The Encinitas Yoga Trial goes deep

JUN • 17 • 2013

By Anton Drake

The Encinitas Yoga Trial is set to get underway again in just under seven days, on June the 24th. I’ve spent a few hours this weekend going over the court transcripts, which are very interesting; in particular, Dr. Candy Gunther Brown, an expert witness for the plaintiffs, is an extremely knowledgeable expert witness who is more than willing to go the mat with the defense. Her willingness to grapple directly with some of the more subtle and complex philosophical concepts of yoga has led to some very unusual exchanges, and it certainly got my attention when one of the defense attorneys asked Dr. Brown about my own book. In order to make sense of the trial so far and see where it might be heading, we definitely need to look very carefully at what Dr. Brown is saying.

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From Dr. Brown’s (Christian) perspective what is at stake is an issue of fairness under the law, and this is completely understandable. Although we might notice that the unspoken thrust of her testimony seems to carry a measure of resentment toward previous court rulings that made it illegal on constitutional grounds to teach or direct students to pray or worship in public schools, or to teach religious creationism, in this case Dr. Brown is simply seizing upon the same legal arguments that have been successfully used by secular humanism; therefore, regardless of the fact that Dr. Brown represents some of the same interests that have fought bitterly against these secular arguments for explicitly religious reasons, the point she is in essence making is logically valid: if the teaching of Christianity, which she endorses, is legally barred from the public schools it cannot then be fair or legal for Buddhist or Hindu spirituality to be smuggled in to students through the backdoor via something like yoga, which in other contexts is often presented as something spiritual and frequently framed with metaphysical and mystical suppositions. In this sense, the plaintiffs are placing themselves in the position of arguing for general fairness, and are therefore supporting the separation of church and state in general. (more…)

Encinitas Yoga Trial: the defense asks Dr. Brown about Atheist Yoga

JUN • 16 • 2013

By Anton Drake

[From court transcript taken May 21st, 2013]:

[Mr. Sleeth]: “Have you read a book by Anton Drake called Atheist Yoga?”

[Dr. Candy Gunther Brown]: “I read the interviews with him, and I thought that was a really interesting book. I’d be happy to comment on that. I found this really interesting. I’d be happy to talk about it.”

[Mr. Sleeth]: “Is it possible to do yoga — his book is essentially that Atheists can do yoga without it being
spiritual, isn’t it?”

[Dr. Candy Gunther Brown]: “Yes and no.”

[Mr. Sleeth]: “All right. Why don’t you tell us what the essence of his book, as you understand it, is.”

[Dr. Candy Gunther Brown]: “ My understanding — I haven’t read the entire book, but I’ve read the interviews with him — is he had been doing yoga for 20 years. And I can’t give you an verbatim quote on this, but he said, ‘There was so much metaphysical language of gods and goddesses, and I was so confused going into meditation when I was doing all of these yoga practices that I was trying to figure out how I could rationally say that an Atheist could do yoga.’ Because he identifies himself as a dogmatic Atheist. That’s approximately his language. (more…)

The Fundamental Disconnect Between Yoga and Religion

JUN • 11 • 2013

By Anton Drake

One of the interesting things about the Encinitas Yoga controversy is that it’s really cast a light on what I consider to be a somewhat widespread misunderstanding of yoga. And although some people, my friend Reverend Hird for instance, have framed this in terms of the East and the West, or in terms of spiritual differences between Christianity and Hinduism or Buddhism, it really goes deeper than that. We’re now seeing the advent of “Christian yoga,” and from glancing at some of the websites offering it (http://www.christianyoga.com , http://holyyogafoundation.com ) what is interesting to me is how  these new types of yoga resemble various types of Hindu and Buddhist yoga, which are themselves often focused on the worship of one particular deity (Shiva or Vishnu, for example) or on mystical devotion to a particular spiritual guru or teacher, who is often an historic figure but also sometimes a living person. So, when we see some American yoga practitioners object to some of the spiritual associations or overtones of yoga as it is practiced in Asia and respond to that by fusing yoga with Christian mantras, Christian prayers, Christian meditation and Christian iconography, in an interesting way this actually underlines the fact that yoga is, in itself, not something religious. (more…)

What Is the Meaning of Atheist Yoga? Anton Drake Interview 3

MAY • 20 • 2013

Hollywood, CA — (SBWIRE) — 05/20/2013 — [Q.] Anton, in one of our previous interviews you had a few things to say about Reverend Ed Hird’s article “Yoga, More Than Meets the Eyes.” I have since been in touch with Reverend Hird, and he has sent me a response to what you said, which he felt was unfair and mistaken in various ways.

[A.] Yes.

[Q.] Well, what did you think of Reverend Hird’s rebuttal, or response?

[A.] Well, first of all, I’m not exactly sure how I got into the middle of this. Rev Hird’s main point seems to be that yoga isn’t suitable for Christians. Since I am an atheist and not a Christian, if I’m honest about this I’d have to say that he, as an Anglican priest, probably knows more about what is or is not suitable for Christians than I do. What I had objected to was this idea that a line was being drawn in the sand, so to speak, in regards to yoga, and it was being said that since it came from Asia and had certain cultural associations with Hinduism or Buddhism that it was therefore dangerous or idolatrous for Christians to practice yoga. Again, I’m an atheist so in a sense I stand completely outside this kind of debate, however as an advanced practitioner of yoga I felt that this idea was clearly incorrect and at first blush I also thought it seemed slightly xenophobic .

[Q.] As I recall, you had objected to his characterization of yoga as something explicitly Hindu or Buddhist, which was therefore at odds with Christian values and beliefs.

[A.] Yes. And I mean there are several levels to this… but what struck me initially was the way he dismissed every aspect of yoga out of hand, including the poses and breathing exercises. (more…)

Ed Hird, Encinitas, and the Fear of Yoga, Anton Drake Interview 2

MAY • 09 • 2013

Hollywood, CA — (SBWIRE) — 05/09/2013 — [USA], May 9th, 2013: This is part two of my interview with Anton Drake, author of the new book Atheist Yoga.

[Q.] “So, there’s been some controversy recently with the Encinitas lawsuits against the teaching of yoga in public schools. Do you have any thoughts on this issue?”

[A.] “Not really.”

[Q.] “Ha. Well, since your book is called Atheist Yoga, and since the Encinitas lawsuits seem to be alleging that yoga is in fact a religious practice and therefore not suitable for a public school setting, I thought you might have some thoughts on the matter.”

[A.] “I really don’t find it all that interesting, to be honest. My book is aimed at what I would call the more ‘hardcore’ practitioners or yoga, and atheists.”

[Q.] “Well, I recently read an article by the Reverend Ed Hird in which he made a somewhat forceful case that yoga is in fact an explicitly religious activity; this is very close to what the plaintiffs in the Encinitas lawsuit seem to be alleging as well. It also seems to be a position that is diametrically opposed to what you are advancing in your book.”

[A.] “I have in fact read Reverend Hird’s article. But again, I can’t say there is much overlap with the content of my book. Think of it this way: if someone is an atheist, (more…)