A yoga instructor who teaches at the University of Ottawa says she is fighting to keep her program alive after the school’s student body suspended it over concerns that “cultural issues” relating to the class could offend students.
Jennifer Scharf, who has been offering free weekly sessions at the university’s Center for Students with Disabilities since 2008, told the Ottawa Sun that she was informed in September that the program would not come back for the fall semester.
In an email exchange between Scharf and a representative of the university’s Student Federation -- which was viewed by the newspaper -- a student wrote 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," the email continues, and which cultures those practices "are being taken from."
The Student Federation, which operates the center, went on to say that 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 practicing yoga."
Student Federation Acting President Romeo Ahimakin told the Ottawa Sun that the class has been put on hold until a way can be figured out "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,” he added.
But Scharf, who instructed about 60 students each week in the program, said, "people are just looking for a reason to be offended by anything they can find."
Scharf says she offered the student body leaders a compromise by suggesting she change the name of the course to “mindful stretching,” but after some debate, they couldn’t reach an agreement.
"I guess it was this cultural appropriation issue because yoga originally comes from India," she told CBC News. "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.”
Scharf added that she is “fighting so hard” to keep the class.