[dropcap]A[/dropcap]t the University of Ottawa last November, a yoga class was cancelled due to concerns that it was culturally appropriated from India — a culture that “experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy.” At first, the story seems ridiculous and inconvenient. How did a simple yoga class become a political issue?
However, when you consider the debate on cultural appropriation, the issue becomes much larger than a yoga class. Cultural appropriation occurs when one culture takes and uses elements interpreted as a way of diminish the elements of distinct cultural identity. In this particular case, reimagining an originally Indian practice as a Western activity mirrors the colonialist idea that certain groups of people can take whatever they want from others without permission.
So, am I supporting colonialism by taking a yoga class? It is wrong to explore cultures outside my own? No. I am not accusing anybody of being a thief. I am not calling you a racist. I am saying, however, that people should take more seriously the cultural origins of whatever they do. People should think more about the sacred activities they engage in beyond the idea that “they are fun.”
If you are not going to respect the people that created a cultural practice, do not bother participating in it. A simple yoga class may mean much more to you than to another person. These classes are symbols of a culture that belongs to someone else. Your lack of understanding does not give you the right to forego empathy, compassion, and respect, and to me it does not matter if the activity is as benign as a yoga class or as serious as a traditional headdress.
People should think more about the sacred activities they engage in beyond the idea that they are fun.
At the end of the day, we have to come to terms with the fact the yoga belongs to India. It should therefore be practiced according to the rules and regulations set by India. You cannot claim rights to something that does not belong to you.
I have read many online comments that claim these views as too politically correct or restrictive. Unfortunately, minority groups have been increasingly painted as the villain in these situations for being ‘annoying’ and ‘overly sensitive,’ so I’ll offer up an alternative reason for this saturation of political correctness: nobody truly listens to each other.
Minority groups try to be understood while dominant groups accuse them of oversensitivity. We are not connecting. We do not understand one another. It is ridiculous that some people believe they have all the answers and cannot be bothered to learn more.
I do not have all the answers. You do not have all the answers. No particular culture has all the answers. We owe it to each other to listen and try to empathize with the other. If we do not find a way to communicate, we will continue to hurt one another.
I’m incredibly disappointed that yoga has been culturally appropriated due in part to this lack of communication between cultures, and I’m happy to see University of Ottawa take action against this. While it may take a while, I’d like to see some more public respect for the traditional roots of this sacred activity that has been ransacked by Western ideals.