Jennifer Scharf taught dozens of people yoga for years, and never expected it to end like this.
Scharf taught a class at the University of Ottawa with the support of the schools Centre for Students with Disabilities, but got an email recently telling her the class couldn’t continue for this school year.
After Scharf inquired about a reason–even offering to do it for free–a staff member emailed back a response that has since gone viral.
“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,” the e-mail read, according to the Washington Post.
“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.”
“For the moment we would just like to pause the programming also because we are very short on staff and do not have the capacity to do this as programming,” the representative added. “But in the future (after we have reflected on which kinds of exercise are more inclusive for our centre). 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.”
Scharf, a yoga teacher at the Rama Lotus Centre, tried to negotiate a change to the class that would allow it to continue, possibly including removing the word yoga, but it didn’t end up working out.
Now she’s speaking out, saying the complaint about the class seemed to come from one person, a “social justice warrior” with “fainting heart ideologies” in search of a cause celebre.
“People are just looking for a reason to be offended by anything they can find,” she told the Ottawa Sun. “There’s a real divide between reasonable people and those people just looking to jump on a bandwagon. And unfortunately, it ends up with good people getting punished for doing good things.”
About 60 students, some disabled and others not, regularly attended the free class.
People were outraged over the story online.
“What is this world coming to?” wondered one user.
“This is the most ridiculous, narrow-minded idiocy that I have ever encountered,” added another.
A student federation official agreed it seemed over the line, telling the Sun: “I am also still of the opinion that a single complaint does not outweigh all of the good that these classes have done.”
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But the centre said on Facebook that the program was actually ended because no one was attending them.
“No one attended the classes so that’s why we ended them, its not that hard to understand people, the fact that disabled people are getting harassed over this is ridiculous,” someone with the centre wrote.
Student federation president Romeo Ahimakin, who also denied that the situation resulted from a complaint, said that the centre wants to 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.”
He added: “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.”