The Centre for Students With Disabilities at the University of Ottawa has shut down a yoga class, designed to be inclusive towards people with disabilities, because “there are cultural issues of implication involved in the practice.”

A report from The Washington Post reveals the Centre’s (poorly written) emails to their former yoga instructor, Jennifer Scharf, who was not thrilled to have her work conflated with “colonialism and western supremacy.” “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,” she told the Post.

The Centre for Students With Disabilities, a part of the school’s Student Federation, explained the cancellation to Scharf:

“I think that our centre agreed as a hole [sic], that while yoga is a really great idea, accessible and great for students, that there are cultural issues of implication involved in the practice. I have heard from a couple students and volunteers that feel uncomfortable with how we are doing yoga while we claim to be inclusive at the same time.”

The email continued:

“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.”

The email ended with: “It is not something that is easy to explain. It is a sensitive topic for some people that use our Centre and I would just like to respect that for the moment.”

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Scharf explained that many students rely on the class, offering to rebrand the it as “stretching for mental health,” but the class was cancelled regardless—although, according to the Post, Student Federation president Roméo Ahimakin acknowledged in a French-language interview that there hadn’t actually been any direct complaints about the class. Still, it was cancelled in a bid to make classes “more interesting, accessible, inclusive and responsive to the needs of students.”

Hm! Yoga—like coffee, tea, math, syringes, and many other things people put to good use on a daily basis—has its origins in a culture that was infected by the long, sickly arm of Western colonialism. It is possible to understand that without cutting anyone off from the benefits of a massively popular practice. “Inclusivity” can be quite a leaky umbrella. In this instance, it seems to be a largely meaningless and retroactive gesture, and one that potentially does a lot more harm—in this case, to the disabled students who no longer have an opportunity to experience a safe and beneficial form of exercise—than good.

Now Also Cancelled: Literally Everything Else.


Contact the author at ellie@jezebel.com.

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