The Yoga Menace

by Andrew Stuttaford

Understanding the Yoga menace used to be a fairly straightforward matter. Back in 2011, Father Gabriel Amorth  (then described as the Vatican’s Chief Exorcist) helpfully explained what was really going on in all those studios.

 ”Practising yoga brings evil as does reading Harry Potter. They may both seem innocuous but they both deal with magic and that leads to evil…Yoga is the Devil’s work…”

Fast forward to 2015, and it seems that Yoga’s connection to India is worrying a rather different type of vigilante.

The Ottawa Sun reports:

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.

“There are cultural issues of implication.” 

What?

Back to the Ottawa Sun:

The centre goes on to say, “Yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately due to how it is being practiced,” and which cultures those practices “are being taken from.”

The centre official argues since many of those cultures “have experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy … we need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves while practising yoga.”

The concept of cultural appropriation is normally applied when a dominant culture borrows symbols of a marginalized culture for dubious reasons — such as the fad of hipsters donning indigenous headdresses as a fashion statement, without any regard to cultural significance or stereotype.

But Scharf, a yoga teacher with the downtown Rama Lotus Centre, said the concept does not apply in this case, arguing the complaint that killed the program came instead from a “social justice warrior” with “fainting heart ideologies” in search of a cause celebre.

Fainting heart ideologies!

(But I know what she means, and suspending the program is absurd). 

I wrote a bit about the notion of ‘cultural appropriation’ in NRODT earlier this year, arguing that its dogmas could be used to enforce a kind of “intellectual apartheid”.

It is also a handy device to both empower and proclaim the virtue of the enforcer—in this case that social justice warrior with fainting heart ideologies. And, critically, it comes with the advantage for such enforcers that rooting out cultural appropriation is a process that is never complete.  Their power and their presumption of superior morality will endure so long as there is something else, and there always will be—yoga one day, tacos the next—that can be found to be taboo.  

 

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