US state legislature lifts yoga ban but says no to namaste

Lalit K Jha

Washington, Mar 15 (PTI) After months of intense debate, an American state legislature has voted to lift the decades-old ban on yoga, reflecting on the increasing acceptance and popularity of the age-old Indian practice, but prohibited the use of namaste at a time when world leaders are adopting this way of greeting amid fears of the spread of coronavirus.

Pushed by conservative groups, the Alabama Board of Education in 1993 had voted to prohibit yoga, along with hypnosis and meditation in public schools in the state.

Moved by state legislator Jeremy Gray from the Democratic Party, Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday voted 84-17 to pass the “Yoga Bill.” The Alabama House of Representatives while lifting the ban on yoga prohibited the use of namaste.

This comes particularly at a time when world leaders, including US President Donald Trump, are adopting this as popular medium of greeting to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The bill now moves to the state Senate and if approved and signed by Governor Kay Ivey, it would become a law and end a 27-year ban in K-12 schools.

According to the legislation, each local board of education may offer instruction in yoga to students in grades K to 12 with conditions that instruction in yoga shall be an elective activity.

Students shall have the option to opt out in favour of alternative activities, which shall be made available, it said.

Asserting that all instructions in yoga shall be limited exclusively to poses, exercises, and stretching techniques, the legislation said that all poses shall be limited exclusively to sitting, standing, reclining, twisting and balancing.

“All poses, exercises, and stretching techniques shall have exclusively English descriptive names. Chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas and namaste greetings shall be expressly prohibited,” the bill said.

Under the existing law, instruction in yoga is specifically prohibited in the public schools in Alabama.

Gray, who has taught yoga in the past, stressed that participation would be voluntary.

'It also helps with stress, anxiety, depression, things of that nature,' he was quoted as saying by local media outlet Montgomery Advertiser.

“Being an athlete, yoga has really been a part of my regimen,” he told the daily, adding that flexibility, core strength, and mental stimulation “are some of the by-products” of the practice.

Christian-aligned groups have opposed the bill saying that it would introduce Hindu religion in schools.

Ahead of the passage of the legislation, Joe Godfrey of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative group, had opposed the Yoga Bill.

'You can't separate the exercises from the religious meditation aspect of it. This is Hinduism, straight up. What you're doing is blatantly teaching a religious exercise that would violate the Establishment Clause,' he was quoted as saying by local Al.Com.

Representative Will Dismukes, argued that there has been churches that practice yoga.

“I know churches that do yoga. We talk about prayer and meditation a lot. I think you can pray to God and do yoga, or you can think about whatever you want to,' he said.

“When we talk about physical health or mental health it could really help school systems,' asserted Gray. PTI LKJ RS RS