Encinitas yoga trial: ‘The purpose is to become one with Brahma’

Day two of the Encinitas yoga trial featured testimony from the opponents’ main expert witness: religious studies professor Candy Brown.

Here’s the heart of things via the U-T San Diego’s coverage:

“The purpose of Ashtanga yoga is to become one with Brahma,” she said, referring to a Hindu deity.

Brown also said there is no distinction between the physical and spiritual aspects of yoga. Children in the district’s program do not chant or use terms associated with Hinduism, but Brown said that does not make the yoga secular.

“Jois is very, very clear that the practice may appear physical, but that is very, very wrong,” she said. “It produces spiritual transformation.”

Citing written statements from teachers in the district, Brown said there is evidence that some children have chanted while performing poses. Judge John Meyer suggested that those students may have learned the chants outside of school, but Brown said it still demonstrates that they have an understanding of yoga’s spiritual ties.

Brown also said there is anecdotal evidence that even conservative Christians who begin practicing yoga and have no interest in other faiths gradually begin to accept that all religions are equal.

If I’m not mistaken, that anecdotal evidence comes from Brown’s own research. (Should we add: Oh, the horror! All religions are equal! And should we add: How to you control for other things that might be the catalyst for the change in opinion, such as being exposed to a more diverse group of people?)

As I’ve suspected, the more explicitly “religious” nature of Ashtanga (the Jois version, not Patanjali) as compared to exercise programs that seem just to market themselves off of the word “yoga” is coming to the front during this trial. I’m not sure this lawsuit would have happened if it had involved a Iyengar foundation or, certainly, Power Yoga to the People or something along those lines. Brown’s pretrial statements for the court focused on quotes from Pattabhi Jois and others about “seeing God in all things” and similar.

Does Bikram ever talk about stuff like that?

You’ll note, for instance, that her quote in the text above focuses on the purpose of “Ashtanga yoga.” The potential upside to this is that this trial might not end up setting precedent about yoga, more generally, being practiced in schools. I’m not judicial expert, but my sense is it will come down to whether the opponents can convincingly argue that Ashtanga yoga is inherently religious and that the program in the Encinitas schools is, also, inherently based on Ashtanga yoga.

If I had to guess, I’d say the former of those points will be easier to prove, judging by the material I’ve seen. To extend that to all yoga seems a tougher case. It then will be up to the judge to decide whether the program being taught in the schools is more Ashtanga or more “yoga.”

Again, what we saw at the Confluence seemed more exercise-based.

Update: Final version of the U-T story (also in comments below) is here.

Posted by Steve