University yoga class suspended due to 'cultural appropriation' dispute

Jennifer Scharf had been offering free weekly sessions to students at the University of Ottawa in Canada since 2008

Yoga has become the latest victim of political correctness on university campuses after a free class was cancelled because of complaints that the lessons were an unacceptable “cultural appropriation” of a non-Western practice.

Jennifer Scharf, a yoga practitioner who has offered free weekly sessions to students at the University of Ottawa in Canada since 2008, said she was shocked to receive an abrupt message telling her the classes were to be suspended.

“I’d been in touch to prepare for the new semester’s classes when, out of nowhere, I received an email telling me there were some issues in terms of a formal complaint,” she told The Independent.

The decision to cancel the classes was made by the Ottawa Student Federation, the university’s independent student body.

According to the Ottawa Sun, staff from the Centre for Students with Disabilities, where the classes were held for students of all abilities, wrote in an email: “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”, and which cultures those practices “are being taken from”.

The email went on to say that because 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 practising yoga.”

Ms Scharf said she suggested a compromise by changing the name of the classes to suggest “mindful stretching”, but was rejected. “I think it’s easy to worry too much about accommodating everyone,” she said. “By saving one person’s feelings, we’re ruined the experience for so many others.”

The disagreement comes amid growing debate about freedom of speech and political correctness at British and North American universities. In recent months, Oxford University cancelled a debate on abortion after protesters objected to the fact it was being held between two men, while the Cambridge Union was asked to withdraw its speaking invitation to the writer and commentator Germaine Greer because of her views on transgender issues.

Last month, the lecturer Erika Christakis and her husband were called on to resign from Yale’s Silliman College, where the couple lived and worked, after she sent an email suggesting that her students try not to be offended by culturally insensitive Halloween costumes.

In the US, students have asked for so-called “trigger warnings” on the front covers of classic works of literature, in case people who have had distressing experiences of sexual violence, racism or other trauma are caught off-guard and find themselves reliving the past. It has stirred debate into whether universities are being turned into “safe spaces”, where students are shielded from words and ideas that might make them uncomfortable.

Ms Scharf said she has had no response from the University itself, but remains optimistic that they will support her.

Yoga on Subway Tracks

“It’s crazy that someone would find yoga offensive in the way we teach it. If you look at how, historically yoga has been so non-controversial, it’s a wonder nobody’s taking offense with kickboxing or spin class instead.”

The Ottawa Student Federation body was unavailable for comment.

Earlier this year, yoga was banned by Russian officials for being “too closely associated with religious cults”

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