Yoga classes will return to Alabama public schools after a nearly 30-year hiatus but the traditional “namaste” greeting as well as chanting remain forbidden.
Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, signed legislation this week that reversed a longtime ban on yoga instruction in classrooms amid claims that the practice would introduce Hinduism into public schools.
The bill, introduced earlier this year by Democratic Rep. Jeremy Gray, allows K-12 students enrolled in public school to take yoga instruction as an elective. Whether the class is offered would be left up to local boards of education.
The legislation, according to the Alabama legislative website, states that “All instruction in yoga shall be limited exclusively to poses, exercises, and stretching techniques.”
All techniques would be required to have English descriptive names, and chanting, mantras and using the greeting “namaste,” which translates as “I bow to you,” would be prohibited, according to the bill.
Opponents of the change – such as Becky Gerritson, executive director of the Eagle Forum of Alabama, a conservative advocacy group – have called the measure unnecessary.
Students in Alabama schools already do stretches and other movements, Gerritson said. The bill, she said, would add meditation and guided mindfulness, which she argued violates the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, which prohibits the teaching of religion in public schools.
“We should not be spending taxpayer money, resources and time teaching children Eastern spiritual practices,” Gerritson told CNN last month.
Yoga has been banned in Alabama public schools since 1993, according to Gray. He first introduced a bill to overturn the ban in 2019.
The state Board of Education prohibited “any techniques that involve the induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, meditation or yoga” – the latter defined as a “method of religious training.”
Gray, who was a yoga instructor and has been doing yoga for more than a decade, said Alabama was the only state to ban it in public schools. Gray, who played football at North Carolina State University, was introduced to yoga as an athlete.