The Slatest

Alabama Lifts Three-Decade-Old Ban on Yoga in Public Schools. But There’s a Catch.

A woman lifts her arm over her head in a yoga pose in a class with others doing the same pose in the background.
No namaste. Anthony Behar/Sipa USA

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill Thursday lifting a nearly three-decade-old ban on teaching yoga in the state’s public school system. The bill, which sailed through the Republican-dominated statehouse, undoes a 1993 Alabama board of education move to prohibit the practice of yoga as well as meditation in the state’s schools, a push that was fueled by what the Montgomery Advertiser described as “moral panic” among the state’s right-wing, conservative set. Now, 28 years later, the state is ready to grow up and move on and will allow local school boards to decide whether to offer yoga as an elective to K–12 students next school year. But because this is Alabama, there’s a catch.

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Under the new law, yoga instructors are barred from using any Sanskrit names for poses and must refer to them using their English equivalent only. There will be no oms in the schoolhouse, as mantras are verboten as is chanting of any kind. In fact, the state Legislature has also banned the use of the salutation namaste altogether. As if that version of yoga weren’t watered down enough, the state will also require participating students to get a permission slip signed by their parents. The text of said permission slip was included in the bill: “I understand that yoga is part of the Hinduism religion. I give my child permission to participate in yoga instruction in school.” Good to double-check just to make sure yoga isn’t sneaking up on anyone in Alabama.

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The text of the bill is worth a look:

(3) All instruction in yoga shall be limited exclusively to poses, exercises, and stretching techniques.

(4) All poses shall be limited exclusively to sitting, standing, reclining, twisting, and balancing.

(5) All poses, exercises, and stretching techniques shall have exclusively English descriptive names.

(6) Chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas, induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, and namaste greetings shall be expressly prohibited.

The bill was introduced without all of those terrified provisos by Democratic lawmaker Jeremy Gray, former college football player at North Carolina State, who started doing yoga during his playing days, found it helpful, and thought it could be useful to kids.* Gray, who’s unsuccessfully introduced legislation to overturn the ban on two occasions before, said allowing yoga could help with the state’s drive to promote physical and mental health in school. As for all of the concern that students might start speaking in tongues? “A lot of the stuff you don’t do anyway. You don’t hypnotize people,” Gray said of the amendments added by Republicans to get the bill passed. “Really, it just seemed very offensive. … A lot of it just didn’t really make sense.” But, Gray said, it’s a start.

Correction, May 21, 2021: This post originally misidentified Jeremy Gray as James Gray.

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