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