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Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer rejected the pleas of parents from a San Diego County school district where yoga is taught on nine campuses who said the classes are inherently religious and violate the constitutional principle of separating church and state.
Meyer sided instead in the Monday ruling with administrators from the Encinitas Union School District who argued the practice while often religious is taught in a secular way to promote strength, flexibility and balance.
The judge said parents who objected relied on personal opinions, some culled from Internet searches.
“It’s almost like a trial by Wikipedia, which isn’t what this court does,” said Meyer, who took nearly two hours to explain a decision that explored yoga’s Indian roots and philosophy.
The judge emphasized that the school district stripped classes of all cultural references, including the Sanskrit language. The lotus position was renamed the “crisscross applesauce” pose.
Dean Broyles, an attorney for Encinitas parents Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, said he would likely appeal.
“It was the judge’s job to call balls and strikes and determine the facts,” Broyles said. “I think he got some of the facts wrong.”
The district is believed to be the first in the country to have full-time yoga teachers at every one of its nine schools. The lessons are funded by a $533,720, three-year grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Encinitas that promotes Ashtanga yoga.
The twice-weekly, 30-minute classes are offered along with more traditional physical education to the district’s 5,600 students.
About 30 families have opted out of the classes, which were introduced in 2011 at one campus and later expanded to others, Superintendent Timothy Baird said. The superintendent hailed the ruling, calling yoga “21st century P.E.” that yielded “amazing” health benefits.
The judge said the Jois Foundation’s involvement was troubling, but rejected parents’ arguments that it amounted to a stealth attempt to guide students to Eastern religion. The foundation insists that the classes are not religious.
The lawsuit did not seek monetary damages but asked the court to intervene and suspend the program.
The plaintiffs relied heavily on testimony of Candy Gunther Brown, an Indiana University religious studies professor who found the district’s program is pervasively religious, having its roots in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and metaphysical beliefs and practices.
Yoga is now taught at public schools from the rural mountains of West Virginia to the bustling streets of Brooklyn as a way to ease stress for tense students. But most classes are part of an after-school program, or are offered only at a few schools or by some teachers in a district.
Yoga (Sanskrit: योग) is a commonly known generic term for the physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India with a view to attain a state of permanent peace. Specifically, yoga is one of the six āstika (“orthodox”) schools of Hindu philosophy. One of the most detailed and thorough expositions on the subject is the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, which defines yoga as “the stilling of the changing states of the mind” (Sanskrit: योग: चित्त-वृत्ति निरोध:). Yoga has also been popularly defined as “union with the divine” in other contexts and traditions. Various traditions of yoga are found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
Yoga came to the attention of an educated western public in the mid 19th century along with other topics of Hindu philosophy. Thus N. C. Paul published his Treatise on Yoga Philosophy in 1851. The first Hindu teacher to actively advocate and disseminate aspects of yoga to a western audience was Swami Vivekananda, who toured Europe and the United States in the 1890s. The reception which Swami Vivekananda received is inconceivable without the active interest of intellectuals, in particular the New England Transcendentalists, among them R.W. Emerson, who drew on German Romanticism and the interest of philosophers and scholars like G.F.W. Hegel, the Schlegel brothers, Max Mueller, A. Schopenhauer and others who found Vedanta in agreement with their own ideas and a cherished source of religious-philosophical inspiration.