Alabama Considers Allowing Yoga In Public Schools, But Only If Kids, Teachers Don’t Say ‘Namaste’

Alabama lawmakers are wrestling with a plan to allow yoga in public schools after the practice has been forbidden for nearly three decades, The New York Times reports. One option on the table is allowing the practice as long as kids and teachers don’t use the word “namaste.”

Back in 1993, Alabama passed a law that expressly forbids public schools from offering yoga classes to students. Times writer Rick Rojas posits that the law stemmed from the conservative, evangelical Christian culture that permeates the state and its legislature and was a nod to detractors who believe that yoga is inherently “un-Christian.”

Whether yoga has any spiritual trappings is, of course, a matter of whom you ask. Though the practice has some ties to Hinduism and Buddhism, many practitioners view it as simply a form of exercise, involving breathing, stretching, and “mindfulness.”

Indeed, Rep. Jeremy Gray said that, since the law was passed, yoga has become more socially acceptable, particularly with adult women.

“[My male colleagues] didn’t really understand it, and now they understand it more. Their mothers do it. Their wives do it. It really resonated with them — ‘It can’t be bad if my wife does it,'” he said.

Gray has introduced a bill that would repeal the 1993 law and allow yoga back into Alabama public schools.

However, there is still some resistance, and legislators are trying to concoct a plan that will satisfy conservatives who are still leery of yoga.

One option would be a plan that would allow Alabama public school teachers to lead children in stretching, breathing, and mindfulness exercises, but in a way that completely strips it of its Indian origins.

Specifically, that means that neither the children nor the leaders would employ chants, mantras, or even say the word “namaste” to each other.

In many yoga classes, participants make a hand gesture and slightly bow their heads while saying “namaste” to one another. The greeting translates to something akin to, “I bow to you.”

“Sometimes you have to have a steppingstone,” Gray says.

Still, Gray’s offer of a compromise may not be enough to satisfy some religious people in Alabama.

For example, Rev. Clete Hux, the director of the Apologetics Resource Center in Birmingham, says that yoga is a religious practice, regardless of what words are allowed or not allowed.

“They’re trying to separate yoga from Hinduism, or separate it from its religious roots. But according to Hinduism, you can’t do that. Basically, there is no Hinduism without yoga and no yoga without Hinduism,” he says.

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