Why yoga isn’t cultural appropriation and when you can catch ‘Yoga Hosers’

I’ll just encourage you to read this piece at Slate by Michelle Goldberg, who wrote the recent biography of Indra Devi. She discounts the recent cancellation of a yoga class at the University of Ottawa over cries of cultural appropriation. The key idea:

In the case of yoga, it completely ignores the agency of Indians themselves, who have been making a concerted effort to export yoga to the West since the late 19th century.

Back then, Indians saw getting Westerners interested in yoga as a way of undermining British colonialism. Britain’s colonial administrators tended to be contemptuous of Indian religion; indeed, they treated the purported backwardness of Indian thought and culture as justification for their continued rule. Indian nationalists believed, rightly, that if they could popularize their spiritual practices in the West, they would win support for independence.

That makes sense. And she notes such efforts still exist, such as the International Day of Yoga push by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On a decidedly different topic — or maybe not, maybe it is a form of cultural appropriation — we know when Kevin Smith’s movie Yoga Hosers will have its premiere: at Sundance.

 

Did you get in your daily cultural appropriation?

It’s hard not to deliver this one with comment, so I suppose I’ll first say that my natural sympathies lie with the victimized and the marginalize. And I’m very cognizant of how easy it is to judge someone based on your own experiences and biases.

I also remember the value of calling power into question as a youngster. It is a critical part of the growing process; I tend to suspect those who didn’t go through that phase are the ones who cause the most problems when they are adults.

Still… this one may push me close to the edge of reason. A free yoga class at the University of Ottawa has been canceled due to concerns about cultural appropriation. The best coverage is from the Ottawa Sun:

Student leaders have pulled the mat out from 60 University of Ottawa students, ending a free on-campus yoga class over fears the teachings could be seen as a form of “cultural appropriation.”

Jennifer Scharf, who has been offering free weekly yoga instruction to students since 2008, says she was shocked when told in September the program would be suspended, and saddened when she learned of the reasoning.

Staff at the Centre for Students with Disabilities believe that “while yoga is a really great idea and accessible and great for students … there are cultural issues of implication involved in the practice,” according to an email from the centre.

[snip]

Acting student federation president Romeo Ahimakin denied the decision resulted from a complaint.

Ahimakin said the student federation put the yoga session on hiatus while they consult with students “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.”

Scharf offered a compromise, suggesting she change the name from yoga to “mindful stretching,” since that would reflect the content of the program and would “literally change nothing about the course.”

That compromise wasn’t enough.

I’m going to follow up my comment about the value of youthful challenging of power; one of the important lessons from doing so is the self-realization that results. I.e. coming to understand what you don’t know. That may be a factor here.

Posted by Steve