Life

Alabama House Votes to Overturn Ban on Yoga in Schools. Here’s Why Some Yoga Teachers Are Upset.

These South Asian yoga teachers say that the bill ignores yoga's roots and perpetuates racism, colonialism, and white supremacy.

Twenty eight years ago, the Alabama state school board passed a bill which forbade the teaching of yoga in public schools. The regulation, passed in 1993 after opposition by conservative groups over its Hindu roots, said that “school personnel shall be prohibited from using any techniques that involve the induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, meditation or yoga.”

Last week, the state’s House of Representatives passed a bill that would override the ban. The bill—which, according to the New York Times, would allow schools and students to decide whether or not to offer or participate in yoga, forbids schoolteachers from saying “namaste” or chanting, and only allows poses to be referred to by English names—now goes to the State senate.

Several South Asian yoga teachers took to social media over the weekend to voice their upset.

Why the bill is harmful

Yoga teacher Anjali Kamath Rao pointed out on Instagram that teaching only one of the eight limbs of yoga (asana) centers white culture. “There has to be an acknowledgment that the system ( legal/ educational) is born from a socio- political- cultural landscape that centers White feelings and needs more than the brown ones,” she wrote in her post.

Furthermore, prohibiting “namaste” and conflating it with chanting is wrong.  “To allude that Namaste is a chant is ignorant. It’s a greeting and it’s completely ok to not say this.”

She also pointed out that teaching a “more digestible” form of asana and breathwork teaches kids to appropriate—instead of appreciate—Hindu culture. “We are also teaching these kids it’s ok to take what is helpful to them without any honest acknowledgment of the people that gifted them the practice. We are teaching their needs are more important than the feelings of the others in the room.”

The bill doesn’t acknowledge yoga’s roots

Yoga teacher, author, and wellness consultant Anusha Wijeyakumar agreed that erasing the history of yoga from asana and meditation is an example of white supremacy. “What we see unfolding in Alabama is Hinduphobia, xenophobia and the cultural erasure of honouring the roots of these practices by negating the essence of Yoga and purposefully removing Sanskrit, mantra, mudras and yoga philosophy,” she wrote in an Instagram post.

Wijeyakumar posted that her book, Meditation with Intention, which discusses how to honor Yoga’s roots, should be read by Alabama legislators. She posted: “This is neo colonialism and the continual colonization of these ancient sacred practices that are a part of my indigenous faith. It continues the harmful white washing of history which is steeped in racism.”

(If you’re interested in decolonizing your own practice, join Wijeyakumar’s upcoming workshop on the Bhagavad Gita.)

Yoga teacher Susanna Barkataki’s Instagram video noted that bills like the one the Alabama impact more than just children. “This sterilization is not just benign,” she posted. “It is serving a larger white-supremacist agenda of making the practice less “foreign” and more palatable for the dominant white culture.”