Cultural Appropriation and Yoga – via Yoga Service

In one of the more unusual stories I’ve come across:

Jennifer Scharf taught a free yoga class at the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Students with Disabilities (while the class was free to participants, the teacher was paid a stipend was not officially a volunteer – the Centre’s budget was involved).

That class was cancelled. Some sources reported that it was due to concerns about cultural appropriation … “oppression, cultural genocide”. Another said it was because the class was not well attended and so not considered a good use of funding.

Debate about cultural oppression ensued. And some more.

A new teacher was hired to teach the class. She is of Indian background. A recent articel (quoting the teacher herself) asks if her background played a role in this.

I think this is a bizarre story – and it will be hard to verify the real reason for the change of teacher, or whether the new teacher’s background played a role.  Some opinions in “yoga communities” that – rightfully, in my view, consider this case too extreme to take seriously, also go so far as to dismiss the whole concept of cultural appropriation. I think this is unfortunate.

What is cultural appropriation?  I take it to mean one person taking something from a culture not their own, and presenting it as if it was their own. Taking credit where credit isn’t due. And while not the same as cultural appropriation, I think it is offensive and disrespectful to take something intended to be serious, sacred, or special in its origin culture and turn it into something frivolous.

If I thought that white people teaching yoga was morally wrong, I wouldn’t do this work. But I the idea of cultural appropriation is an important one, and one that shouldn’t be discarded because it is sometimes used in an inaccurate way. One of the most interesting articles to come out of this is from a teacher who acknowledges his own missteps – hanging a picture of a diety in the bathroom over the toilet, as a decoration.

How do you define cultural appropriation?


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