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Opinion | The yoga ban in Alabama schools explains so much

Josh Moon

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Yoga is illegal in Alabama public schools.

If you ever wanted to sum up this state, that sentence — and the explanation behind it — should more than suffice.

In a nutshell, it’s this: Alabama lawmakers were, in the early 1990s, so concerned with the spread of the Hindu religion, by way of strenuous stretching, that they banned yoga from Alabama’s schools.

There is nothing more Alabama than banning exercise because it is loosely tied to a religion not named Christianity.

Even better was the fact that, according to a newspaper clipping posted by the Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman, following the meeting in which yoga AND meditation were banned, the more than 500 people who attended the meeting left the room unsure of what had taken place.

Basically, they burned Lululemon at the stake, and no one was really sure why.

But these were in the pre-9/11 days, when Southern Christian fear-mongering required a tad more effort and a lot more creativity. Without the Islamic boogeymen to lean on to scare hapless southerners into church pews on Sunday morning, you had to work for it.

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Although, they did have one advantage, since this was also in the pre-Google-in-your-pocket days. Without an ever-present internet search engine in everyone’s pockets, scaring overworked moms and disinterested dads into believing that a downward dog pose was the first step to cow worship and eternal damnation was a tad easier to do.

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And so, there were the state board members in 1993, with the ridiculous Eagle Forum breathing down their necks — because without a phony religious crisis the Eagle Forum would be left sewing together blue jean skirts — and a room full of anti-Hindu activists — if you can even imagine such a thing — and the board had to do something.

What they did — how to put this delicately? — was something idiotic.   

The language in the regulations passed that day states that yoga is “A Hindu philosophy and method of religious training ….” and that it “allegedly” develops the body and mind. And just to be sure nothing slipped by them from these weird religions where people close their eyes and talk to strange beings in the ether, the board banned all uses of hypnosis and dissociative mental states.

It stated that school personnel were prohibited from using hypnotic states, guided imagery, meditation or yoga.

Now, if you’re like me, you’re thinking: What the hell is “guided imagery”?

Good news, my friend, because the state board, in its usual thorough manner, supplied us with definitions of these terms. The bad news is that after reading the definition of “guided imagery,” you still won’t know what “guided imagery” is.

But you’ll definitely know what it’s not.

“Guided imagery can be described with various terms or labels, such as visualization, visual imagery, guided imagery or guided fantasy. Guided imagery is used as an induction or deepening technique of hypnosis/meditation. It involves the communication or suggestion, describing a scene in which the student/subject is encouraged to experientially participate, normally following a progressive relaxation technique.”

I’d like to take a moment to recognize the effort and wordsmanship of the poor state department of education worker who was tasked with writing that definition and managed to come up with … that group of words.

However, if you, like me, were lost at the end of that definition, there is a disclaimer: “NOTE: Guided imagery, a common induction technique of hypnosis, should not be confused with the normal use of the imagination.”

So, to sum up, our state board of ed banned thinking real hard.

Which, looking back, explains quite a bit.

 

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