Some People In Alabama Are Very Confused About Yoga

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 

Since 1993, the Alabama State School Board has banned the practice of yoga. The yoga ban came alongside a prohibition of “hypnosis and meditation,” with right-wing groups pushing hard for the bill, says the Montgomery Advisor. One woman even claimed a relaxation tape her son brought home made him “visibly high.” (Unfortunately, Scary Mommy was unable to locate the tape to verify her claims).

Alabama’s revisiting its yoga ban now, with a bill allowing yoga in K-12 schools again ready to pass its Senate courtesy of state lawmaker Jeremy Gray. The state’s House has already passed a bill overriding the ban by 73 to 25, according to The New York Times. Apparently, Gray told The Washington Post that a lot of House members said they “got a lot of emails about it being part of Hinduism.”

Say what?

Yoga Ban Associated With Eastern Religions

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Alabama didn’t enact its yoga ban in 1993 because yoga was making kids stoned. Right-wing groups objected to yoga’s association with Eastern religions, particularly Hinduism. Eric Johnston, a legal adviser for the Alabama Citizens Action Program, or ALCAP, a church-supported group with considerable support in the legislature, told The New York Times that yoga is “a very important part of the Hindu religion,” and “as such, it does not need to be taught to small children in public schools.”

According to Johnston, you go to yoga on Tuesday night to worship Kali Ma, goddess of time, creation, and destruction, not work on your flexibility.

According to a video on their website, ALCAP believes teaching yoga is inseparable from teaching Hinduism, and as such is a violation of the separation between Church and state. Moreover, yoga cannot be practiced simply as a secular exercise for stretching and mental health because this is somehow tied into “cancel culture.”

“You can’t separate the exercises from the religious meditation aspect of it. This is Hinduism, straight up,” said Dr. Joe Godfrey, Executive Director of ALCAP.

Or maybe you spend your Tuesdays doing downward dog and worshiping Shiva, who eventually destroys the universe.

Gray Optimistic About Chances

“Most of the senators that I’ve talked to are OK with it,” Mr. Gray told The New York Times. “A lot of their wives actually do yoga. So I think it has a good chance of passing.”

Apparently, according to ALCAP, a lot of their wives are going through a George Harrison phase and telling their husband that no, it’s cool to be down with Vishnu.

But Gray, as he tells, started practicing yoga as a football player, has practiced for more than seven years, and says it helps with “Concentration. Breathing. A lot of young people deal with their temperament. Anger. And so, yoga helps with that. On a physical note, if you’re an athlete or you just want to be flexible and mobile, it helps in that aspect. So, studies show that yoga has been proven to work.”

Yoga, apparently, has health benefits.

As to the ALCAP peeps and their convoluted cancel culture arguments, he told The New York Times, “It’s just exercise. We do it all the time in the gym. It’s not a big deal.”

Yoga Ban Is Straight-Out Racist

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Banning something because its Western appropriation is tainted by its far-different Eastern origins is straight-up racist and dismissive. The yoga Alabama schools are practicing is about as authentic as Madonna’s.

Consider this: Alabama’s current bill, says The Montgomery Advisor, bans chanting, mantras (concentrating on a word), mudras (hand positions), mandalas, and the word “namaste.” According to The New York Times, schools can ban it, teachers can refuse to use it, and students can opt out of it. Moves and exercises must have “explicitly English names,” say The Washington Post.

So if Alabama school districts don’t ban it, and teachers feel like it, they can ask students if they want to stretch a little bit and think happy thoughts.

So they’ve stripped yoga of literally anything that has to do with India and Hinduism and totally Westernized it into stretching. Literally stretching and thinking and exercising. According to, it’s been so Westernized that Gray says, in effect, that Alabama kids are already doing it without calling it “yoga.”

At this point, we’re arguing semantics, since this isn’t really yoga. This is some Western crap the Alabama legislature stripped down out of a racist and evangelical Christian agenda.

Meanwhile, Alabama Statehouse Representative Danny Garrett has said he’s talked to many churches in the area about the ban, and they don’t see a problem with it. “There are a lot of other things we do—Christmas trees, Easter bunnies” [in school], he said, that are affiliated with religion.

Taking down the Christmas tree’s a “war on Christmas,” but Alabama will soon enact a ban on the word “namaste” in the public school system. This yoga ban debacle is Christian white privilege at its most eye-rollingly obvious, from the state that brought us George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door.

Good for Gray for doing something to overturn Alabama’s blanket yoga ban. But Alabama, could you try a little harder? We can still see that Klan hood in the back of your closet.

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