Yoga class at the University of Ottawa has been cancelled because of concerns over “cultural appropriation.” Yoga classes, long standing and well-supported at the school, were yanked off the student activities schedule after some voiced a concern that yoga’s cultural “issues” were simply too controversial for the student body.
Jennifer Scharf has been leading the free sessions, located at the university’s Center for Students with Disabilities, for seven years. Two months ago, she was informed that yoga would not be back for the fall semester.
According to Fox News on Nov. 24, an email sent to Scharf from the school’s Student Federation, which operates the center, said that “while yoga is a really great idea and accessible and great for students, there are cultural issues of implication involved in the practice. Yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately due to how it is being practiced,” the email said, citing concerns over which cultures those practices “are being taken from.”
Yoga originated in India, and is practiced in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
The email from the Student Federation said many of those cultures “have experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and Western supremacy… we need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves while practicing yoga.”
Scharf isn’t sure how that distilled history of yoga’s creeds and practices fit in with the “sun salute” and “dog down” poses, or any of the other basic stretching that she teaches, and she says all her classes do is promote fitness, not philosophy or religion.
“I guess it was this cultural appropriation issue because yoga originally comes from India,” she said to CBC News. “I told them, ‘Why don’t we just change the name of the course?’ It’s simple enough, just call it mindful stretching. We’re not going through the finer points of scripture. We’re talking about basic physical awareness and how to stretch so that you feel good.”
Scharf said the “higher-ups at the Student Federation got involved; finally we got an email routed through the Student Federation basically saying they couldn’t” get a new name, so they were pulling the plug.
Cultural appropriation – the stealing, if you will, of elements from another culture – is linked with oppression. Wikipedia puts it this way: “Generally, an assumption that the culture being borrowed from is also being oppressed by the culture doing the borrowing is prerequisite to the concept.”
Scharf says some yoga instructors may claim to be more than they are, but not her.
“I’m not claiming it’s anything more than a physical practice within that class,” she said. “There’s been so much positivity and so many people positively helped by this, and that’s part of the reason why I’m fighting so hard to keep it.”
Do you think these Ottawa yoga classes should have been cancelled?