‘Yoga-based exercise’ comes to schools in South Carolina; ‘I’m very excited’

Representatives from the Sonima Foundation, including Eddie Stern, have been busy recently in South Carolina, prepping teachers there to provide yoga — or “yoga-based exercise,” as one news report puts it — to their students.

Here’s a video report, with Eddie interviewed about 35 second in:

There’s more info here, and you might get a kick out of how the guy introduces the segment in the video embedded there. (Spoiler: It involves how he says the word “yoga.)

Hundreds of students in Beaufort County will be doing yoga this year as a part of their physical education classes.

The new program is being introduced to teachers at the district’s yearly summer institute.

WTOC spoke with some educators to find out why they think the exercise will help students to better perform in the classroom.


“We have this program that we’re teaching; it consists of what we call best practices in health and wellness. We have an exercise component, which includes some stretches from yoga, some stretches from cardio, and some stretches from things you might find in physical therapy,” said Eddie Stern, Director of Curriculum.

One instructor says yoga influences positive change in classrooms.

“When included inside the school day at least two times a week, it has been reducing students’ stress levels, improving attendance in some circumstances, and readily reducing disciplinary actions suspension rates have been falling in the districts we’ve been teaching,” said Stern.

School starts for the kids on Aug. 17.

Posted by Steve

Opponents issue terse statement on yoga trial ruling

Take this for what it is worth: At every other stage of the trial over the Encinitas public schools yoga program, the opponents’ law firm has issued a fairly lengthy press release.

Not this time.

You can find it here. But it basically amounts to this statement:

“No other court in the past 50 years has allowed public school officials to lead children in formal religious rituals like the Hindu liturgy of praying to, bowing to, and worshipping the sun god. We are disappointed with the decision and are carefully considering our options.”

It’s to be attributed to Dean Broyles, President and Chief Counsel of the National Center for Law & Policy, attorney for petitioners and appellants, the Sedlock family.

As I’d noted earlier, somehow it seems this ended up hinging on Surya Namaskara and whether that means one is worshipping the sun.

And for what it’s worth, the Universal Society of Hinduism has suggested every school in California add yoga, which it refers to as a “living fossil.”

Posted by Steve

Breaking news: Yoga can continue in Encinitas schools

It’s over. For now.

California’s 4th District Court of Appeal on Friday upheld the trial court’s ruling that rejected the anti-yoga lawsuit by parents who wanted to keep Encinitas schools from teaching yoga. It concluded the program doesn’t violate freedom of religion laws.

The full court ruling is here.

A quick rundown:

Attorney Dean Broyles, who represented the parents in the lawsuit, said he and his clients “are disappointed with the decision and we are carefully considering our options.”

“No other court in the past 50 years has allowed public schools to lead children in formal religious rituals like the Hindu liturgy of praying to, bowing to, and worshipping the sun god,” Broyles said in an email to U-T San Diego.


Paul Carelli, an attorney with Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz who represented the district pro bono in the case, said Friday he was pleased with the appeals court decision.

“We believe the school district was doing the right thing,” Carelli said. “The program is really very good for kids.”

Parents who do not want their children in the school district’s yoga program have the option of keeping them out, Carelli said.

The appeals court ruling “cements the constitutionality of the program,” Carelli said, so the district now could remove that option and make the class a requirement. However that’s unlikely, he said.

“Kids in the program love the program,” he said.

And here’s from the website of the program’s supporters. You can take this, I think, as a statement on their part:

While the yoga opponents will have an opportunity to petition the California Supreme Court for a review of today’s decision, two strong rulings in our favor make further judicial review unlikely.

We hope you and your families are enjoying spring break – your students’ yoga program will be waiting when they return to school.

Thank you, as always, for your warm wishes and continual support.  Coast Law Group has been honored to represent you in this fight.

Is it fair to say it was a good Friday? Do note the possibility of this going to yet a higher court. So stay tuned.

Posted by Steve

Supporters of yoga in Encinitas schools ‘surgically dismantle’ anti-yoga side

I missed this a bit, but last month, the supporters of the Encinitas yoga program uploaded their brief in the ongoing lawsuit. “Our arguments surgically dismantle plaintiffs’ theories and we look forward to having our victory affirmed,” they say. (The post is signed by the supporters’ pro bono lawyer, Dave Peck.)

Link to the brief is right here. Frankly, it hard to pick a particular excerpt. Here’s one:

As to Dr. Brown, the Sedlocks’ expert, as the trial court observed, her testimony rfi/as “the Petitioner’s whole case.” (CT
1100.) While the trial court found Dr. Brown’s testimony regarding yoga’s historically religious roots helpful, it also found Dr. Brown’s testimony that yoga exercises are inextricably religious and necessarily inculcate religion to be subjective and not credible. (CT 1099.) Where Dr. Brown saw religious rituals performed in the videos of actual students doing EUSD yoga, the trial court saw children engaged in physical education. (Ibíd.)

“Dr. Brown,” as the trial court determined, “sees religion everywhere in this.” (CT 1101.) The trial court found Dr. Brown’s testimony on this point to be extremely biased and motivated by her desire “to fuIfiII her personal goal of eliminating yoga from any school – any school, period.”

And here’s its conclusion:

Despite their reliance on Sands u. Morongo to show that EUSD must independently satisfy the California Constitution, the Sedlocks’ arguments under the California Constitution offer nothing new and rely on federal case law. As the trial court found, in contrast to Sands u. Morongo, EIJSD yoga is not prayer or ritual and is entirely devoid of any religious elements. It was not developed for any religious purposes; it does not endorse, promote, or aid any religion in any way; nor is it excessively entangled in any religion. EUSD yoga, therefore, satisfies all three prongs of the Lemon test, and there is simply no precedent for finding that a program that satisfies the federal Establishment Clause violates the California Constitution.

There you have it.

Posted by Steve

Sonima Foundation reportedly to announce expansion of school yoga program

If you are on the Jois Yoga email list, you know that on Wednesday night, the Sonima Foundation — the charitable arm of Jois Yoga — is having an open house at the Encinitas studio.

It looked pretty straight-forward: a kids yoga demo, Q&A with Sonima’s president, Eugene Ruffin, etc. But apparently there’s a little more:

Officials from the Sonima Foundation – formerly the Jois Foundation – are scheduled to speak about how yoga, already part of the health and wellness programs in Encinitas elementary schools, will be expanded to other districts.

The foundation gave more than $500,000 to the Encinitas Union School District to create a yoga program in 2012. Last summer, the foundation gave the district another $1.4 million grant to expand the program.

Sonima already has moved beyond the Encinitas district, and it has programs back in New York and has folks touring the country, per its Tumblr. The question will be: How big is this expansion (both in terms of size/number of students and money) and where — multiple states, many districts?

Posted by Steve

‘Young students file out saying the traditional yoga goodbye of “Namaste”‘

As we all know, the key points of contention in the lawsuit involving the Encinitas school district and the Jois Foundation are whether yoga is inherently “religious” and, if so, should be taught in schools — in a state-sanctioned arena, so to speak.

In their public statements, leaders from the Jois Foundation and teachers involved in the yoga classes have said, repeatedly, that they have taken all the Sanskrit and Hinduism out of what they teach. In many ways it is a stretching class with an emphasis on mental focus and breathing.

Yoga without the religion, so to speak.

Of course, the opponents aren’t buying that. You can see their arguments here.

Having seen an example of the Jois class, I can say it sure looked like stretching with some breathing involved. No chanting. No bows to the guru. As such, it is hard to see the problem, unless you are convinced that you can’t take the Hinudism out of yoga and distill it into the “science” of yoga.

Now, in the case of a different set of yoga classes for kids in Greenwich, Ct. … well…

It’s a yoga class for kids — or more specifically a YogiSays class — and these youngsters, ages 5 to 12, are getting to know yoga, courtesy of the Greenwich Department of Social Services and YogiSays instructor Miss Brooke.


“It’s great for kids in need and in crisis. They learn soothing techniques through postures and breath work,” she says. “They live in a very fast environment. Here, they’re learning to be still. This is the whole point why yoga was `invented.’ They can control their rhythm and breath and heart rate. It all comes together. It’s a union of mind and body.”

All on point so far? Nothing much different from the Jois classes? Let’s keep going…

As she goes around to each child, she places her hands on their ears, shoulders and forehead where she positions a “bindi,” a small decoration between their brows, that serves as a “third eye,” a place they connect to to relax.

She ends the class with, “Miss Brooke will see you soon.”

The young students file out saying the traditional yoga goodbye of “Namaste.”

“It means a bow to your true self,” she tells them as she shows them how to press their hands together, fingers pointed upwards, in front of their chests.

I can only imagine the reaction that would have received in Encinitas.

My concern with the Jois lawsuit is, of course, that it is intended to set a precedent that would force the separation of yoga from public settings, the effective elimination of yoga. And if the very non-Sanskrit/non-Hindu classes going on in Encinitas end up being tossed out, it is difficult to see how ones that appear to cut closer to a Hindu foundation wouldn’t be the next (and easy?) targets.

Oh, and if you’re wondering… yes, this is the Greenwich where Jois Yoga has another of its studios. So is it a big stretch to think that geography alone could put this program on a radar? I don’t know. It just seems like maybe an unfortunate coincidence. (The program described also runs in school systems in Greenwich, Darien and Westchester, according to the story.)

Posted by Steve