On Monday, a California judge ruled that yoga poses like downward dog are not religious in nature and do not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits any law that would establish one religion over another.
Parents of two children sued the Encinitas Union School district in San Diego County, California, on the grounds that offering Ashtanga yoga classes in lieu of more traditional physical education like track and field or volleyball were meant to indoctrinate children into a religion. The parents’ attorney told NBC 7 San Diego that yoga practice is inherently religious, and its practice in a public school violated the separation of church and state.
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In his ruling, judge John S. Meyer acknowledged that yoga “at its roots is religious,” but the modern practice of yoga, despite its origins in Hindu philosophy, is well established in secular U.S. society and “is a distinctly American cultural phenomenon.” He also noted that the school district had developed its own version of yoga that was not religious but distinct and separate from Ashtanga yoga by altering the names of some of the poses and removing any chanting. “A reasonable student would not objectively perceive that Encinitas School District yoga does advance or promote religion,” he said.
The decision means that yoga can continued to be offered during gym class at all nine schools in the Encinitas school district that participate in the program, which launched last fall and is completely funded by a $500,000 grant from the K.P. Jois Foundation, according to NBC News.