Complaint of ‘cultural appropriation’ for university yoga class
For many, yoga is a good way of relaxing and winding down, as well as improving flexibility and fitness – especially if it’s free. However, this widely practised activity has come under fire after student leaders at a Canadian university took a free yoga class off the program amid fears that it could be viewed as ‘cultural appropriation’.
Yoga has been part of the activity program on the University of Ottawa campus for several years, delivered weekly by instructor Jennifer Scharf. However, Scharf was surprised to learn at the start of the new semester that the program was being paused. An email from the Center for Students with Disabilities, reproduced in the Ottawa Sun, claimed that while yoga was ‘accessible and great for students’, there were ‘cultural issues of implication involved in the practice’.
According to the newspaper report, Scharf had created the program in response to an approach by the university’s Student Federation with a view to providing yoga instruction to students, including those with disabilities. Around 60 university students participated each year. Although it claimed not to have received a specific complaint, the center told the paper that yoga had attracted ‘a lot of controversy lately’ and that they needed to ‘be mindful of this and how we express ourselves while practising yoga.’
Scharf, a yoga teacher at the Ramas Lotus Center, said the concept of cultural appropriation does not apply in this case.
‘I’m not pretending to be some enlightened yogi master, and the point isn’t to educate people on the finer points of the ancient yogi scripture,’ she told the Ottawa Sun. ‘The point is to get people to have higher physical awareness for their own physical health and enjoyment.’
An inclusive approach
Romeo Ahimakin, acting student federation president, said the yoga program had been paused while they worked with students to improve it and make it ‘more inclusive to certain groups of people that feel left out in yoga-like spaces’.
Scharf suggested changing the name of the program from yoga to ‘mindful stretching’ but a decision was taken to suspend the program instead.
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