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Man who slapped wife sentenced to yoga

Houston Chronicle, USA
Jan. 22, 2004
Andrew Tilghman
www.chron.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Friday January 23, 2004

It’s anger management, judge says

First there was house arrest. Now there’s yoga.

A judge ordered a man convicted Wednesday of slapping his wife to take a yoga class as part of his one-year probation.

Yoga

Most westerners are naive to the religious origin and nature of yoga. Many practitioners who do, merely presume that the exercises are harmless if they are not practiced with a spiritual intent.

Yoga is a series of exercises and postures (asanas) which are advertised as a way to tone up, reduce stress and experience tranquility.

Yoga though is an intrinsic part of Hinduism. Swami Vishnudevananda, well known authority of Yoga, in his book The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga explains the purpose of Yoga, “It is the duty of each developed man to train his body to the highest degree of perfection so that it may be used to pursue spiritual purposes… the aim of all yoga practice is to achieve truth wherein the individual soul identifies itself with the supreme soul of God.”
- Source: Yoga, a Profile by Watchman Fellowship

“It’s part of anger management,” County Criminal Court at Law Judge Larry Standley said of the ancient Hindu philosophy of exercise and well-being. “For people who are into it, it really calms them down.

“I’ve thought about taking it myself, but I’ve got a pretty bad back,” Standley said.

Standley, a former prosecutor, has sometimes imposed yearlong jail sentences for similar misdemeanor domestic assaults. But he said the case of James Lee Cross was unique.

Cross, a 53-year-old car salesman from Tomball, explained that his wife was struggling with a substance abuse problem and that he struck her on New Year’s Eve during an argument about her drinking.

“He was trying to get a hold of her because she has a problem,” Standley said after the court hearing. “I thought this would help him realize that he only has control over himself.”

The sentence came as a surprise to Cross, who was told to enroll in a class and report back to Standley on his progress.

“I’m not very familiar with it,” Cross said of yoga. “From what I understand, it may help in a couple ways, not only as far as mentally settling, but maybe a little weight loss.”

Darla Magee, an instructor at Yoga Body Houston in River Oaks, said she would recommend that Cross take a basic yoga class emphasizing breathing and including a variety of postures — forward bends, back bends and twists.

“Yoga can help us to get rid of many emotional issues we might have,” she said. “It’s a spiritual cleanse.”

Prosecutor Lincoln Goodwin agreed to a sentence of probation without jail time because Cross had no significant criminal history.

While Wednesday marked the first time Standley has ordered a defendant into a yoga class, he has tried other forms of “alternative sentencing.”

He has ordered dozens of people convicted of drunken driving to keep a journal of news clippings about the crime to make them aware of the problem.

Harris County probation officials recently received a $20,000 grant to study whether Standley’s journal orders have had any effect on reducing repeat drunken driving offenses.

Nevertheless, the yoga sentence was unusual even for Standley.

“This is not a regular condition I make on people who beat up their spouse,” he said. “But he was not your typical serial wife-beater type, based on what was presented to me.”

Cross’ wife, Wendy, said she thought yoga would be good for him. “I know there are a lot of benefits to meditation,” she said.

John Coon, director of the Yoga Center of Houston, hailed Standley’s order as “progressive.” But Yannis Avramidis, a Houston yoga instructor, derided the judge’s move as a reflection of how faddish yoga has become.

They all agreed, however, that yoga may be an effective calming tool.

“If everyone did yoga, we’d have a lot less violence and trouble in the world. Everyone would just be calmer,” Magee said. But Cross, she said, “is going to need more than one yoga class.”

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