exercises and stretching techniques and that all poses “shall be limited exclusively to sitting, standing, reclining, twisting, and balancing.” The bill also states that all poses, exercises and stretching techniques will have “exclusively English descriptive names.” Significantly, chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas and namaste greetings will still be prohibited.

Why was yoga banned in schools?

According to media reports, the ban was pushed by conservative groups over the practice’s roots in Hinduism. “Around the time of the ban in 1993, parents in the state were raising concerns not only about yoga but also about hypnotism and “psychotherapeutic techniques”,” a report in The New York Times said.

“The State Board of Education specifically prohibits the use of hypnosis and dissociative mental states. School personnel shall be prohibited from using any techniques that involve the induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, meditation or yoga,” the State Department of Education’s Administrative Code says.

The code defines yoga as, “A Hindu philosophy and method of religious training in which eastern meditation and contemplation are joined with physical exercises, allegedly to facilitate the development of body­ mind­ spirit.”

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