A San Diego judge ruled Monday that yoga poses like downward dog are not religious, allowing a yoga physical education program to continue in a Southern California school district.
The Encinitas Union School district in San Diego County established its yoga program with a $500,000 grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation. The aim was to offer yoga classes to elementary school children about breathing and stretching, with the hope that it would help students focus on studies, keep them calm and potentially curb bullying.
But parents of two children sued the district because they claimed the Ashtanga yoga classes in the place of traditional physical education would indoctrinate the children. The couple’s lawyer, Attorney Dean Broyles, said that yoga is inherently religious and is a violation of the separation of church and state.
Judge John S. Meyer heard testimony in May regarding the yoga curriculum established within the district, where students practice yoga during gym class.
Encinitas Union School District Superintendent Timothy Baird testified May 20 that he met with yoga instructors and changed some pose names, like "criss-cross applesauce," prior to the program starting.
"Initially, we made a conscious decision to remove some cultural context," Baird said. The program was aimed at promoting youth achievement with health and wellness.
"The plantiffs don’t want religion in schools and neither do we," said Russell Case, who helped recruit yoga instructors for the program and works for the foundation, which, as a 501(c)3 non-profit company, cannot promote any religious affiliation.
On Monday afternoon, Judge John S. Meyer ruled in favor of the school district, that physical yoga poses are not inherently religious, and the curriculum does not include any background spiritual instruction.
Case said the foundation plans to start similar programs in other communities, based on the program's success in Encinitas.