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Court Rules Yoga Program 'Not Religious'

By guest blogger Gina Cairney

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Remember that story about how some parents in Encinitas, Calif., were up in arms about all the sun salutations and deep-breathing exercises being taught in their children's elementary schools?

Well, John Meyer, a San Diego Superior Court judge, ruled on Monday that yoga in public schools is not religious instruction and doesn't violate state law.

While yoga in itself has roots in Hinduism, Meyer ruled that because the school district stripped the program of all cultural references, including the Sanskrit language, yoga in this case was merely a health and exercise curriculum, the Associated Press reports, much like how dodgeball is an exercise program.

The school district even renamed the lotus position to the "criss-cross applesauce" pose, according to the AP.

(What in the world does criss-cross applesauce even mean?!)

Tim Baird, the district superintendent told the Los Angeles Times that the yoga program is "worthwhile in teaching healthy exercise and eating habits," and he hopes the program will decrease instances of fighting and bullying among the students.

Dean Broyles, the lawyer who filed the suit in February on behalf of a couple who has two children in the district, told the Lost Angeles Times, that the yoga program represented a "serious breach of the public trust."

He insisted during the trial that yoga poses were religious and spiritual in nature and told the Times that the case was about "whether public schools may entangle themselves with religious organizations ... and use the state's coercive powers to promote a particular religious orthodoxy ... to young and impressionable schoolchildren."

Although the Jois Foundation's involvement raises questions, the judge rejected the parents' argument that the program was about indoctrinating students in Eastern religions, according to the AP.

The Jois Foundation is a nonprofit group in Encinitas that promotes Ashtanga yoga and provided the district with a $533,000 grant to fund the yoga curriculum.

"It's almost like a trial by Wikipedia," said Meyers, who took nearly two hours, according to the AP, to explain a decision that explored yoga's roots and philosophy.

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Photo: In this 2012 photo, Yoga instructor Kristen McCloskey, right, leads a class of 3rd graders at Olivenhain Pioneer Elementary School in Encinitas, Calif. —Gregory Bull/AP-File

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