When I first saw this article I had to do a double take. As someone who practices yoga in my home for over six years, its benefits are very helpful to these old bones and muscles. So, to see it categorized in such a negative light was troubling but not shocking. But, that is changing.
In 1993, Alabama legislators banned teaching yoga in public schools*. In an article called “Alabama might overturn its 28-year ban on yoga in schools. Just don’t say ‘namaste.’” by Meryl Kornfeld of The Washington Post, it reveals most of this law may be overturned. Here are a few paragraphs from the article. The whole article can be linked to below.
“Students will no longer need to bend over backward to (legally) practice yoga in Alabama.
In a 73-to-25 vote Thursday, the state’s House of Representatives passed a bill that will lift a quarter-century ban in public schools that some believe is unique to Alabama. Yoga was forbidden by the Alabama Board of Education in 1993 after opposition by conservative groups over its Hindu roots.
Amid reports of racism and violence against Asian Americans and other minorities, the measure is a positive step, said Nikunj Trivedi, president of the Coalition of Hindus of North America. He said practicing yoga, which many non-Hindus use for health benefits, is cultural appreciation, not cultural appropriation.
‘Yes, it has roots in Hinduism, and it’s a Hindu practice, but it’s a gift Hindus have shared with the world,’ Trivedi said.“
The reason I was not shocked is I have seen this kind of push back before. A minister gave license to a suggestion by a female church leader to start an exercise program mainly for women. It actually worked so well, church attendance increased, Then the minister saw that they were doing yoga and put an abrupt end to it. He saw it as practicing another religion.
Fortunately, this mindset has changed for the better. Not only are there many places to learn and practice yoga, there are at least fifty commercials that use women and men practicing yoga in groups or at home as background to the theme to sell product. Let me emphasize this – it is so normative it is used to sell product.
In my personal experience, yoga is taught as a breathing and exercise program. The breathing part is as important as the exercise part as it helps one focus on what they are doing. One of the news reports cited a proponent of the law saying yoga was bad for mental health. In my experience, this is total off base, as it actually helps people with their peace of mind as well as stretching those muscles.
The only caution with yoga is usually made during the classes. If you cannot do a stretch or if it causes you discomfort, then don’t do it or do it to a lesser stretching pose. My level of yoga is more basic than some one much younger and more agile, who does moves and poses “with which I am not familiar.” Or, I should say know, but cannot even fathom doing.
So, I encourage people in all fifty states to find a sustainable exercise and “just do it’ as the Nike ad says. It may be yoga, pilates, isometrics, calisthenics, taibo, spin class, light weightlifting, etc. It need not be an hour work out to be effective – I work out fifteen minutes every day after I shower (it loosens up my old bones), varying three sets of routines to keep it interesting. One day I focus on arms and torso more, the next day legs and torso more, and the final day light weightlifting more.
And, for those who feel they are cheating their religion by saying “Namaste,” feel free to replace it with “have a nice day” or “peace be with you” as it is said in greeting as a sign of respect more than anything else.
*Per NBC News, Alabama in a 1993 law barred yoga in public schools along with other practices such as “meditation” and “guided imagery,” under a general prohibition of the use of “hypnosis and dissociative mental states.” Gray, elected in 2018, said he only recently learned about the ban, which was favored by religious leaders at the time.