No, yoga is not by definition a religious activity. At least that’s the verdict from a California court which cleared the way for a San Diego-area school to continue offering the popular health-focused pastime.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, San Diego Superior Court judge John Meyer ruled that yoga can be a religious activity, but that one particular yoga class offered by the Encinitas United School District was not a religious activity because it did not incorporate any inherently religious activities.
The class in question is an introductory Ashtanga yoga class which has been offered at schools in the Encinitas United School District in the San Diego area. The classes are not being funded by public money, with a $533,000 grant from a foundation named in honor of the original importer of Ashtanga yoga to the United States footing the bill.
That source of funding didn’t sway Meyer’s opinion, nor did testimony from a self-proclaimed religious expert or from parents who had filed suit to have the class removed from the school district’s curriculum.
Instead, Meyer chided the parents, who he learned had students who had never set foot in the class itself, citing their general lack of experiential knowledge of yoga as a contributing factor to his decision. In the process he offered up a quote that is sure to stick in the memory of all who have followed the case.
"It's almost like a trial by Wikipedia," Meyer said in his decision.
While anecdotal evidence of parental ignorance may have played a role in Meyer’s decision, the judge also had prior legal precedent to stand on. Citing a landmark 1971 case, Meyer found that Ashtanga yoga did not violate the three-part “Lemon test” which determines whether a violation of church and state has occurred (the Union-Tribune article goes into more depth about the different branches of the Lemon test and its origins right here).
Regardless of the full reasoning behind the decision -- and the likelihood of an appeal from the defeated Encinitas parents -- yoga appears to be safe in schools at the moment, a fact which is sure to help some teens maintain their spiritual center, perhaps while getting a bit more fit in the process.