In September, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) suspended a free yoga class offered at the university’s Centre for Students with Disabilities, citing “cultural issues” as the reason.
The instructor who taught the course went back to the SFUO and asked for further explanation. She was told that the student government wanted to be mindful of cultures that have “experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy.” Essentially, the SFUO has suspended the class due to cultural appropriation, a concept where the use of elements from one culture (typically non-Western) by a different culture (typically Western) is viewed as a negative phenomenon.
The news about the suspended yoga class has gone global, with articles popping up in the Washington Post and the Daily Mail. New York Times technology reporter Farhad Manjoo retweeted a story about the incident from the Ottawa Sun and The Atlantic senior editor David Frum laughed at the decision on social media, sharing an article in the Yoga Journal that outlined European influence on modern yoga in India.
It’s true that the practice of yoga was influenced by the Sanskrit, India’s ancient religious texts, but it has since grown into its own entity. While it is true that some yoga practices include a spiritual undertone, most focus on the movements and the concept of self-acceptance.
As a former student at the University of Ottawa, the SFUO’s decision does not surprise me. The student politicians on campus were always, what I would call, Liberal radicals. They can get so obsessed with the idea of inclusivity and tolerance that they end up pushing away a large part of the student population. For example, the student newspaper I worked for was once accused of being racist for not covering a black history month event on campus. This accusation was made despite our explanation that the event itself was reported on every year and didn’t warrant a follow-up.
It’s also important to note that our Arts and Culture Editor, who was the person who made the editorial decision, was black.
As a student who actively took advantage of the free yoga classes offered by the university, I can say that I never felt like the instruction was religious or spiritual. None of the instructors claimed to be knowledgeable of that aspect of the craft. The goal of the session was to make peace with yourself and be mindful of your body. I would enter that room stressed about work or my studies, and I would leave feeling refreshed and calm.
Should we alway strive to be politically correct? Where is the line? Personally, I think that line is drawn when there is no intention of negative consequences. A class that helps students with disabilities stretch and relax, a class that doesn’t pretend to be affiliated with any political or religious belief, should not be the object of cultural appropriation.
Thankfully, the university itself agrees and has promised to continue offering yoga classes to students who want to participate in the practice. It’s just unfortunate there won’t be any classes directed at students with disabilities—and we can thank the student union for that.
uOttawa is not ending free yoga. While the @SFUO_FEUO has cancelled one class, #uOttawa continues to host yoga : https://t.co/imoaVXrMiq
— uOttawa (@uOttawa) November 23, 2015