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Mark Whitwell Responds to Alabama Overturning a 28-Year Ban on Yoga in Schools

“Yoga is not religion. It is a tool that has been used by many different religions to realize their beautiful ideals. The spiritual aspects of Yoga are not symbolic. They are inherent in the union of body and breath. Specific cultural forms like mantra or yantra are not automatically required.” – Mark Whitwell

New York, NY, April 08, 2021 –(– · Alabama overturns a law that banned Yoga from schools in the belief it clashed with Christian religion

· Students will be able to do yoga postures and exercises, yet chanting and Sanskrit will probably remain banned.

· Yoga is not a religion and does not belong to Hinduism – a common error

· Senior Yoga teacher & Founder of the Heart of Yoga Mark Whitwell describes how it the breath that is being left out, and this is the main concern.

On Thursday March 11, Georgia State lifted a decades-old ban against yoga in public schools. Yet aspects of the ancient practice such as chanting and use of Sanskrit words remain banned.

Hindu groups have spoken out against the practice of “pick and choose.” Nikunj Trivedi of the Coalition of Hindus of North America claims that “It’s a Hindu practice.”

Founder of The Heart of Yoga Mark Whitwell responds: “Yoga does not belong exclusively to Hindus, and even the moniker ‘Hindu’ encompasses many sects and groups.”

“In the ancient world, many groups made use of practices that are recognisably ‘Yoga’ such as postures, breathing exercises, meditation, visualization, and mantra, including Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians, Muslims, Shaivites, Shaktas, Vaishnavas, Bauls – the list goes on,” says Mark Whitwell, Yoga teacher for over 40 years and founder of international charity the Heart of Yoga.

Mark Whitwell notes that “the grandfather of modern yoga,” T. Krishnamacharya taught in the Mysore palace for many years, including group classes, and would always leave out the Vedic chanting when Muslim students were present.

“Krishnamacharya would say that the Teacher’s job was to adapt Yoga to the student, their body type, health, age – and culture – that was the traditional way, not trying to impose anything on them like a belief system, even though he was himself a devout Hindu Brahmin (Vaishnava).

“It’s about respecting each student and helping them to feel comfortable. If they are a devout Christian, Vedic chanting is probably not appropriate, and may even cause them to reject Yoga altogether, as has happened in Alabama.”

The Heart of Yoga clarifies that Yoga does not belong to Hinduism, whatever people may claim in the current climate of nationalism and seeking to “own” and solidify these vast sprawling traditions. There have always been Yogis of many religious orientations.

“Practitioners must be clear about what it is ok to leave in or out,” says founder Mark Whitwell. “The breath must be there, carefully taught. If the breath is not the central feature and the focus, then all that is left is gymnastics, and that is what is going on in 95% of classes in the US. It doesn’t matter how much chanting and Upanishads are tacked on to a class if the practice itself has been turned into externally-focused gymnastics.

“In the translation of Yoga to the West, there has inevitably been a distortion from an internal practice to an external, physically obsessed one. People may seek to remedy that by adding back in religious ritual or cultural aspects. But what is really missing are the precise principles of practice that make it actually Yoga, such as Krishnamacharya and other luminaries actually taught.”

“Yoga is not a workout, and adding Namaste to a workout will not make it Yoga,” says Mark Whitwell.

“Drawing a duality between body practices, saying ‘they are the physical’ and cultural practices, saying ‘they are the spiritual’ is nonsensical,” he adds. “Yoga is the process of realizing that embodiment itself is spiritual, everyone’s is. Whatever language is used around it does not matter. What matters is that the breath is there. The breath dissolves the artificial conceptual borders that are drawn between what is spiritual and what is not.

“The problem is, the chances are that the breath is not really there, and this is what those interested in sharing Yoga with the world can be concerned about, not just whether ‘Namaste’ is allowed or not.”

For more information please contact Mark Whitwell +6797889272

The Heart of Yoga is an international charity based out of New Zealand, working to make the principles of traditional Yoga available to all people. Mark Whitwell founded the charity in the 1990s to further the work of his teachers T. Krishnamacharya and TKV Desikachar.

Contact Information:
Heart Of Yoga
Mark Whitwell
Contact via Email
Mark Whitwell – Founder
Rosalind Atkinson – Creative Director

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