For almost three decades, Alabama has banned yoga in public schools. But that ban will end with the start of the new school year. Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday signed a bill to allow the practice in schools for the first time since 1993, though restrictions will remain in place. For instance, teachers aren't allowed to chant, utter the mantra "om," or say the traditional salutation "namaste," a combination of Sanskrit words meaning bow, obeisance, or adoration. Teachers must also avoid all Sanskrit terms for poses, hypnosis, guided imagery, meditation, and "any aspect of Eastern philosophy," reports the New York Times. Ivey signed the measure into law over the objections of critics who equate yoga with Hinduism and Buddhism, calling it a religious activity that violates the separation of church and state.
"Anyone who has taken yoga, we know that namaste is not something religious," but "with the evangelicals and this being a Bible state, they felt it was like a threat to Christianity," says Democratic State Representative Jeremy Gray, a former certified yoga instructor who introduced the bill. But it wasn't just evangelicals who wanted the ban kept in place. One yoga practitioner says Christians and atheists became "strange bedfellows" in the matter, because the latter camp doesn't "want anything even remotely religious to be taught in schools," per NPR. It will be up to school boards to decide whether yoga will be offered to students from kindergarten through 12th grade as an elective. Participating students will need permission slips from their parents. (Read more Alabama stories.)