University of Ottawa student body suspends yoga classes over ‘cultural appropriation’ fears

Institution’s student federation concerned about the ‘cultural issues of implication involved in the practice’

November 24, 2015
Source: iStock

A Canadian university’s student body has suspended free yoga classes for students over fears that the lessons could be seen as a form of “cultural appropriation” of a non-Western practice.

The University of Ottawa Student Federation’s Centre for Students with Disabilities suspended the classes, which have been running since 2008, stating in an 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”, according to the Ottawa Sun.

The centre first approached yoga practitioner Jennifer Scharf seven years ago about offering free yoga instruction to students of all abilities. However, in the email the centre said “yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately due to how it is being practised”, and which cultures those practices “are being taken from”. 

It adds that since 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 suggested changing the name from yoga to “mindful stretching”, but this was rejected. It is thought that about 60 students participated in the classes.

Romeo Ahimakin, acting student federation president, told the Ottawa Sun that the decision did not result from a complaint, but the yoga sessions had been suspended while the federation consults with students “to make it better, more accessible and more inclusive to certain groups of people that feel left out in yoga-like spaces.

“We are trying to have those sessions done in a way in which students are aware of where the spiritual and cultural aspects come from, so that these sessions are done in a respectful manner.”

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