Why Is Yoga Banned in Alabama Schools? Representatives Will Debate Allowing Yoga to Be Taught in Gym Class

Tomorrow, the Alabama House of Representatives will debate a bill proposing to lift the ban on practicing yoga in the state's schools.

Representative Jeremy Gray, a Democratic legislator, proposed the bill to lift the ban. If it passes tomorrow with a two-thirds majority, it will then be debated further at the Senate.

In 1993, the Alabama board of education blocked yoga, hypnosis and meditation from public schools, after the ban was pushed by conservative groups.

The yoga ban gained renewed attention in 2018 when a document listing prohibited gym class activities—including yoga—was circulated.

Rep. Gray told WRBL: "[Yoga] helps you be able to cope with stress, anxiety, those day to day things that our kids in impoverished neighborhoods face every day.

"And you think about you not having the resources to go see your mental health specialists or just get the help you need when you talk about K-12 public schools. A lot of impoverished kids go through that system, so why not have yoga available for them."

While the ban on yoga may be lifted, the bill proposal has a couple of conditions attached. All poses must have English names, chanting and mantras would remain prohibited, and the greeting "namaste" will remain banned.

Why is yoga banned in Alabama schools?

In an Alabama State Department Of Education Administrative Code document, much of the guidelines discuss banning "hypnosis" and "dissociative mental states" as well as yoga.

The guidelines state: "The State Board of Education specifically prohibits the use of hypnosis and dissociative mental states. School personnel shall be prohibited from using any techniques that involve the induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, meditation or yoga."

yoga class
A teacher demonstrating a pose during a yoga class for students at a school in the UK. Gideon Mendel/Getty

Later in the same statement, it clarifies: "This is not to be confused with secular meditation which involves alert, reflective and cognitive contemplation."

However, cultural traditions played a part as some schools reported facing a backlash from parents who claimed that yoga was promoting a "non-Christian belief system".

The Alabama State Department Of Education document also describes yoga as "a Hindu philosophy and method of religious training in which eastern meditation and contemplation are joined with physical exercises, allegedly to facilitate the development of body mind spirit."

This opinion that banning yoga comes from a reluctance to engage with a traditional Hindu practice is echoed by Joe Godfrey, executive director of a Christian advocacy group Alabama Citizens Action Program, who told NBC: "It's the Hindu religion. It's an issue of separation of church and state. You'll hear people invoke that when it comes to Christianity, because they don't want prayer in school. Yet they want to teach yoga?"

Though Godfrey did add: "There were people, who usually stand with us, saying, 'Well, my wife does this, so do I don't see the harm."

While yoga has strong connections with Hinduism and can be traced back 5,000 years to India, the practice of yoga is widely popular all over the world and is also practiced as a form of meditation and exercise, rather than as an exclusively religious experience.