US state of Alabama lifts ban on yoga in public schools

Teachers will have to use English names for yoga poses, and the use of the greeting ‘namaste’ is banned.

Christian and conservative groups have for years backed the ban on yoga, which they said encourages students to convert to Hinduism [File: Mike Blake/Reuters]

The US state of Alabama has lifted a ban on teaching yoga in schools after nearly 30 years, but instructors will have to use English names for poses and the salutation “namaste” would be forbidden.

The state’s Governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, signed the bill (PDF) on Thursday, on the last day of the session, overturning a decision (PDF) put in place in 1993 which prohibited yoga, hypnosis and meditation in public schools in the state.

The new bill was introduced by Representative Jeremy Gray, a Democrat and former American football player.

Former First Lady Melania Trump watching children practising yoga at the Sarvodaya Co-Education Senior Secondary School in Moti Bagh, in New Delhi, during a visit to India [File: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

He said he was introduced to yoga years ago, and it can provide mental and physical benefits to students.

“Studies have shown that yoga helps children cope with daily stressors as well help improve behaviour, concentration, mobility, flexibility, and strength,” Gray said in March. “Yoga has become more prevalent than ever as we continue to move through this pandemic.”

Christian and conservative groups have for years backed the ban, which they said encourages students to convert to Hinduism.

“Claims that scientific research supports yoga are based on poor-quality studies,” according to a factsheet the National Center for Law & Policy, a group of Christian lawyers.

Students from a Hindu religious school practising yoga on the banks of the River Ganges in Varanasi, India [File: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters]

“Higher-quality studies show that yoga can be dangerous, causing injuries, death from stroke, and psychotic episodes,” according to the document.

The new law goes into effect on August 1, before the start of the next school year.

The bill was amended by the Senate, which Gray said show phobias or “blatant disrespect to the Hindu culture”. The amendments included a definition of meditation to ban anything “associated with or derived from mystical traditions of the East”. It also requires parents to sign a permission slip.

Gray accepted the amendment to allow the bill to pass, local media reported.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies