Yoga Class Nixed for Being 'Offensive'

University of Ottawa student group cites 'cultural appropriation'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 23, 2015 4:33 PM CST
Disabled Yoga Class Nixed for Being 'Offensive'
A student contorts in a hot-yoga class at the Arcadia United Methodist Church in Paducah, Ky., July 10, 2015.   (Ellen O'Nan/The Paducah Sun via AP)

For the past seven years, Jennifer Scharf has been teaching a yoga class for disabled students at the University of Ottawa, and she was all set to start it up again in September, the CBC reports. But an email from the school's Center for Students With Disabilities, part of the larger Student Federation, put the kibosh on her plans, informing her that the classes had been canceled. Scharf figured it was a money issue and volunteered to teach for free, but she soon found out the real reason, the Washington Post reports. "I have heard from a couple students and volunteers [who] feel uncomfortable with how we are doing yoga," a center rep emailed her. "Yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately due to how it is being practiced and what practices from what cultures ... they are being taken from. Many of these cultures are cultures that have experienced oppression, cultural genocide, and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy."

And there is indeed a movement against yoga's commercialization, including from the Hindu American Foundation, whose "Take Back Yoga" campaign has been fighting what it believes to be a form of cultural appropriation. But Scharf tells the CBC her classes focused solely on the physical benefits of yoga, not religious or spiritual aspects, and she notes to the Post that she even offered to simply "rebrand" her program to be a "mindful stretching" class for people with disabilities, with zero mention of "yoga"—an idea the Student Federation rep initially seemed OK with, until "higher-ups" said they couldn't get a French name for the class in bilingual Canada. Yahoo News Canada notes there've been some online jabs at the incident, including a Daily News reporter who tweeted, "Also cancelled: rock 'n roll." Oddly, the university tweeted out Monday that "Free yoga classes are still offered on campus by #uOttawa," with a link to upcoming dates and times. (The founder of Bikram yoga lost his copyright case for his famous yoga poses.)

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