April 1, 2013
US President Barack Obama throws weight behind yoga
The White House announced last week that President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will include a 'yoga garden' for children and their parents who attend the traditional Easter Egg Roll festivities on Monday. "Come enjoy a session of yoga from professional instructors," the White House exhorted thousands of workaday Americans parents and their kids from across the country who will troop into the Presidential lawns, reminding participants that the event's theme is 'Be Healthy, Be Active, Be You!'
It is not the first time that Obama's residence has hosted a yoga garden for Easter, but this year's event is significant because of an ongoing lawsuit in California challenging the teaching of yoga in schools. In fact, the case came up for hearing in a San Diego courtroom on Thursday with a mirthful opening.
In an indication of how deep-rooted mainstream yoga has become in the US, it turned out that the presiding judge himself is a yoga practitioner. "Does anybody have a problem with that?" San Diego Superior Court Judge John Meyer was reported asking at the start of the case.
Dean Broyles, representing parents suing the Encinitas Union School District in a lawsuit that has gained international attention, said he was fine with Meyer presiding over the case if the judge can keep an open mind about the plaintiff's argument regarding spiritual connections to yoga, according to reports in the local media.
At the heart of the case is the argument by some parents that yoga is inherently religious, a contention most Americans, including the judge, seem to disagree with. Judge Meyer is reported to be a practitioner of Bikram Yoga, likening it to simple stretching exercises. "If you think there's something spiritual about what I do, that's news to me," he was quoted as saying.
The White House meanwhile is stretching every muscle and sinew to get Americans, including children, to get more concerned about the decline in the nation's overall well-being and its soaring healthcare bill. The drive is led by Michelle Obama, a health and fitness, and herself a yoga enthusiast.
The yoga garden is conducted by Leah Cullis, a certified yoga teacher who the White House reached out to in 2009 as soon when the Obamas came to office. Cullis, whose husband, event producer John Liipfert, handled Obama's Presidential inauguration, selects yoga instructors from all over the US to put parents and children through basic yoga drills.
"The mission of the event is to share ways where families and children can use simple tools for an active lifestyle — tools that require no props and no money and which they can go home and do it themselves," Cullis told TOI, speaking of her association with the White House initiative.
In fact, the White House has taken its yoga drive one step — or one stretch — further. It has now initiated a Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA), a Obama White House Challenge designed to motivate Americans to make physical activity and healthy eating part of their everyday life. In embracing the practice, the White House also dismissed any specific religious connotation sought to be attached to yoga.
"Yoga has become a universal language of spiritual exercise in the United States, crossing many lines of religion and cultures," the White House said without any reference to the ongoing controversies and lawsuit. "Every day, millions of people practice yoga to improve their health and overall well-being. That's why we're encouraging everyone to take part in PALA, so show your support for yoga and answer the challenge."
Among the invitees for the White House Easter Monday festivities is Ajai Dhadwal, an Indian-American field hockey player, who had represented the US.