Alabama more than a quarter-century ago banned yoga as a "Hindu philosophy" and a "method of religious training."
Now lawmakers might change that.
Rep. Jeremy Gray, a Democrat from Opelika, has proposed a bill that passed in the Education Policy Committee with bipartisan support on Wednesday and that he expects will go to the House floor next week.
Gray's bill would allow school districts to offer yoga as an elective class. It specifies that "all instruction in yoga shall be limited exclusively to poses, exercises and stretching techniques" and that all techniques "shall have exclusively English descriptive names."
"Chanting, mantras, mudras, use of mandalas and 11 namaste greetings shall be expressly prohibited," according to the proposed legislation.
Alabama in a 1993 law barred yoga in public schools along with other practices such as "meditation" and "guided imagery," under a general prohibition of the use of "hypnosis and dissociative mental states."
Gray, elected in 2018, said he only recently learned about the ban, which was favored by religious leaders at the time. He recalled visiting a high school in January 2019 that had introduced a yoga program, but quickly pulled the plug after learning about the 1993 law.
“A lot of people didn't know it was there,” Gray said.
The lawmaker said he was particularly stunned that there was an anti-yoga law because the practice is so widespread among both high-level athletes and ordinary people at gyms every day.
"You already do it. Many of the stretches you're doing are yoga; it's just not called by that name," said Gray, who is a former college and professional football player, most notably as a cornerback for the North Carolina State Wolfpack.
"And if you don't work out, this is a great way to work on your posture, flexibility, balance and to strengthen your core," he said of yoga.
Conservative religious groups are expected to fight to keep the 1993 yoga ban in place.
"It's the Hindu religion," said Joe Godfrey, executive director of a Christian advocacy group, Alabama Citizens Action Program. "It's an issue of separation of church and state. You'll hear people invoke that when it comes to Christianity, because they don't want prayer in school. Yet they want to teach yoga? "
But Godfrey conceded that there appears to be some Republican support for Gray's bill.
"There were people, who usually stand with us, saying, 'Well, my wife does this, so do I don't see the harm,'" Godfrey told NBC News.
Gray, the bill's sponsor, said he's banking on yoga's widespread appeal to help win over lawmakers across the aisle.
"I really don't see what the big deal is," he said of yoga. "I mean my wife does this, my mother does this on the floor of her Methodist church."
Gray also emphasized that it would be up to schools whether to offer yoga.