Alabama’s public schools are closed for the academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
When students return, they may be able to do yoga at school for the first time in decades.
Only a year after being “laughed off the floor,” a bill to lift a yoga ban in Alabama public schools overwhelmingly passed the lower chamber of the state Legislature last month.
“It went from the ‘deadest bill’ in the session in 2019 to passing at an overwhelming majority the next year,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Jeremy Gray.
By “deadest bill,” Gray refers to this proposal winning the “Shroud,” a facetious award given to the most unpopular bill proposed in the House, an Alabama tradition since 1979.
The House victory, on a vote of 84-17 on March 10, opens the door for the state to overturn a nearly three-decade-long ban on yoga at Alabama public schools.
For some Alabamians, 86% of whom identify as Christian, yoga and other non-Christian practices have long been considered satanic.
“Things are finally shifting here,” said Frank Smith, a registered yoga teacher and the founder of Breezeville Yoga in Montgomery. “Alabama might be entering the 21st century.”
The benefits of yoga, meditation and deep breathing are well-documented. Studies suggest regular practice yields a decrease in heart rate, depression and anxiety, as well as improved concentration.
But not all Alabamians are eager to introduce the downward dog to the state’s youth.
Some object that yoga cannot be separated from its Hindu roots and that introducing it at schools is threatening to the First Amendment, which prohibits public school-sponsored prayer or indoctrination.
To the Rev. Clete Hux, keeping yoga out of schools is a matter of fairness.
“If they are going to allow yoga and meditation, they have to allow Christian prayer and other religious practices,” said Hux, director of the Apologetics Resource Center in Birmingham, Alabama.
Hux believes that allowing yoga and meditation at public schools not only threatens Christian values but also bars students from practicing any other religion.
“If I wore a T-shirt that says ‘I Do Yoga’ (at a public school), there would be no problem,” Hux said. “But if I walked in with a shirt that said, ‘Jesus Christ,’ the ACLU would be hopping all over me.”
He’s also skeptical of the health benefits of mindfulness and other practices to deal with stress and anxiety.
“Mindfulness is more like mindlessness,” he said. “And if you empty your mind, you could say that’s synonymous of Eastern meditation, or even of hypnosis, right?”
It’s not only Bible Belt evangelicals who have an aversion toward non-Christian spiritual practices. Catholic priests have warned that those who enjoy yoga are taking risks with their spiritual health.
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Source: Religion News Service