I’ve never been enamored with the South, but I developed a fondness for Birmingham, Alabama after visiting multiple times while Julia was living there for much of the past year. So I was pleased to hear this week that Alabama lifted its ban on teaching yoga in K-12 public schools—and aghast such a ban had existed for almost thirty years.
Why the ban on yoga? Because of pressure from Christian conservatives who claimed yoga originated not as exercise but as an offering of worship to Hindu gods. We’re talking about legitimate fears that yoga would open the door for the good children of Alabama to be converted to Hinduism. Next thing you know Alabama would be overrun by a bunch of robe-wearing would-be Gandhis downward dogging and mountain posing.
Just to be on the safe side, lifting the ban didn’t include opening the door to all things yoga. Poses must be referred to only by their English names. Your teacher can show you the Warrior Pose but not Virabhadrasana, which is its Sanskrit name.
Also: no mantras, no chanting. No ‘Om.’ Those Christian-threatening verbalizations are still on the verboten list. No saying “Namaste,” a traditional and respectful greeting that translates to “I bow to you.” And definitely no meditation in school—I’m sure you’ve read about the scores of mental health experts who have advised against trying to use meditation as a way to calm or center yourself during the chaos of the pandemic this past year.
And, of course, to participate in any yoga elective class in school, you need a permission slip from your parents. Woe to the kids whose parents are Evangelicals.
Small steps, small steps. But better than none. According to Alabama statehouse reporter Brian Lyman of the Montgomery Advertiser, the yoga ban’s demise represents the end of “one of the stupidest moral panics in Alabama history, which is really saying a lot.”
Children of Alabama: roll out your mats, enjoy your Balasana. I mean, your Child’s Pose. A favorite of mine to aid my aching back, and soul. Namaste.