US state legislature lifts yoga ban but says no to namaste

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The bill also aims to anglicise the 5000-year old practice and states that all the postures, exercises and stretching techniques will have only have English names.
More than 6 years have passed since the United Nations ratified Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative to announce June 21 as the International’s Yoga day. More than 175 countries co-sponsored and unanimously backed the proposal to celebrate Yoga world wide.

However, Yoga, especially its connection with divine and perceived origin in Hindu religion has led to intense debate across the world. Many regions in the world have also banned the practice owing to this reason. The state of Alabama in the United States of America had also banned Yoga instructions in state-run schools since 1993. However, the ban may soon be lifted with the state House of Representatives passing a bill which permits Yoga instructions in schools. After an intense debate on the issue, the House voted 84-17 in favour of the Yoga bill. The Yoga bill was proposed by Democrat state legislator Jeremy Gray, PTI reported. The bill will soon be tabled in the state senate which will decide the final outcome of the bill.

The U.S state had banned Yoga instructions along with meditation and hypnotism in the state-run schools way back in 1993. The underlying logic behind the move was Yoga’s perceived connection with Hindu religion bringing it under the ambit of religious activities making it ultra-vires of the U.S constitution which follows rigid secularism.

However, the bill at the same time prohibits the chanting of mantras, shlokas and other mudras as part of the Yoga instructions. In its zeal to distance the practice from any trace of religion, the bill also bans the use of Namaste which is being relied on by the world in the times of Coronavirus pandemic. Moreover, the bill also aims to anglicise the 5000-year old practice and states that all the postures, exercises and stretching techniques will have only have English names.

All exercises and poses will have English names and chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas and namaste greetings will remain prohibited, the bill states. It is anybody’s guess what Kapalbhaati and Dand-aasan would be called if they manage to make it to the list of the permitted activities.

Distancing the religious aspect from the age-old practice, legislator Jeremy Gray who proposed the bill said that Yoga helps in the physical and mental development of the body. He further said that the practice also helps cope with depression, anxiety and restlessness. However, the divide on the issue of Yoga seems not to have found a peaceful closure with sections opposing the bill insisting fiercely on their side of the argument.

Joe Godfrey, of Alabama Citizens Actions Program, was quoted by PTI as saying that one cannot separate the exercises from the religious meditation aspect of it and this is nothing but Hinduism straight up. The report further quoted Joe as saying that this bill is allowing blatant teaching of a religious exercise that would violate the Establishment clause.

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