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University of Ottawa Yoga Class Cancelled in a Case of Extreme Political Correctness

I’m all for progressive change – and, as a reflection of the times, we’ve no doubt seen a lot of it lately.

And yes, that’s a very good thing.

But – I’ll say it – in certain circumstances, there comes a time when all the nit-picking becomes a little, well, exhausting.  And ridiculous.

We live in a culture that finds something unsettling or “offensive” with pretty much everything about current laws, life, and labels. We told you a few weeks back that the war on political correctness has begun, thanks to a growing countermovement where people are getting offended about others being offended. In fact, one Toronto school has made an attempt to ban political correctness entirely.


On the other extreme, student leaders have banned a free yoga class at the University of Ottawa because of “cultural appropriation.” Just to clarify: “cultural appropriation” is when a culture that’s viewed as oppressor (the Western world) borrows or steals elements of a culture they’re oppressing. Jennifer Scharf, the yoga teacher, had been offering the popular class since 2008 at the school’s Centre for Students with Disabilities.

In fact, they asked her to host it, back when there were apparently fewer things to get offended about.

When Scharf checked in with the centre when school resumed in September, she was told that the class would be cancelled because some students and volunteers were uncomfortable with the “cultural issues” involved. As it turns out, some people feel that some Western world yoga classes are not sensitive to yoga’s cultural roots.

As reported by the Ottawa Sun, staff at the Centre said in a recent email that “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.”

They claim that the cultures that yoga is derived from “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 practicing yoga.”

“I guess it was this cultural appropriation issue because yoga originally comes from India,” Scharf told CBC. “I told them, ‘Why don’t we just change the name of the course?’ It’s simple enough, just call it mindful stretching.… We’re not going through the finer points of scripture. We’re talking about basic physical awareness and how to stretch so that you feel good.”

“That went back and forth… The higher-ups at the student federation got involved, finally we got an email 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,” says Scharf, according to CBC.

Scharf highlights a concern over yoga instructors who claim to be “experts” in the spiritual elements of yoga, but definitely aren’t. With a focus on the physical practice, Scharf was not one of these instructors (and most of us have admittedly encountered one at some point).

In recent years, there have been concerns among some Hindus over how yoga has been adopted in the Western world and how it’s become commercialized. That’s why things like the Hindu American Foundation’s “Take Back Yoga” campaign exist. But the thing is, teachers like Scharf don’t claim to be spiritual teachers by any stretch (no pun intended), and rather use the practice to unite people in positive physical activity.

“I’m not claiming it’s anything more than a physical practice within that class,” she said, according to CBC. “There’s been so much positivity and so many people positively helped by this, and that’s part of the reason why I’m fighting so hard to keep it.”

Not surprisingly, there’s been an overwhelming level of support for Scharf on social media, as the cancellation of the class has been met with some thought-inspiring backlash.

Former New York Daily News columnist Bill Hammond tweeted that applying the same standard for cultural misappropriation would require the cancellation of algebra classes (which has its cultural roots in ancient Babylonia), as well as jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, both of which evolved from the musical roots African-Americans.

The University of Ottawa has been quick to react to the backlash, however, tweeting out this morning that it’s organizing free yoga sessions Dec. 1, 8 and 15 at its University Centre. But it could be a case of too little too late, ’cause certainly no one is in happy baby pose right now.


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