Friday, May 24, 2019

Candy Gunther Brown's "Debating Yoga and Mindfulness in Public Schools"

Candy Gunther Brown is Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University and author or editor of six books, including Testing Prayer: Science and Healing and The Healing Gods: Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Christian America.

Brown applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Debating Yoga and Mindfulness in Public Schools: Reforming Secular Education or Reestablishing Religion?, and reported the following:
Page 99 lands half-way into chapter five of fourteen, one-third of the way into the text’s 305 pages. It is a close reading of the May 2013 yoga curriculum from the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD).

I testified in a lawsuit against EUSD, Sedlock v. Baird, that its yoga program meets legal criteria of religion. Funded by $533,720 ($4 million over five years) from the Jois Foundation in 2012, EUSD taught Ashtanga yoga, developed by Indian Hindu Shri Krishna Pattabhi Jois (1915–2009) for the purpose of becoming “one with God.” Ashtanga always opens with Sūrya Namaskāra (Sun Salutations), a physical act of “prayer to the sun god.” According to Jois, “the postures of yoga have each a presiding deity, and there are 72,000 such deities in total. Before paying homage to the deities individually, a student of yoga must first begin with salutations to Surya who, according to belief, contains the rest of the pantheon.” Ashtanga always ends with Padmāsana (Lotus) and Savāsana (“taking rest” in Corpse) to facilitate “dhyana [meditation] ... puja [worship],” and “Samadhi, or enlightenment.” Teaching Ashtanga is “99 percent practice and 1 percent philosophy,” because “for anyone who practices yoga correctly, the love of God will develop ... whether they want it or not.”

EUSD piloted Ashtanga in 2011–12, published curriculum in November 2012, and produced revised curriculum on the eve of trial in May 2013. As parents complained that Ashtanga is religious, EUSD stripped religious language.

From page 99:
The May curriculum added secular-sounding language, without fully replacing the previous version’s allusions to Ashtanga. It references “Social and Emotional Learning Standards” and introduces “Character Connections” with famous quotations, for instance encouraging “perseverance” by citing Babe Ruth: “Every strike brings me closer to my next home run.” . . . Lessons still always open with Sun Salutations and close with Lotus and Rest. For example, Session 3, “Learning to Flow,” for grades 4–6 teaches “Opening Sequences A & B” and a “Closing Sequence” of “Sleeping Lotus,” “Sunbathing Lotus,” “Lotus,” “Floating Lotus,” and “Rest.” Photographs taken as late as 2015 capture posters of Sun Salutations and Lotus (fig. 5.2).

At trial, the District claimed that EUSD taught poses “without religious context.”115 This confuses religious context with religious terminology. In Ashtanga, religious context is provided by opening and closing with embodied prayers. At the time of trial, EUSD yoga still always opened and closed the same way as traditional Ashtanga yoga. To this structuring framework, teachers gleaned from other traditions poses deemed more developmentally appropriate for children. In Ashtanga, “one always begins practice with Surya Namaskar, concludes with Padmasana and rest, and the various asanas gradually fill the space between these two poles.” This structure describes “EUSD yoga” up through at least 2016.

EUSD supplemented its presentation of the May 2013 curriculum with videos of EUSD yoga filmed March 2013.... The videos open with a caption introducing spokesperson for EUSD yoga “Eddie Stern, Health and Wellness Project Manager—New York,” wearing a sweater and button-down shirt. Stern explains that “the position that we hold our body in affects our mind.” Speaking as someone intimately involved in developing EUSD yoga, Stern continues, “We have taken this idea and we have modeled our health and wellness program on this.” Stern appears in several other video segments, which provide no additional information about him. The videos do not inform the viewer that Stern was certified by Pattabhi Jois to teach Ashtanga...
Page 100 elaborates that Stern translated and published Jois’s books, directed Ashtanga Yoga New York and the Broome Street Ganesha Temple (inside his yoga shala), and was on Jois Foundation’s payroll as head of curriculum development. In October 2013, Stern appeared in a YouTube video dressed in Indian robes, performing a pūjā, saying he enjoys “worshipping Ganesh and all the gods.”

The judge concluded that “yoga is religious,” but permitted “EUSD yoga,” reasoning that EUSD subtracted enough religious language that children would not perceive yoga practices as promoting religion.

The book uses analysis of Sedlock and three other legal challenges in which I served as an expert to develop a theory of how religious practices can affect beliefs. I contend that public-school yoga and mindfulness may facilitate the reestablishment of religion in America. I advance legal and ethical arguments for transparency, voluntarism, respect for cultural and religious diversity, and an “opt-in” model of informed consent.
Learn more about Debating Yoga and Mindfulness at the University of North Carolina Press website. Follow Candy Gunther Brown on Facebook and Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: The Healing Gods.

--Marshal Zeringue