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Monday, April 12, 2021

Explained: Why Alabama stalled bill reversing ban on teaching yoga in schools

Yoga was banned by the state’s Department of Education in 1993 after some right-wing organisations expressed concern that in some schools where yoga was practiced, hypnosis and meditation techniques were being taught.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: April 3, 2021 9:36:23 am
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. (Representational Photo)

The US state of Alabama did not advance a bill that aims to reverse a ban on teaching yoga in public schools following objections from some conservative organisations. Yoga was banned by the state’s Department of Education in 1993 after some right-wing organisations expressed concern that in some schools where yoga was practiced, hypnosis and meditation techniques were being taught.

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What has happened to the bill now?

On the day of the public hearing on Wednesday, representatives from two conservative groups opposed the reversal of the ban fearing that doing so could lead to the promotion of Hinduism and guided meditation practices, a report in the Associated Press said. This means that the ban on practicing yoga in public schools will probably be in place for a little more time.

As per the Montgomery Advertiser, the possible delay has come after testimony from some Christian conservatives and representatives from the foundation called Moral Law claimed that the practice would lead to “proselytizing in public schools by followers of Hinduism.”

As per the Pew Research Centre, a “substantial share” of Americans of nearly all religious groups as well as those who have no religious affiliation say that they meditate at least once a week. As per the centre’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, 33 percent of Hindu US adults said that they meditate weekly or more often, 40 percent of Catholics claimed the same and 49 percent of Evangelical Protestants said that they meditate weekly or more often.

Further, the study concluded that six in ten Mormons and about 77 percent of Jehovah’s Witnesses said that they meditate at least on a weekly basis. In fact, the study says that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged by their churches to meditate.

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.

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Passage of the bill

Last month, 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). The legislation is sponsored by Democratic Representative Jeremy Gray, who has said that yoga can be beneficial for physical and mental wellbeing. Some other legislations sponsored by Gray include HB 527 that if enacted would require the installation of drinking water fountains, water coolers or water bottle filling stations in certain public K-12 school buildings.

What would change if the bill is enacted?

If the bill called HB 246 (House Bill 246) 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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