Some Yoga, or No Yoga – Why Alabama Legislator Jeremy Gray Fought for Some Yoga

This March 9, Jeremy Gray, a Democrat from Opelika, a member of the Alabama House of Representatives, representing District 83, posted on Twitter: May the light in me see the light in you #Namaste.

Is Jeremy Gray disingenuous? Actually No. What people know is that it is Gray who introduced a bill which bans saying Namaste in students' yoga practice, but not why. It is to his credit, that Alabama is poised to reverse a 27 year old ban on yoga in its public schools. The Alabama House of Representatives recently approved a bill from him allowing kids to stretch, move and be with Yoga.

Gray has been criticised for the provisions banning the use of ‘namaste,’ and he took to Twitter to explain. “Asking me why the #Namaste is being taken out is like asking me why yoga was banned in the first place when it’s allowed in 49 other states in K-12 public schools. The super-majority rules and I’m in the super-minority. Some yoga or no yoga?! That is the question.”

Speaking to CSP today, Jeremy Gray pointed out the many positives that Yoga has to offer: "There are both mental and physical benefits of yoga. Yoga helps children cope with stressors that may cause childhood trauma.  It also promotes concentration, mental stimulation, and mental clarity which gives children the capacity needed to make sound decisions and invoke purpose. Additionally, yoga promotes controlled breathing and body control which improves posture, flexibility, balance, and core strength. The combination of a healthy mind and healthy body equips children with the self-care tools needed to navigate life’s journey."

Yoga has been banned in the state of Alabama in the United States since 1993, but on March 4, 2020, Gray asked lawmakers to legalize yoga in the state (his attempts were unsuccessful in 2019) facing opposition from committee members who were not willing to embrace a “practice inseparable from Hinduism”.

Gray has been campaigning hard for Yoga, fighting against the 1993 legislation moved by the Alabama State Board of Education banning Yoga, along with hypnosis and meditation.

Gray has successfully persuaded the Alabama House of Representatives who voted 84 t0 17, overruling dissent, to allow local school boards to offer yoga as an elective. The Bill has gone to the Senate for approval.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dqtc46o5UO0&feature=youtu.be

Video of Rep Jeremy Gray's presentation of the Yoga Bill

Gray, serving his first term in the House, introduced the Yoga Bill last year and it was nominated (and won a runner up mention) for Alabama’s Shroud Award given at the end of the legislative session. To the response to the bill he has said, “It went from getting nominated for the Shroud Award to making it on the floor for debate,” he said. “That’s progress in itself. Last year, when I got nominated for the Shroud award, they laughed the bill down.”

A footballer, Gray, who played cornerback for the North Carolina State Wolfpack and later for the Canadian Football League, has taught yoga and says he has felt physical and mental benefits from the practice.

So what is this bill which will allow K-12 public schools in Alabama to offer yoga as an elective course after a ban of 27 years?

The synopsis of the bill says: “Under existing law, instruction in yoga is specifically prohibited in Alabama public schools. This bill would authorize local boards of education to offer yoga to students in grades K to 12.”

The bill reads:

Relating to public education; to authorize local boards of education to offer yoga to students in grades K to 12.

Each local board of education may offer instruction in yoga to students in grades K to 12, subject to the following:
(1) Instruction in yoga shall be an elective activity. Students shall have the option to opt out in favour of alternative activities, which shall be made available.
(2) Each local board of education shall have exclusive discretion to determine the duration and frequency of periods of instruction in yoga.
(3) All instruction in yoga shall be limited exclusively to poses, exercises, and stretching techniques.
(4) All poses shall be limited exclusively to sitting, standing, reclining, twisting, and balancing.
(5) All poses, exercises, and stretching techniques shall have exclusively English descriptive names.
(6) Chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas, and namaste greetings shall be expressly prohibited.

While drafting the bill Gray was forced to “make it where it’s more about stretching, breathing, and meditation as opposed to embodying the whole concept of yoga” in order to get it passed.

For Gray, Yoga is a great way to help children deal with day to day  issues. On February 6, he posted on Twitter, that it was a “great honour and privilege to talk to the at-risk teenagers at ‘Second Chance’ about the importance of implementing yoga, mindfulness and meditation and control breathing into their daily routine.”

Elsewhere, including in his presentation for the bill, he has been highlighting the benefits of yoga. “It helps with stress, anxiety, depression, things of that nature.”

Committee member, Rep. Barbara Drummond, agreed with Gray, saying that she took up yoga after Gray introduced his bill to the statehouse last year. She says in the above video that she prefers Hata Yoga and that “Mentally, Yoga really helps you”.

What it is it that motivated Jeremy Gray to speak up for Yoga. Below is an article by him to a local newspaper:

 

By Jeremy Gray | Alabama legislator

Imagine the challenges of a young African American male living in poverty. His environment only manifests hurt, pain, and struggle.
The probability of overcoming the roadblocks and obstacles his community presents are slim to none. He has three strikes before he ever reaches puberty – raised by a single mother with no father in the home; the media’s distorted and negative portrayal of black boys; and lack of resources and opportunity needed to excel in life.
That’s not all!

He still has to deal with the daily encounters of guns, drugs, violence, bullying, abuse, peer pressure, and the notion that he has to be tough and non- emotional. Without proper treatment and guidance poverty will take a toll on this young black male’s mental health and he will definitely fall victim to the system.

Not every black boy in poverty will have this exact experience. There are from poverty-to-prosperity stories, but it doesn’t negate the problem with mental health in the black community. Moreover, poverty can have adverse effects on the mental health of all children regardless of ethnicity and geographic location. Success is not synonymous with healthy mental health, but success can unlock doors to resources to improve mental health.

My childhood included many obstacles which stemmed from living in an impoverished environment. I channelled all of my energy into sports like many other black boys, and playing sports was an incentive for me to go to school and perform at a high level.

However, sports didn’t eliminate my encounters with the toxicities in the community. Sports allowed me to temporarily escape my environment while I was at practice or playing in a game. Sports also allowed me to go to college for free. Nevertheless, my childhood trauma was present and the expectation to succeed was greater because everyone depended on me to “make it big.”

Expected success caused stress and anxiety, but perceived failure caused depression. I was the person in crisis, and yoga helped me cope with stress, anxiety, depression, and behavioural issues through mindfulness and breathing techniques. Integrating yoga exercise into the Alabama public school system is essential to the improving the well-being of Alabama’s youth especially for those who lack the resources to seek help.

Imagine athletes improving strength, balance, flexibility, and mental capacity on and off the field through yoga exercise. Imagine helping children cope with environmental and personal trauma through breathing techniques. Imagine decreasing out of school suspensions caused by disruptive behaviour and an increasing academic performance. Imagine fostering cooperation instead of opposition. Yoga in Alabama’s public schools is the bridge between imagination and realization.

Yoga, mindfulness, and meditation will not feed you when you are hungry or uproot you out of a bad situation. But, I know all about what yoga will do... yoga helped me redirect my energy and cope after my football dreams came up short. Yoga gave me a breath of fresh air!