A free yoga class at the University of Ottawa has been canceled over concerns of cultural appropriation in an issue that has sparked strong social media reaction.
Jen Scharf, who has taught the free class for the university's Centre for Students with Disabilities for the past seven years, told CBC News that she was alerted to the cancellation
and told that some students and volunteers were "uncomfortable" with the "cultural issues involved" in the class.
"I guess it was this cultural appropriation issue because yoga originally comes from India," Scharf told CBC News on Sunday after learning her class would not continue. "I told them, 'Why don't we just change the name of the course?' It's simple enough, just call it mindful stretching . . . 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."
"That went back and forth . . . The higher-ups at the student federation got involved, finally we got an email routed through the student federation basically saying they couldn't get a French name and nobody wants to do it, so we're going to cancel it for now," Scharf continued.
According to student federation president Roméo Ahimakin, no one complained about the class directly; there were more general questions raised about the "issues and ideas" around it, according to CBC.
"Ahimakin said they suspended the class as part of a review of all their programs to make them more interesting, accessible, inclusive, and responsive to the needs of students," CBC News reported.
The yoga cultural appropriation concerns are shared by some Hindus who don't approve of the so-called commercialization of yoga in the Western world.
"Today, yoga is largely misunderstood to be and is practiced primarily as asana, or physical posture," the Hindu American Foundation website states
. "Asana practice alone is shown to have a myriad of health benefits from lowering blood pressure, relief of back pain and arthritis, and boosting of the immune system . . . And while practicing asana for improved health is perfectly acceptable, it is not the goal or purpose of yoga."
News of the class cancellation sparked online debate after New York Times technology writer Farhad Manjoo retweeted an article about it to his followers, according to the Ottawa Citizen.
The University of Ottawa tweeted Monday that it is still offering free yoga classes on campus.
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