Opponents to yoga in Encinitas schools claim to have ‘smoking gun’

I’m just going to present some facts here, and then add a little something else from our archives — and you can do the rest.

The National Center for Law & Policy minutes ago sent out a press release claiming to have a “smoking gun” that proves the Encinitas Union School District’s yoga program was Ashtanga and was closely tied to the Jois Foundation. It involves the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence.

Here’s a link to the press release and the bulk of release:

A 2013 Ashtanga Yoga Confluence conference seminar (See attached at page 4 of 10) contradicts the sworn testimony of Encinitas Union School District officials and employees given under oath and subject to the penalty of perjury during the recent trial of the Sedlock v. Baird case.

On March 2, 2013, at the Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa in San Diego, Jois Foundation representatives, including Eugene Ruffin and Jen Brown with special guest Manju Jois, son of the deceased Sri K Pattabhi Jois (also known as “guruji”), led a seminar entitled “Teaching Ashtanga Yoga to Children.” The Ashtanga Confluence schedule acknowledges that it was PK Jois’ “dream” to teach Ashtanga in the schools. The seminar included a “short demonstration with children from the Encinitas School Union [sic] District Elementary Schools . . .” Jen Brown, who teaches yoga to children at a EUSD school is listed along with Erin Cooney as “Jois Foundation teachers.”

This is significant because Jen Brown denied under oath during trial that she was a Jois Foundation teacher or that she was currently teaching Ashtanga to EUSD children, stating that a Jois Yoga website indicating she worked for the Jois Foundation and taught Ashtanga yoga at EUSD was a “typo.” Yet during the last day of testimony Assistant Superintendant Miyashiro contradicted her testimony stating that Brown does work for the Jois Foundation one day a week, but that he doesn’t know what she does for Jois.

Even more important is the fact that EUSD officials testified under oath that in spite of the Jois-EUSD grant documents’ requirement that the “core foundation” of EUSD’s program was “Ashtanga yoga” with teachers trained and certified by Jois, that EUSD was actually teaching a different form of yoga it called “EUSD yoga” at the trial. “I have one question for EUSD,” stated Dean Broyles. “If EUSD was teaching its children ‘EUSD yoga,’ how did EUSD students learn Ashtanga yoga proficiently enough to be a part of a Jois Foundation seminar in March 2013 demonstrating how to teach Ashtanga yoga to children in the public schools? The fact is that the grant documents explicitly required EUSD to teach Ashtanga yoga and in fact EUSD has been teaching Ashtanga yoga the entire time, notwithstanding its material misrepresentations to the contrary.” Unfortunately, NCLP attorneys did not have this documentation available to them when Jen Brown was on the stand subject to cross examination. Judge John S. Meyer did not allow NCLP attorneysto question EUSD Assistant Superintendant David Myashiro about it on the last day of trial testimony because Myashiro testified that he knew nothing about the Jois Ashtanga seminar involving EUSD teachers and EUSD students.

This is just happening, so I don’t know when there will be any response from the Foundation — which has been pretty careful in its public statements. But I do know that we covered this part of the Confluence, and we almost didn’t do a post on it because “the panel was so “unnewsworthy”,” as I wrote at the time. The yoga we saw also wasn’t especially “Ashtanga-based.” It was asana, with an emphasis on stretching and breathing. And so the opponents’ claim that the students who demonstrated during the Confluence class knew “Ashtanga yoga proficiently enough to be a part of a Jois Foundation seminar” has zero bearing. There wasn’t any Ashtanga happening during that demonstration, as our post from months ago reported.

And so my sense here is that, again, there isn’t much newsworthy. (I do find it funny that they highlight a misnaming of the school district with the [sic] by then have Guruji’s name as PK Jois, so [sic] back at them.)

Well, then why post on it? Hopefully to provide some context. There was no participation from the school district, for instance. And just because someone is involved in one thing doesn’t mean they are always involved. In other words an Ashtanga teacher can teach other types of yoga — just as a biology teacher also can teach physics.

I also think there is something in an attachment the NCLP sent out (which is just the Confluence schedule, which also means it isn’t as though this was hidden away) that counters the group’s argument pretty effectively:

A discussion panel will explore teaching Ashtanga yoga to children both in and out of the school system with a short demonstration with children from the Encinitas School Union District Elementary Schools followed by a class open to all kids.

That seems pretty clear, right? “In and out of the school system.” Were the kids from Encinitas? Yeah. So?

I might grant you that the teachers being cited as being Jois Foundation teachers is a potential issue, but it sure doesn’t seem like it is a very big one. (Per the above, is someone always a Jois Foundation teacher? No.)

So this doesn’t seem “smoking gun” level.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

4 thoughts on “Opponents to yoga in Encinitas schools claim to have ‘smoking gun’”

  1. “…an Ashtanga teacher can teach other types of yoga — just as a biology teacher also can teach physics”.

    That’s an interesting proposition for a number of reasons:
    – what they teach to the kids in Encinitas: is it now yoga or an exercise program based on yoga asanas?
    – a yoga student, dedicated to Ashtanga yoga in the tradition of SKPJ, can they really do their traditional practice in the morning and then turn around and teach some other type of yoga in the evening, say vinyasa groove, without being out of sync with their own principles?
    – that same student, if they wish to teach, would they want to be anything but “Ashtanga teachers”, and would they even consider declaring themselves “yoga teachers” without being blessed to teach by their teacher? Would they even receive authorization to teach if they intended to teach outside of the Ashtanga method?
    – what is the definition of an “Ashtanga teacher” in the first place?
    – a biology teacher can teach physics: is that the correct analogy? If it is, then an “Ashtanga teacher” can teach yoga in the morning and physical education in the afternoon, no problem. But aren’t the “types of yoga” more like different, and potentially conflicting concepts of biology? If they’re teaching Ashtanga in the mornings and yoga lite in the afternoons, isn’t that more akin to teaching evolution in the morning and creationism in the afternoons?

    So: Can they really?

    1. In my experience, I can’t think of a single Ashtanga teacher — from ones who have never studied in Mysore to those who were among the first to go there — who don’t have some mix of classes they teach. The degree of that mix varies, certainly. But, to put the spotlight on one: Eddie Stern has developed yoga sequences as part of scientific studies and Jois Foundation and Bent on Learning (I assume BOL, too) that aren’t “Ashtanga.” The practice no doubt informs what he and others do outside of the Ashtanga fold, but I don’t think they are as different as you’re suggesting.

      As for the question about “exercise program based on yoga asanas,” my guess is that those at the Foundation would say it is a yoga / asana / meditation practice (emphasizing the breathing and the relaxation and focus potential to benefit the kids).

      I will quibble with your last metaphor, though: Ashtanga is the creationism (see: Ashtanga = religion) and the other yogas are the evolution (see: Western science). 🙂


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