In studios across the nation, as many as 20 million Americans practice yoga every day. Few worry that their downward dogs or warrior poses disrespect other cultures.
But yoga comes from India, once a British colony. And now, at one Canadian university, a yoga class designed to include disabled students has been canceled after concerns the practice was taken from a culture that “experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy,” according to the group that once sponsored it.
In a telephone interview with The Washington Post, Jennifer Scharf, who taught the class for up to 60 people at the University of Ottawa, said she was unhappy about the decision, but accepted it.I really regret culturally appropriating that Nehru jacket back in the late 60s. But then, I regretted it almost instantly. However, I don't regret paisley shirts. Those things were killer.
“This particular class was intro to beginners’ yoga because I’m very sensitive to this issue,” she said. “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 trouble began on Sept. 7. That’s when Scharf, who said she had taught a class since 2008 through the school’s Centre for Students with Disabilities — part of the university’s Student Federation — got an e-mail.Shaming is too good for them. Tar and feathers would be more appropriate.
“I have unfortunate news,” the e-mail from a student representative of the center read. “Apparently our centre has chosen not to do yoga for programming this year. Let me know if you have any questions or concerns in regards to this and I am welcome to explain. Thank you so much for volunteering to do yoga over the past couple years. It has truly been wonderful and I hope to stay in touch in the future.” (Scharf provided the e-mail exchange to The Post, but removed the name of the representative so the person could not be identified, saying: “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.” A message sent to the representative’s e-mail address was not immediately returned.)
Scharf was sorry to hear of the cancellation — attributed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to the University of Ottawa Student Federation, which describes itself as the “instrument of political action” for the undergraduate population at the university.I'm not giving up Tequila. You can't make margaritas without it.
“That’s disappointing news for sure, is there someone I can speak to about this?” she wrote. “Do you know why the decision was made? I don’t mind doing it for free so if money is a concern, that’s no problem.”
Money was not a concern, however. Culture was.I remember the good old days when progressive students like I was (well, sort of) used to honor other cultures by
“I think that our centre agreed … that while yoga is a really great idea, accessible and great for students, that there are cultural issues of implication involved in the practice,” the response read. “I have heard from a couple students and volunteers that feel uncomfortable with how we are doing yoga while we claim to be inclusive at the same time.”
Explaining that yoga has a fraught history, the representative continued.
“Yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately due to how it is being practiced and what practices from what cultures (which are often sacred spiritual practices) they are being taken from,” the e-mail read. “Many of these cultures are cultures that have experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy, and we need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves and while practicing yoga.”
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