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Alabama lawmakers deadlock on effort to lift ban on yoga in public schools

A bill in Alabama that would lift a ban on yoga in public schools has stalled in the state's Senate. During a hearing by the state's Senate Judiciary Committee, two conservative groups objected the bill, citing concerns about yoga's ties to Hinduism, according to the Associated Press.

Yoga has been banned in Alabama public schools since 1993, when the Alabama Board of Education voted to prohibit hypnosis, meditation and yoga in public schools after conservative groups pushed the ban, according to the Associated Press.

Democratic state Representative Jeremy Gray introduced HB246 in February to in hopes of lifting the yoga ban. Gray, a former cornerback at North Carolina State University, was introduced to yoga through football and said the exercises can provide mental and physical benefits to students, according to the AP.

If the new bill was passed, yoga instruction would be an elective activity in public schools and students can opt out in favor of other activities. While yoga would be permitted, schools will still have to follow some rules: "all poses shall be limited exclusively to sitting, standing, reclining, twisting, and balancing" and "all poses, exercises, and stretching techniques shall have exclusively English descriptive names," the bill states.

"Chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas, and namaste greetings shall be expressly prohibited," according to the legislation. 

Gray told CBS News the bill came to a 4-4 split vote, but Senator Tom Whatley, chairman of the committee, decided to carry the bill over so it wouldn't die in committee. "I want to thank Senator Tom Whatley for saving the bill," Gray said in an email to CBS News. "As far as the hearing, the talking point around Hinduism is the same talking point used in 2019 when I first introduced the bill."

"I can give you a ton of reasons why yoga is beneficial and those reasons are backed by studies and data," he continued. "There is no study to my knowledge that says doing yoga exercise converts people to Hinduism."

Gray said he understands yoga originated in India and he doesn't "want to take any from their culture" but the bill is "about children in K-12 public school having the ability to breathe, meditate, practice mindfulness and learn exercises that will help them both physically and mentally."

He said if the bill is not passed, it would do a disservice to the children who really need it. "This bill is not making anyone do yoga, it's just making it an option which will be left up to the local boards of education," he said. 

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