Sonima offers small yoga grant to school for homeless

While there is a lot of talk about what is happening with the Jois Yoga studios, the Sonima Foundation — the nonprofit wing of Jois, the re-named Jois Foundation — has provided another grant to a San Diego school for yoga classes.

According to the U-T San Diego, this time the grant is $62,000 and will cover the program and materials for more than 300 students at the Monarch School. From the story:

Monarch became aware of the grant through volunteers and community partners, Monarch Schools CEO Erin Spiewak said. Once Sonima board members learned about the school and its mission, they decided they wanted to build a relationship with the students and “positively affect the community by adding a yoga curriculum to their lives,” the foundation’s Lauren Spiegman said.

The Monarch school serves homeless children. The grant runs for one year.

Posted by Steve

Report: Jois Foundation now Sonima, looks to expand Encinitas yoga program

A couple pieces of news from Encinitas today.

The first is that the Jois Foundation has renamed itself the Sonima Foundation. From the U-T San Diego:

At the conclusion of the Superior Court trial, Jois Foundation CEO Gene Ruffin announced that his organization was changing its name to reflect a broader mission about health and fitness. Sonima combines the names of foundation founder Sonia Jones and Ruffin’s wife, Salima Ruffin.

The second is that on Wednesday morning — right about as we post — the Encinitas Union School District trustees are meeting to consider accepting a $1.4-million grant from the foundation to expand the yoga program, which was the subject of a lawsuit (as I assume you know). More from the U-T:

The new funding, if accepted, would go toward hiring additional yoga teachers — from the current 10 to 18, which would provide two teachers at each campus for grades K-6, he said.

“We’re hiring more teachers so we can ensure all students get access to the twice-a-week yoga program,” Baird said.


The original grant covered the program’s setup and the start of a three-year study about the benefits of yoga in school. Baird said that study aims to weigh the program’s effects on areas such as health, grades and school attendance. He’s eager to see the results but said it’s too early for a report.

Keep in mind, the folks who sued the district to stop the yoga program (and lost, of course) have vowed to appeal. I just checked at their website, which is usually pretty quick to post things they’ve released (we also are on the organization’s mailing list) and no word on when that might happen. Or if.

Posted by Steve

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

It’s nearly a wrap in the Encinitas yoga trial

Nine hours of arguments this week focused on this question: Is yoga religious?

And with that, the trial involving the Encinitas school district, the Jois Foundation and kids doing yoga in school is over, well except for the judge’s ruling.

The Coast News has a solid round up of things:

Attorney David Peck, representing 150 EUSD families, wrapped up the defense’s case Wednesday morning. He said that equating yoga with religion means other school programs could theoretically be sued.

“Think of the slippery slope implication we would be faced with if any type of physical exercise that someone perceives to be religious, or incorporates into their religion, is banned from the public schools on constitutional grounds.

“There are sects out there that consider running to be religious…and certainly nobody is suggesting that we ban running from the schools,” Peck said.


Broyles affirmed that because practicing yoga is inherently religious, the court should end EUSD yoga right away.

Jack Sleeth, another attorney representing EUSD, countered that the defense submitted testimony from a scholar as well as three written declarations from experts who argue yoga can be secular. Further, he said Brown’s testimony isn’t credible since she believes chiropractic care and acupuncture are religious.

He added that the minor connection between EUSD’s program and Hinduism doesn’t make yoga religious.

“The Easter egg hunt on the White House lawn is linked to Druidism, as practiced in England before the Roman conquest,” Sleeth said. “But it would be nonsense to say that the president can’t put out Easter eggs.”

Reading through this piece, I can see where the question of whether yoga is religious would end up with a “no.” However, it sounds like the opponents of this program routinely returned to the argument that Ashtanga is “the most religious of all yoga practices.” Here’s more:

He went on to argue that the Jois Foundation, a group that provided a $533,000 grant for the yoga program as well as cooking and other classes, bought its way into EUSD schools to spread religion.

He said the Jois Foundation has deep roots in Hinduism, tracing back to Patabhi Jois, an Indian yoga instructor who taught yoga periodically in Encinitas for 20 years beginning in 1975.

“He is very clear: The practice might appear physical, but this is very wrong, it produces a spiritual transformation,” Broyles said of Patabhi Jois.

And Broyles said it’s troubling that the grant proposal for the program specifies the Jois Foundation should train and approve the yoga teachers.

That — in my unexpert opinion — could lead to a narrow ruling that might make it more difficult for the Jois Foundation to go into other schools. My guess, if I have to guess, is that the judge will rule in favor of the school district and allow the program, but insist that the Hinduism be scrubbed out — which it sounds like it has been.

Here’s my favorite tidbit from the piece:

Broyles said that there’s plenty more proof of yoga’s religious nature. The sequence of poses in EUSD classes mirrors Ashtanga yoga, a particularly religious kind of yoga. And he said some children spontaneously chanted “om” during yoga classes, even though that wasn’t part of the planned lesson, and they weren’t instructed to do so.

“It shows they’re connecting it to something more than physical exercise,” Broyles said.

The judge plans to issue his ruling on Monday.

Posted by Steve

Encinitas yoga trial: ‘There’s a worldview being taught’

It turns out, Wednesday is not going to be the final day of the Encinitas yoga trial.

According to reports, the plaintiff’s attorney, Dena Broyles of the National Center for Law & Policy, spoke for five hours during his closing statements. Yes, five hours.

And so today the defense will get its chance, and a ruling by the judge should come Thursday.

Here’s a little from the local PBS station:

In his closing argument, Broyles said district efforts to remove possibly religious language from classes was confirmation that religion was there in the first place.

“The names of some of the poses were changed,” he said. “Big deal. They stopped using some of the Sanskrit terms. Big deal. They stopped posting the Ashtanga tree on the wall. While that was concerning, it doesn’t fundamentally change what they taught.”

During a break, Jack Sleeth, an attorney with Strutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz, who is representing the district, said his closing argument would focus on showing that the district’s health and wellness program has no religious component.

“The district didn’t strip out religion,” he said. “The district started without any religion. But when parents objected, the district attempted to accommodate the parents’ concerns and remove those things the parents thought might be religious.”

The biggest takeaway I have so far — and I really was waiting for everything to end before writing this — has been how poorly it seems both sides have presented their cases. Perhaps the school district will hit a home run today during closing arguments, but if this case continues to a higher court — and certainly the plaintiffs have suggested they would keep going if they lose — both sides are going to need to step up their games.

Of course, all this is based on the coverage I’ve read. So there’s that caveat.

However, the witnesses have not been very compelling or authoritative. Cathy Brown, the religion professor who testified against the yoga program, seemed so clearly a biased and not exactly on the topic expert. There’s this from the U-T San Diego:

During Broyles’ closing remarks, San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer peppered the attorney with questions about whether his statements were backed up by testimony or evidence in the case.“There’s not one witness (from the school district) who has said that,” the judge said, referring to Broyles’ comments about a worldview being taught.

“This is all Dr. Brown’s opinion,” the judge added, referring to the plaintiffs’ expert witness, Candy Gunther Brown, a professor in the religious studies department at Indiana University.

The initial yoga teachers called by the defense didn’t come across as especially compelling, and the teacher involved in the program certainly had a stake in its outcome. Perhaps the strongest witness was on Monday, for the defense. An elementary school principal reported only seeing “stretching and breathing” when she observed the class, according to various news reports. That’s the type of third-party perspective both sides needed — and may need again if this trial isn’t over when the SAn Diego judge rules.

Posted by Steve

Surprised? Huge growth in number of scientific studies of yoga

The number of scientific studies focused on yoga, you might not be surprised to learn, is exploding.

According to the site Active Life DC, the number has increased by a factor of 10. Just last year, 41 more papers got published than during the 1990s. Yes, the entire decade.

Active Life DC bases this on a search of the site Pubmed, a free database of scientific abstracts managed by the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. It houses 22 million citations from a variety of sources.

Our previous posts on science and yoga can be found here. Studying the effects of the Jois Foundation-backed yoga classes for kids in Encinitas is part of that effort, as well.

OK. Sort of a short post. So, let’s leave you with a link to a story about a University of California philosophy professor who has received a $5-million grant to study … immortality.

And with this:

Posted by Steve

How the Encinitas yoga controversy is on the cultural war’s cutting edge

In my search for remarks from either the Jois Yoga Foundation or the Encinitas Union School District, I tripped upon something even better regarding the controversy surrounding yoga in schools.

This whole debate might be right on the cutting edge of America’s long-simmering culture war.

That’s the premise of scholar (to bring some counter weight to the lawsuit’s professor) Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, who teaches at The New School.

In a piece back when this controversy was still new (i.e. in December), she suggested that wellness programs, such as what Encinitas has implemented with the Jois Foundation, could be the next front on the education culture war. From her piece:

But the Encinitas yoga battle is more than just a new skirmish in an old fight waged by familiar combatants; it represents what will likely be a new theater of war in the educational culture wars in the 21st century.


Moreover, historians remind us that yoga’s well-scrubbed image today – think wholesome spectacles such as children doing yoga on the White House Lawn to celebrate Easter – elides the practice’s overtly spiritual and erotic origins. On the other end of the political spectrum, the field of Fat Studies argues the whole “obesity crisis” that provides the rationale for many wellness programs – including that in Encinitas – is fundamentally flawed, based more on our cultural aversion to fat bodies than on any objective health criteria.


If the wellness movement suggests a newly fraught educational politics, so too does this funding situation. Nationwide, budget constraints are making public districts increasingly dependent on private initiative, especially for offerings such as wellness, which despite their popularity are usually deemed as “enrichment” rather than as a core academic need. As outside groups step in to fill curricular gaps and districts have fewer resources to shape these interventions, wellness programs are likely the next theater of battle in our ongoing but evolving educational culture wars… in which the earnest claim of the Encinitas superintendent that “it is just physical activity” sounds ever more naïve.

My day job involves dealing with public funding streams, so I can attest that there is a growing desire among public officials, both elected and those who might be called “community leaders” (such as principals or superintendents), to find alternative funding streams — or at least supplemental money. Grants such as the Jois Foundation’s $533,000 probably sound good to you. They sound even better to cash-strapped public agencies. And so, as Petrzela’s article suggests, it only seems logical that there will be more programs like the Encinitas yoga one that somehow ruffles someone’s feathers.

Posted by Steve