Nearly a year after Alabama repealed a nearly three-decades-long ban on yoga in Alabama public schools, three Birmingham city elementary schools have become some of the first in the state to offer yoga programs to students.
According to the Universal Society of Hinduism, Minor, Oxmoor Valley, West End elementary schools in Birmingham launched yoga programs the week of Jan. 10, involving about 115 fifth graders.
In a statement Tuesday, President of the Universal Society of Hinduism Rajan Zed commended the Birmingham city school district and urged other Alabama school boards and districts to follow suit.
“Seemingly a small-scale step for a large school district like BCSD, but it was undoubtedly a step in the positive direction,” said Zed, further stating that the reluctance to introduce yoga was “clearly doing a disservice” to Alabama K-12 students.
The reluctance to introduce yoga programs in Alabama’s k-12 public schools, even as the ban was lifted in 2021, is seen by many as a lasting legacy of the moral panic surrounding the practice, with critics including The Foundation for Moral Law– a conservative Christian advocacy group formed by the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore — and Alabama Eagle Forum seeing yoga as proselytizing Hinduism.
The bill allowing yoga in schools, initially sponsored by state Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, was amended during passage in the Alabama Senate to require parental consent before students enter a yoga program in a public school.
“[The] overwhelming majority of yoga instructors and practitioners in USA and Alabama were non-Hindus, and they usually stayed non-Hindus sticking to their own respective faith traditions even after years of yoga practice,” Zed said. “Yoga, although introduced and nourished by Hinduism, was a world heritage and liberation powerhouse to be utilized by all.”