Breaking: Opponents won’t appeal ruling in Encinitas schools yoga program

Breaking news for you — hot off the presses about an hour ago.

The National Center for Law & Policy — the law firm leading the suit against the Encinitas schools yoga program — will not appeal any further. From its release:

The legal team, led by attorney Dean Broyles of the National Center for Law & Policy, has decided not to pursue the Sedlock v. Baird yoga litigation further after losing the appeal in April.  Attorneys for the Sedlocks successfully convinced both the trial court and the appellate justices that yoga, including Ashtanga yoga is religious.  However, the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) prevailed in their argument that they had changed or removed enough of the religious elements from their yoga program, so that the physical education classes were purportedly not unlawfully promoting religion in the public schools.

“This was a very tough call to make under the circumstances,” stated NCLP president Dean Broyles.  “We knew from the beginning this case would be an uphill battle because yoga is so popular and so many people believe the pervasive myth that yoga’s ‘physical’ practice can be neatly separated from the metaphysical or religious elements of Hinduism.  On the positive side, the lawsuit forced EUSD to significantly change its written yoga curriculum and some of its classroom teaching.  However, as even the appellate court acknowledged, the children are still being led through the Surya Namaskara, which is a Hindu liturgy worshipping the sun god Surya.”

“This ruling was an aberration from well-established legal precedents. No other court in the past 50 years has allowed schools to lead children in ritual religious practices, like devotional Bible reading, prayer, or meditation,” declared Broyles.   “EUSD’s devotional sun worship, including bowing, praying hands, and lifting one’s hands in worship to the sun is objectively religious and should not be treated any more favorably than Bible reading or prayer, even if EUSD is not teaching the children the supporting theology behind the Hindu rituals.  EUSD’s position is deceptive.  The social science research clearly demonstrates that yoga’s purported mere ‘stretching’ and ‘breathing’ components, called asanas and pranayama in Sanskrit, are, by themselves, spiritually transformative.”

“I am very proud of the Sedlock family and for my outstanding legal team for being willing to stand up for the truth and religious freedom in the midst of the trying fires of a very difficult and unpopular case,” continued Broyles.  “The personal attacks endured by the family and the legal team were pretty outrageous at times.  But we consistently told the truth and fought the good fight.  As a result, we have seen more and more parents opt their children out of the yoga classes after learning the truth.  Unfortunately, because of the superintendent and board’s continued obstinacy after parents raised legitimate religious concerns, many good families have left the district.”

Not everything is all done, however. A little more:

“This is not the end of our broader principled campaign to tell the truth about yoga.  We will continue to look for opportunities to educate parents and fully expect to be engaged in future efforts to stop the deceptive religious indoctrination of our children by the state,” said Broyles.  The concerned parents in Encinitas have launched an informative website:  http://truthaboutyoga.com/

That site, which features a quote from former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, includes the following:

Welcome. You are reading this website, so maybe you wonder why a group of parents in the Encinitas school district are concerned about yoga replacing P.E. and why we are educating others to discover the true facts about yoga in our district and beyond. On the surface it may seem like a helpful way to stretch, breathe, and calm a busy mind; but is it just that? There are many pieces to investigate in this vast puzzle and here is where we started: For the first time in our nation, yoga entered all of the elementary schools (K-6) on a mandatory basis for the entire school district in 2012 (5- 12 year olds), and we parents had a few questionsMaybe you have some of the same questions. Maybe there is more to it than you ever dreamed. We were shocked by the answers we found and this website is our attempt to answer most any question you might ask if we were sitting together having coffee together right now. If you need more information after you read this, we are available for a cup with you.

It also links to Tim Miller’s studio and the Jois studio (although it has the old location).

My favorite thing is this:

Q: Would the EUSD Board have implemented the Ashtanga yoga program and replaced the majority of regular P.E. if there were no grant money provided?

What do you think?

I think you can think this: The battle is won but the war continues.

You can scroll back through all our coverage of the trial here.

Posted by Steve

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Supporters of yoga in schools on opponents: ‘No point in arguing with these folks’

The supporters of the Encinitas schools yoga program have responded to the appeal of the court decision that found the classes didn’t violate First Amendment rights to religious freedom. They’ve been posting at the YES! Yoga for Encinitas Students webpage throughout the lawsuit.

The latest is right here; the first came on Wednesday, with an update Thursday:

There’s truly no point  in arguing with these folks.  Many are so blinded by fear that they fail to see the irony in their position.  They view the U.S. Constitution as a Christian document and urge the school board to be guided by religious beliefs – so long as those beliefs align with their own.

Fortunately, most members of our community are not so closed-minded.  YES! families include people of all faiths, including many devout Christians who recognize that the EUSD yoga program is exercise – and nothing more.  Students stretching on busses and playgrounds should be viewed as a good thing…. not as evidence of an evil agenda at work.  No kids are being led astray.

And from the update (reminder: Dean Broyles is the lead attorney opposing the yoga program):

Several of you have posed a very good question:  In order to end the yoga debate why doesn’t EUSD simply change the name of the fitness program from “yoga” to something else, like “stretching”?  That would seem to be a perfectly reasonable compromise…. but not to Mr. Broyles.

In fact, Broyles has argued that if EUSD were to change the name it would simply be an act of “camouflage” designed to conceal the true Hindu agenda at work.  Broyles believes such “camouflage” is the among the District’s most sinister tactics as it fools folks into believing that acts are innocuous when they actually have religious significance.

Those aren’t really the kicker, however. Not even close. The site also includes excerpts from an email sent to Encinitas Union School District board members from an opponent of the yoga classes. It opens: “I just returned from the presentation by Dean Broyles and was absolutely convicted and astonished at how we as Christians are being blinded by Satan.”

Click the link above to get it all. Does the email suggest concern for board members’ salvation? Absolutely. So go read it.

Posted by Steve

Here’s the key point with the new lawsuit challenging yoga in schools

We posted the full text of the press release earlier announcing the filing of an appeal of the ruling this past summer that the Sonima Foundation-funded (originally Jois Foundation) yoga program in the Encinitas Union School District did not violate the First Amendment and therefore was an OK physical / child development activity.

You can get to that by scrolling down the page a bit or clicking here.

Here’s the key point: a revision by the judge to his initial ruling that agrees that the school’s yoga poses are “identical” to Ashtanga.

And that then brings the case (in my fairly educating reading) back to this fundamental argument: Is Ashtanga inherently a religious form of yoga?

I think this development, for most yoga teachers — especially those involved with kids, and double especially for those involved with kids in school or on school grounds — is a positive one. It would seem to make the case about Ashtanga, specifically, and less about yoga in general. Obviously that’s because the argument that yoga is inherently religious is a tough one to make. It may have evolved from a religious culture but it has loosened itself since.

I’m tempted to make the analogy with reading and writing. Should we not teach children to read because Moses came down from the mountain with the 10 Commandments, written by God?

There are plenty of descriptions of yoga as science and as uprooted from a Hindu foundation. There are more, fairly contemporary, descriptions of Ashtanga as being about seeing God, reaching Samadhi, etc.

Although there is plenty that uproots Ashtanga from that, too. And thus — bring in the lawyers.

What I’m trying to say is that this case seems to be developing more narrowly, rather than more broadly, and so the question of whether yoga can be taught in schools seems more likely to be off the table. It might be a more narrow question of: Is the Encinitas program Ashtanga-based, and, if so, is Ashtanga religious?

In addition, media (mainly the UT San Diego) are reporting that the attorneys are vowing to go all the way to the Supreme Court, if needed. I’m not sure that the narrow case I’m outlining above would get to that level, however.

 

The appeal likely won’t be heard until the middle of next year or later.

I have not yet seen any response from the district, Sonima or the supportive parents.

 

Posted by Steve

Here’s a blog to add to your reading list: Anthony Gary Lopedota

If you don’t know who Anthony Gary Lopedota is, check out Tim Miller’s history of Ashtanga in Encinitas:

Encinitas holds the distinction of being the American birthplace of Ashtanga Yoga. David Williams began teaching here in the early seventies and sponsored Pattabhi Jois and his son Manju to come here for the first time in 1975. Brad Ramsey and Gary Lopedota, two of David’s students, opened their own yoga shala, called the Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam, after David moved to Maui.

This is when I first entered the picture, in January of 1978. The Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam was right down the street from my house on La Veta Avenue in what was once St. Andrews Episcopal Church. There was no electricity, heat or plumbing. Evening classes were done by candlelight and bodily functions were performed outdoors in a portable toilet. Brad and Gary were very serious students and maintained an air of both austerity and authenticity.

[snip]

I took over the Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam in 1981 when Brad and Gary moved to Hawaii and it has survived several changes of location. The Ashtanga Yoga center is currently located in South Carlsbad on the border of Encinitas.

With that lead in, I can say that Lopedota is pretty active on Facebook, discussing a variety of physical and more esoteric issues, and has a website right here. Now, for good measure, he’s started a blog. First post is about the time after surgery:

I have been meaning to start a blog and am inspired to do so because a fellow yogi, Edward Modestini had surgery on his shoulder.
Like the title says, surgery is just the beginning of the healing process. After the major part of the healing from the surgery has occurred, it is ‘very’ important to have the associated muscles tested.

You’ll have to click the link to find out the tests one needs to go through after surgery is done.

We’ll keep an eye on his blog.

Posted by Steve

Jois to move into abandoned Friend-Anusara HQ in Encinitas?

We continue to hear about the possible changes coming to Jois Yoga. The below is based on reports from people in position to know, but there is nothing official out of Jois Yoga as of post time.

Maybe the most eye-catching report is that Jois, which now has the Encinitas shala in the city’s downtown section along Pacific Coast Highway and a separate office suite for the foundation, is going to combine both and move farther south in town, still along PCH, into the building that Anusara was going to move into before everything imploded with the John Friend scandal. (Photo and story on Anusara letting its lease lapse is here. The listing agent mentioned in that story does not seem to have the property up now.) That space at almost 8,300 square feet would allow for nonprofit offices and plenty of yoga space if it took over it all.

Via fitsugar.com

In fact, it would allow for more than plenty of yoga space. We can find lots of reference to yoga studio that are 700 to 1,000 square feet. So what might go into all that extra space?

That question leads to the second item we’ve heard many, many times: the word “spa.” We heard this with the very first rumblings that the Greenwich studio would close, and we keep hearing it. We hadn’t known what to make of it: Is it going to be a high-end day spa? But with the suggestion that Jois could fill out the derailed Anusara space, which was going to have video-production capabilities, etc., it would seem as though there would be room enough for such a venture.

And what might the venture be called? We’ve already seen that the foundation side of things has changed names, to Sonima. People are expecting that to cross over to the whole organization, so there wouldn’t be a Jois Yoga and Sonima Foundation in south Encinitas (near, by the way, the Self-Realization Fellowship’s seaside center), just Sonima.

All of the above seems credible, as we said. The full name change might be the most tenuous, but it would make sense. It also leads to some further thinking:

With the foundation’s name change, there has seemed to be (and this was true during the trial brought against Jois/Sonima granting money for yoga classes in the Encinitas school district) a move away from anchoring the foundation in Ashtanga. While we all probably agree the parents who brought the lawsuit had obvious motives, it was pretty easy to find “evidence” of Ashtanga’s similarities to what they perceived as religion. Those similarities, in general, are less for yoga as it is mostly practiced in the West (if not everywhere; this is probably a point of contention that could fill blogs and blogs and books and books.) In fact, the Encinitas superintendent referred to the yoga in his district’s schools as “EUSD Yoga.” And, as we wrote after seeing the demonstration of the yoga at this year’s Confluence, it didn’t seem overtly rooted in Ashtanga.

So all this may be signaling that the Sonima Foundation will be more broadly focused on yoga (and its concurrent mindfulness and meditation practices) and less about Ashtanga. Removing the Jois name entirely would help make that clear — from both the nonprofit and the yoga studio/day spa.

What might that mean for the studio side of things? In our conversations with people, that’s the biggest question mark. How would Ashtanga fit into a, if we can suggest this, Sonima Yoga and Day Spa? Would it be on the schedule in the mornings, but surrounded by flow and power yoga classes? Maybe. Would there even be that much yoga offered? Will there be any?

Only time will tell.

What it means for the Syndey studio is pretty unclear. We think this also very well could mean that the Syndey Jois studio might continue, perhaps under the name change, perhaps not.

Posted by Bobbie and Steve

Here’s 3 places where yoga and kids mix fine

Given the ongoing controversy — perhaps done, perhaps not — of the Encinitas schools yoga program, I thought a few counter balances might be worth while.

The first is from California’s Capitol, and its paper there, the Sacramento Bee. I mention the Capitol because the Bee gets plenty of attention of California’s elected leaders — and their staffs. So this might be one that the powers that be and the powers that wanna be would see:

Instructors teach kids breathing exercises that have a calming effect.

Masuhara is one of three instructors leading a yoga kids’ camp at the Yoga Seed studio this week.

The Yoga Seed is a nonprofit organization. Anyone can walk in without any funds and take a class.

For 16 years, Masuhara was a teacher in Orange County, and she began teaching kindergarten students in 1998.

In 2006 she attended a conference in the Bay Area, and a session on yoga for stressed-out teachers and kindergartners prompted her to try it out on her students.

They loved it immediately, Masuhara said.

To make it fun, she has her students pretend they’re trees blowing in the wind, or they squat like frogs or flap their arms like a butterfly.

That sounds familiar, right, criss-cross applesauce people?

The second is from about as far from Sacramento as one can get in the U.S.: Buffalo, N.Y.:

Yoga is for everybody.

Even kids.

That’s the message students from Power Yoga Buffalo and the University at Buffalo looked to underline this summer as they led children ages 3 to 14 through the paces twice a week during the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Resurrection summer camp program.

The Rev. Gary Steeves, pastor of the Genesee Street church, takes classes at Power Yoga and asked owner Susan Fain to set up the summer yoga program.

“It’s the first time these kids have done yoga and the first time a lot of them have ever heard the word,” said Alexis Asquith, who helped teach the Tuesday and Thursday classes for up to 40 students.

The program used Baptiste yoga, which Asquith said uses “power vinyasa flow.”

You got that, right? A pastor asked for the yoga program to be established.

And finally, No. 3:

Northern Lehigh Community Center is offering an Afterschool Yoga for kids as young as third grade starting in September.

Those classes are happening on a local public school.

See, not so hard.

Posted by Steve

Encinitas schools to expand yoga program with new grant

Encinitas Union School District leaders on Wednesday agreed to accept a $1.4-million grant from the Sonima Foundation — formerly the Jois Foundation — to expand its yoga program to all district schools.

We noted the possibility earlier. And for those just coming out of their sadhu cave, this is the yoga program that garnered all the headlines after parents sued to stop it based on religious concerns. A judge ruled that there was no violation of the First Amendment, although opponents have vowed to appeal.

For now, though, on with the show. From the U-T San Diego:

Baird said the new grant will increase the number of teachers from 10 to 18 and will pay to write part of the program’s curriculum dealing with positive character traits.

Two of the new positions will be for professional development, with one person training teachers in the physical activity and another training them in character development, a curriculum component already taught in other district classes, Baird said.

The original yoga classes were funded through a $533,000 grant from the Jois Foundation, named after Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who introduced to the United States a style of yoga known as Ashtanga.

Baird said the foundation, which earlier this year changed its name to the Sonima Foundation, already had increased its support to about $700,000 to help pay for additional expenses and another teacher.

The U-T’s coverage notes that the meeting was quiet, as opposed to all the noise around the trial, etc. That didn’t keep the opposition’s lawyer, Dean Broyles of the National Center for Law & Policy, from emailing comments. These are culled from the U-T (there doesn’t seem to be a mass statement):

“EUSD’s decision today is really quiet astounding for me as a constitutional attorney.

“ We are a nation of laws, not men. EUSD’s decision to double down on its flagrant religious freedom violations is an outrageous breach of public trust. Apparently the money served as much too powerful an intoxicant for the trustees to handle and far too easily purchased continuing egregious First Amendment violations.

“The Jois Foundation can change its name, but it can’t camouflage the fact that it is promoting religion in a public school district.”

The U-T story also picks up a thread from Broyles that we noted weeks ago: Opponents are now citing events at this year’s Ashtanga Yoga Confluence as evidence that the yoga being promoted is religious. That seemed a stretch to us, and definitely not a “smoking gun.”

Posted by Steve