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Opelika, Alabama Representative Gets Public School Yoga Ban Lifted But Don't Say Namaste

Posted by 
Dr. Jeff Livingston
Dr. Jeff Livingston
 2021-05-22

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Sideview of children doing a yoga pose at school.Photo: Wavebreakmedia Istock/Getty Images

Democratic State Representative Jeremy Gray from Opelika, Alabama, can add another victory on his scorecard. The former college football star's three-year battle to lift a 27-year-old ban on Yoga in Alabama schools ends in the WIN column. His legislation was signed into law by Governor Kay Ivey this week.

Yoga was banned in 1993 by the Alabama State Board of Education due to its link to Hinduism. Three decades later, the State has lifted the ban on an exercise known to help people improve their minds and bodies. Alabama public school children can now legally relieve stress and get fit by adding Yoga to the physical education program.

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Democratic State Representative Jeremy GrayPhoto: CC Elevate Your Grind

Representative Jeremy Gray was born and raised in Opelika. After graduating from Opelika High School, he attended North Carolina State University. While earning his Bachelor of Science degree in sports management, he was an all-star cornerback for the North Carolina State Wolfpack football team.

In addition to representing Alabama House of Representatives District 83, Jeremy Gray owns Elevate Your Grind, a company designed to help people achieve goals by improving their bodies and minds.

Representative Jeremy Gray applied the same tenacity that made him a North Carolina State Wolfpack football star to get this bill through the Alabama legislature. He first proposed lifting the ban in a 2019 bill that did not pass. At that time, the Alabama GOP members opposed the legislation due to ties to Hinduism and out of fear that children would be indoctrinated.

Joe Godfrey, executive director of a Christian advocacy group, Alabama Citizens Action Program, told NBC News in 2020, "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?"

Representative Gray tried to overcome barriers in 2020, but Covid curtailed the efforts. Gray felt the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in his own life when he contracted the virus in June of 2020. He is a certified Yoga instructor and credits Yoga with helping him overcome the infection.

Gray worked across partisan aisles to find support for his legislation lifting the Yoga ban. After passing House 73 to 25, the bill ran into some opposition in the Senate. Gray negotiated amendments with Christian conservatives who were concerned Yoga would turn children to Hinduism.

Gray told APNews, "This whole notion that if you do yoga, you’ll become Hindu — I’ve been doing yoga for 10 years and I go to church and I’m very much a Christian.” Gray worked to find common ground. Republicans and Democrats supported the final bill, which was signed into law by Governor Kay Ivey.

The State lifted the ban but placed a few restrictions. Alabama parents will have to grant permission for their children to participate by signing waivers recognizing Yoga is “part of the Hinduism religion.” The ban on using Sanskrit words for Yoga poses was not lifted. Alabama also prohibits chanting, mantras, and guided imagery.

An amendment states, "school personnel may not use any techniques that involve hypnosis, the induction of a dissociative mental state, guided imagery, meditation, or any aspect of Eastern philosophy and religious training."

The 1993 Yoga ban of the traditional, customary, respectful greeting of Namaste continues. Namaste is a Sanskrit phrase meaning "I bow to you." Yoga practitioners often end sessions by stating this word.

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Young girl making Namaste gesturePhoto: Fizkes Istock/Getty Images

Schools are not required to incorporate Yoga into their curriculum. Local school boards maintain decision-making control before the law takes effect on August 1.

Yoga is an exercise that improves fitness, strengthens muscles, and increases flexibility. Yoga practice incorporates mindfulness helping practitioners deal with stress. Yoga trains the body and the mind.

A 2014 paper titled "Yoga for Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Well-Being: Research Review and Reflections on the Mental Health Potentials of Yoga" helps illustrate how Yoga can improve student mental health.

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Yoga for Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing.Chart Front Psychiatry. 2014 doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2014.00035

Opelika, Alabama's Jeremy Gray, showed tremendous leadership during his three-year push to help improve Alabama students' mental and physical well-being. This bipartisan bill is a refreshing change in our polarized world.

To Representative Gray, we say Namaste.