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Is a yoga class cultural appropriation?

By Rachel Stark [1]

BELLEVILLE – Loyalist students discussed whether or not yoga should be considered a form of cultural appropriation after the concern caused the University of Ottawa [2] to suspend its yoga class.

After receiving complaints [3] from concerned students and volunteers over potential cultural issues, the university recently decided to stop their popular, free yoga class on campus. The news spread worldwide about the controversy since, and now people are debating whether yoga should be viewed as a form of cultural appropriation, or simply an activity to stay healthy.

Loyalist College holds a free yoga class to students every Wednesday. One student, Liam Sinclair-Dempster, has recently been trying the class. “When I am at yoga, it does help me with the stress of the day.” He said yoga shouldn’t be considered a form cultural appropriation and said he thinks the situation was an over-sensitive reaction on the college’s part.

Loyalist College student Zo Bahen said “It isn’t cultural it is a form of meditation and a form of relaxation.” He also mentioned yoga is beneficial to people who have anxiety, and doctors sometimes offer yoga as a form of treatment.

Student Mitchell Thompson said yoga should be offered for students at every school, and student Karley Spencer wrote that if yoga is celebrated and performed in the proper way, it should be okay.

The Student Federation [4] that runs the Centre for Students with Disabilities [5], explained through Facebook [6]why they decided to suspend the yoga class. Despite the possible cultural issues, the federation claims by suspending the class, they could take time throughout the first semester to evaluate how to recreate their programs in a way that best represents both the centre and the students.

Jennifer Scharf [7], the instructor for the suspended yoga class, offered ideas to the federation such as changing the name of the class to “mindful stretching”, to separate the activity from the cultural aspect of it. After short consideration, the university decided it was best to end the class.

Syd, a student at the University of Ottawa who has been practising yoga for over a year, said she doesn’t take offence to it. “I find it more of a physical activity, not so much for healing purposes,” she said. Although Syd doesn’t have a problem with the activity, she has noticed the media attention has upset the school. “There’s some really negative comments towards people and coming from the people that organize the event. It has been blown out of proportion,” she said.

The Student Federation said it has as well. In a recent post [8], they addressed the negativity feedback they have been having. “It is time we talked about the real concerns,” they wrote. The federation claims the Ottawa Sun [9] misquoted from their interview regarding the topic of cultural sensitivity. They corrected themselves saying budgeting reasons and better accommodating to students with disabilities were among the main reasons to suspend the program. “The CSD in no way thought that suspending this program for the semester with the intention of improving it for a January return would cause this much uproar,” they explained.

The post ended with the request to focus on solving the issues regarding the program and end the public violence their staff has received.

The Student Federation is currently planning to bring the yoga class back in January, after they have the semester to review it.