I’ve suffered from debilitating back pain off and on for several years with multiple diagnoses from acupuncturists, chiropractors, doctors and physical therapists. The only thing that helps is when I do my physical therapy exercises and I incorporate basic yoga stretching into my daily routine. Stretching is my jam. I even had a personal trainer who was also a physical therapist tell me that I was surprisingly flexible (I guess, for a chubby girl). I credit it all to years of forcing my muscles to relax, stretching, relaxing more, and then continuing to push myself. Little did I know, that whole time, I was being oppressive and an accessory to cultural genocide.
Yoga is a tradition that comes from the once British colony of India and, according to the Washington Post, a Canadian University has canceled its class because the practice was taken from a culture that “experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy,” says the group that previously sponsored it.
Jennifer Scharf taught the free class for up to 60 people at the University of Ottawa. She told WaPo:
This particular class was intro to beginners’ yoga because I’m very sensitive to this issue. I would never want anyone to think I was making some sort of spiritual claim other than the pure joy of being human that belongs to everyone free of religion.
The reason she was given from the Centre for Students with Disabilities she taught the class for was simple, it’s cultural genocide. According to the email she received:
Yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately due to how it is being practiced and what practices from what cultures (which are often sacred spiritual practices) they are being taken from. Many of these cultures are cultures that have experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy, and we need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves and while practicing yoga.
Scharf tried to clarify that her class was “just stretching.” There was no cultural this or oppressive that. It was nothing more than stretching. She tried an alternative approach:
What do you think about having a class that is just stretching for mental health? We don’t have to call it yoga (because that’s not really what we are doing, we are just stretching). I think that will work because it would literally change nothing about the class. … I know some people are offended but I am sure we can change it so that everyone feels included. If there is anything else I can do to help out, please let me know.
Scharf told them that she felt it was really important for people with disabilities to have a regular fitness routine and that she’s not only loved working with them but students came back year after year. She offered another alternative for basic stretching for people with disabilities, but none of her ideas were accepted.
Somehow, out of the blue, the school changed their tune. The student federation got involved and the reason for canceling the class became “they couldn’t get a French name and nobody wants to do it,” Scharf told CBC News. Irony.
Then the story changed again. Student federation president Roméo Ahimakin told Radio Canada that there weren’t actually any direct complaints about the class. Instead, they were doing a sort of audit of all classes at the Centre “to make them more interesting, accessible, inclusive and responsive to the needs of students.”
No one can get their story straight. But in September the University of Ottawa Gazette published a story about the health benefits of yoga.
Already, right-wing conservatives have taken note of the incident. “The day yoga needs a safe space is the day parody meets reality,” neocon website The Rebel wrote. “That day has come.” Calls for “political correctness” run amok have already begun to an embarrassing degree.
I’m all for political correctness, not out of coddling but out of politeness. I’m from the southern states, where even when we’re condescending we send blessings from God, bless our hearts. This isn’t about political correctness, this is just weird. If they had such a problem with cultural genocide they could have brought in a native Indian yoga instructor to teach yoga the way it is done in India. Since the class is really just about stretching, they also could have changed the name to “beginners guide to stretching.” Instead, they’re not empowering students with disabilities or native Indian students, they’re just encouraging everyone to bend over backward for a presumption of controversy. In the process, they’ve created a controversy.
Cultural genocide is a very real thing, for example, you’re not really ever eating Chinese food and that fortune cookie never came from Hong Kong. Delivery sushi in the US isn’t like what you find in Japan. Pocahontas didn’t sing about the earth and bridge the gap between Native Americans and white settlers as Disney would have you believe. But unlike fried rice, the California roll and Disney’s bastardizing of Native Americans, yoga is actually a good thing that helps people. So, what’s a world to do?
Feature image via Wikimedia commons. No, it is not me.