Encinitas yoga trial: It’s a conspiracy to trick students!

I was going to hold off on any more coverage of the Encinitas yoga trial — try to wait and see what Wednesday holds — but then I checked out other coverage of Tuesday’s expert testimony by religious studies professor Candy Brown.

And, man, I don’t want to dis the U-T San Diego, but it didn’t capture nearly the best parts. But the local Fox TV station did (and fun fact, I went to high school with this reporter; she was a few years ahead of me):

Controversy over the program erupted last year as the district began to develop a health and wellness curriculum that includes

“This is very intentional marketing,” said expert witness Dr. Candy Brown. “We lead with physical then introduce the spiritual aspect. I can give you quotations where people admit to this.”

Calling it camouflage and conspiracy, Dr. Brown described the practice of yoga.  She’s testifying in a case brought against the Encinitas School District by a small group of parents who want to stop the district’s new program that offers Ashtanga yoga in place of physical education.

“If you asked me what’s the most religious form of yoga, I would pick Ashtanga as my number one,” Dr. Brown said without answering the question asked, which was are all forms of yoga religious? Judge John Meyer reminded her she could answer with a yes or no answer, to which she replied after some time, “I will say no to that question as phrased.”

But that’s not the best — to use that word loosely — part. This is:

Dr. Brown testified she believes there’s a conspiracy at work trick students into  a spiritual practice.

Judge Meyer asked for clarification, “these Jois trained instructors are just the foot soldier?”

“It’s para para – submitting to one,” Dr. Brown said.

The judge cutting her off said, “you think they have been planted in the district?”

“Well, I think that is the case, yeah,” she answered.

There you have it. (I should also note that some of the reports are suggesting the trial could go on hiatus — i.e. not finish today or tomorrow — and so we may not get resolution soon.)

I’m honestly not sure how to respond to that. I’ll admit that some of the most exuberant Jois Yoga material is a bit zealous, and I suppose this lawsuit is proof that there wasn’t enough clear separation between the yoga program in schools and Jois Yoga (and maybe Ashtanga more broadly). But I also think that, from what I’ve been reading — and you probably figured out I’ve been reading whatever I can find so I can pass it on — the strongest argument of the opponents has been that Ashtanga is, as Brown said, a particularly religious yoga practice. (We all know that paddleboard and acro-yoga aren’t that religious, in general.) I can see where, if the point is argued well, someone could decide that Ashtanga yoga in schools violates the First Amendment. But yoga more generally? I don’t think so. (To set that precedent would be significant, and I suspect we’d be seeing this case heading toward higher courts. We may regardless.)

But that’s still Ashtanga as practiced broadly; a single class or set of classes, or just the emphasis on the asana, the movement and breath, doesn’t strike me as having a religious element. It is when the Yoga Sutras are added in (even though I think it can be argued there’s no God in those), or when other Hindu elements — Siva or Hanuman, maybe even talk of karma and dharma — are discussed that Ashtanga strikes me as drifting toward religion. (I’m not willing to say it is absolutely religious, but I think it certainly can reach a point where one easily could relate to it in a religious way. Even paddleboard yoga, done with religious intent, could be religious. But in that case it rests with the individual, not the practice. I don’t see how one can legislate that away. What if I decided everything I did was religious? Could I not be allowed in school because my learning was “religious?” See where that argument falls apart?)

Speaking of the religious aspects, here’s something to clear your mental palate: Tim Miller’s latest post.

Update: Link to a news story with video of Jennifer Brown’s testimony and her yoga demonstration. (I can’t get it to embed here.)

Posted by Steve 

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

18 thoughts on “Encinitas yoga trial: It’s a conspiracy to trick students!”

    1. They have Mark Singleton as one of the experts. This was described on the blog post here a few days ago. There is a link that you can read that describes his point of view of modern yoga based on his research and study. He is the author of “Yoga Body, History to Modern Yoga”. BTW, it is a great book and resource.

      1. Thanks for the reference to Singleton’s book. It looks fascinating and I didn’t realize until now that he teaches at St. John’s in Santa Fe. It is an incredible school. There aren’t many other schools like it in this country.

  1. The word and concept of religion does not exist in the ancient tradition of yoga nor in India’s six major systems of Vedas and philosophy. The entire paradigm of India’s spiritual tradition, correctly named “Sanatan Dharma”, is not based on belief, but on “the practice of that which removes physical, mental, and spiritual suffering so that there is no recurrence.” This ultimate goal, being liberation and eternal happiness, has no affiliation with the Western concept of “religion”. Even the word “Hinduism” was created by Westerners to categorize the spirituality of Indians living near the Indus (or Hindus) River.

    And what does religion really mean????

    From an old article by Thomas Paine, the great American: “The word religion is a word of forced application when used with respect to the worship of God. The root of the word is the Latin verb ligo, which becomes religo, to tie or bind over again, to make more fast.”

    1. I believe that it was Alexander The Great who named the Hindus. Are you saying that Hindus do or don’t worship God? I agree with your comment about forced application but at the same time the collective subconscious works in such a way that many of the worlds largest religions have many similarities http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion Not sure if I buy your argument so far I need you to elaborate more on the subject of deities and gods within Indian culture

      1. Yes, Alex came up with the name. Christian scholars later added “ism”. I agree, most “religions” and collective consciousness are the similar when it comes to dogmas and beliefs, but when it comes to practice and tolerance, India stands out as the most tolerant/accepting/universal, and also the most practice-based. Yes, all Hindus worship God. The concept of God is quite unique–that is, God has many aspects (“wears many hats”) that are equal but unique, such as Mother, Father, or Spirit. The deities are called “devas”, or gods, who preside over certain aspects of creation–wind, fire, wealth, earth,etc and are revered but are always subservient to God and secondary in Indian culture. I certainly don’t want to play “Scientology Basketball” !–that sounds wild and expensive and I don’t think Tom Cruise can shoot. Anyway, it’s an awesome discussion–what is religion, God, Yoga and freedom of religion. If you’re into books, you might find “American Veda” by Philip Goldberg to be an interesting read about India’s spirituality in America.

    2. This may be part of the reason the trial opened with the judge asking, “What is religion?” My sense is that supporters of yoga in schools may have a friend in the judge — not that he’s biased, but that he’s able to see the complexity in things. In the simplest terms, one might argue yoga is a religious practice. Begin to pull at it — as even Paine saw — and it gets more complicated.


  2. I particularly enjoyed the part about tricking people into practicing ashtanga! Yes, most Americans will be easily tricked into a lifetime of waking up extremely early and a practice that often leads to changes in diet and daily habits simply by introducing yoga early in someone’s life at school.

    I’m still curious about Brown’s link to the evangelical Christians who brought this case to trial and her own work that is mostly on evangelical Christians. She certainly seems to have a strong bias that is not entirely based on evidence and research, but is being presented as though she is an objective observer. I guess that is the part that concerns me the most. Does anyone know if this came up in court?

    1. I don’t (in answer to your questions about Brown). I’m hoping a more thorough report will appear from the trial.

      We’ll pass anything on we see.

      As I’ve written, the judge seems pretty solid, so I think there may be reason to hope (if one is hoping on the pro-yoga side) that he might respond to some of the more eyebrow raising statements with, well, raised eyebrows.

      And, LOL to your first point. Yes, there’s a HUGE risk of that!


      1. Thanks for keeping an eye out for more on Brown and for the coverage so far–the trial certainly brings up many interesting issues.

  3. Given that the “expert witness” acknowledges the “NON RELIGIOUS (though generically spiritual) health-care, fitness, or scientific techniques” (of yoga etc…) on her university profile, she is looking rather stupid.

    Then she claims in her expert witness declaration, “I have conducted extensive research on yoga and meditation” … but not ONE of her books, research interests, courses taught, or published articles, is on or directly relates to yoga !

    I’d say that some lawyer is going to have a filed day when they get her on the stand !!

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