The University of Ottawa has decided to end it’s free yoga classes despite having a successful program for the last seven years. Student concerns pointed out that the teachings, as taught in the classes on the college campus, could be seen as a form of “cultural appropriation.”
Jennifer Scharf, the yoga teacher of these classes, was upset about the decision. “This particular class was intro to beginners’ yoga because I’m very sensitive to this issue [of cultural appropriation],” Scharf told The Washington Post. “I would never want anyone to think I was making some sort of spiritual claim other than the pure joy of being human that belongs to everyone free of religion.”
The practice of yoga includes a wide span of practices, including breathing exercises, dietary restrictions, and other abstentions, most of which would not be taught in a beginning yoga class which focuses on physical postures.
Scharf received news of the cancellation via email. The student led Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to the University of Ottawa Student Federation said that the yoga class brought up cultural issues. According to the email, some students and volunteers had expressed discomfort with the way the classes were being taught.
Scharf worked out what could have been a good compromise in the spirit of making the classes more inclusive and getting rid of the cultural sensitivity issues. She and a student representative decided that all of the “yoga-ness” would be taken out of the class, and there would instead be a stretching class. This would be good for students who had become dependent on the classes week to week.
However, that did not happen. “The higher-ups at the student federation got involved, finally we got an e-mail routed through the student federation basically saying they couldn’t get a French name and nobody wants to do it, so we’re going to cancel it for now,” Scharf told CBC.
Roméo Ahimakin, the president of the student federation told Radio Canada that cultural sensitivity issues weren’t so much a problem as was the fact that the federation had reviewed all existing programs as a way to streamline. The review involved the federation deciding on whether classes and programs were interesting enough, accessible, inclusive “and responsive to the needs of students.” There were no direct complaints, according to Ahimakin, about Scharf’s yoga class.
If your eyebrows are going up, so were some of those students who were also part of the student federation. The decision from the president didn’t take into account the good that the yoga class brought many students on the college campus. “People are just looking for a reason to be offended by anything they can find,” Scharf told the Ottawa Sun. She goes on to explain that the yoga classes she taught didn’t educate students about “the finer points of ancient yogi scripture,” but they instead helped students become more aware of their physical bodies, fostering a sense of better health for anyone who practiced the postures.