U-T San Diego
May 22, 2013
by Gary Warth

A trial addressing the legality of a yoga program in Encinitas elementary schools concluded its third day Wednesday without a resolution, and will now go on hiatus until at least late June.

The case was originally expected to last two days. When the trial resumes in San Diego Superior Court, it might continue for two or more days because attorneys on both sides intend to call additional witnesses before making their closing arguments.

Parents of two students are suing the Encinitas Union School District to stop its yoga program, which they believe is illegal because of what they see as a religious connection. The witnesses so far included religious scholar Candy Brown, a professor at Indiana University who described the style of yoga practiced in the district as filled with religious elements.

District Superintendent Tim Baird, who attended the trial, said about 30 families had raised concerns about the program and roughly 40 children have opted out of it.

The district introduced the program in 2011 and is paying for it through a grant from the KP Jois Foundation, which also is funding a study to determine the effects of yoga on schoolchildren.

On Wednesday, Judge John Meyer and others in the courtroom got a first-hand look at the type of yoga being practiced in the district when instructor Jennifer Brown, who has no relation to Candy Brown, demonstrated several poses.

In earlier testimony this week, Candy Brown said yoga poses can be religious and can serve as an introduction to Hinduism. She also said Jennifer Brown had taught from a book about Hindu gods and does not stop children who chant in her Capri Elementary School classes while doing yoga.

Jennifer Brown said the book in question deals with the origins of yoga poses and was not read in full to the class. She also said she skipped over the word “God” whenever it appeared in the book.

Responding to other questions from attorney Dean Broyles, who is representing the plaintiffs, Jennifer Brown said she has heard some students chant in class but that they didn’t learn it from her. She doesn’t stop them, she said, because sometimes it’s best to ignore children who are acting up.

In an exchange related to earlier testimony about what was happening in her classroom, Jennifer Brown acknowledged that she has taught character lessons called yama and niyama. But she also testified that those lessons are about traits such as cleanliness and kindness, which are already taught in the district.

Responding to questions from Broyles about a poster that was briefly in her classroom and depicted Sanskrit terms related to yoga poses, Jennifer Brown said she did not see any religious references in it.

She responded similarly to several questions from Broyles about religious terms.

“Have you ever attained Samadhi?” he asked, referring to a high spiritual state in Hinduism.

“Since I don’t know what that is, I would say no,” she said.

Attorneys for the school district called witness Andrea Silver from Winnipeg, Canada, to testify about teaching yoga. While Candy Brown had said people who practice yoga have been known to become more open to other religions, Brown described a Catholic priest in Canada who leads yoga classes and has given Communion after class.

Candy Brown also had testified that the district is “camouflaging” yoga in the classroom by changing the names of poses and said some yoga instructors acknowledge that they talk about the health benefits of yoga to new students and only reveal its spiritual aspects to advanced students.

Those accusations led to some quips from attorney David Peck, who is representing some families in the district that have formed the group Yoga for Encinitas Students.

Peck asked Silver if she had heard of a “secret agenda” by yoga instructors to spread Hinduism and whether she has ever worshiped the sun, an elephant or a monkey, all names associated with yoga poses. Peck later asked Jennifer Brown if she was part of an agenda to indoctrinate children in Hinduism or Buddhism.

Both women said no in response.