In May 2021, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill that allowed public schools to offer yoga, throwing out a 27-year-old ban that prohibited the practice for students in grades K-12.
The ruling overturned a ban implemented in 1993 that prohibited school personnel from using “any techniques that involve the induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, meditation or yoga” under Alabama Administration Code 290-040-040-2, Teaching Certain Techniques.
“The State Board of Education is aware of concerns that certain techniques in some school materials or programs need clarification,” wrote the agency at the time. “The State Board of Education specifically prohibits the use of hypnosis and dissociative mental states.”
Yoga was described in the original record as a “Hindu philosophy and method of religious training” that, when joined with physical exercises, was used to “facilitate the development of body-mind-spirit.” The original ruling noted that all individuals responsible for teaching students should “take great care to emphasize that conduct prohibited by law is not appropriate in a civilized society.” Teaching such a prohibited practice, the code argued, would likely result in “harmful consequences to the health of a person.”
The bill was revisited again in 2006 when some schools were reportedly considering offering yoga as part of an educational, after-school program — a practice that then-State Superintendent of Education Joseph Morton advised would be in violation of the ban.
“Our best advice and guidance from the Department of Education is that yoga not be offered during regular school hours or after regular school hours to public school students on a public school campus in Alabama,” wrote Morton in a letter to the county and city superintendents.
But as the practice has picked up steam in the Western world in recent decades, yoga and meditation have become key components of some schools’ physical and mental curriculum — and Alabama House Bill 246 aimed to bring the state’s school system up to date.
Democratic State Rep. Jeremy Gray first introduced a bill to revoke the ban in 2020. In his charge to revoke the prohibition, Gray spoke of his own practice and argued that the bill promoted exercise, not religion, reported The Associated Press. Opponents of the practice argued that stretching and other related exercises were already allowed.
“Yoga is a very big part of the Hindu religion,” Becky Gerritson, director of Eagle Forum of Alabama, told the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee in March 2021.
“If this bill passes, then instructors will be able to come into classrooms as young as kindergarten and bring these children through guided imagery, which is a spiritual exercise, and it’s outside their parents’ view. And we just believe that this is not appropriate.”
Signed into law on May 21, 2021, the new bill allows for the elective teaching of yoga to students enrolled in public schools so long as the student has the option to opt out. The bill language also limits the types of yoga that are allowed. For example, all instruction should be limited to poses, exercises, and stretching techniques that must be described using English names and descriptions.
“Chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas, induction of hypnotic states, guided imagery, and namaste greetings shall be expressly prohibited,” read the 2021 bill.
Parents are also required to sign a statement that gives permission for their children to participate in yoga. The act will become effective in advance of the 2021-22 academic school year.