Yoga class canceled for ‘cultural appropriation’

Fears of “cultural appropriation” led student leaders to cancel a free yoga class at the University of Ottawa, reports the Ottawa Sun.

Seven years ago, the university’s Student Federation hired Jennifer Scharf to offer yoga instruction at the Centre for Students with Disabilities. Sixty students — disabled and able-bodied — typically participate. Until now.

Jennifer Scharf taught yoga at the University of Ottawa. Credit: Errol McGihon, Ottawa Sun

Jennifer Scharf taught yoga at the University of Ottawa for seven years. Credit: Errol McGihon, Ottawa Sun

“Yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately,” according to an email from a Centre official, because it is taken from cultures that “have experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and western supremacy.” Therefore, “we need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves while practising yoga.”

Romeo Ahimakin, acting president of the Student Federation, said yoga is on hiatus for consultation 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.”

“I’m not pretending to be some enlightened yogi master, and the point (of the program) isn’t to educate people on the finer points of the ancient yogi scripture,” Scharf told the Sun. She suggested changing the name from yoga to “mindful stretching.”

“Student leaders debated rebranding the program, but stumbled over how the French translation for ‘mindful stretching’ would appear on a promotional poster, and eventually decided to suspend the program, reports the Sun.

Really. Not The Onion.

KIPP boosts academics, but not character

KIPP schools do a great job of teaching academics, but the stress on character education isn’t producing students with more “grit,” persistence, self-control or other character strengths,  writes Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor.

KIPP charters — primarily middle schools — recruit low-income, minority students. In addition to “factors proven to bolster academic success (high expectations, parental involvement, time spent on instruction),” KIPP schools try to develop “seven character strengths — zest, grit, self-control, optimism, curiosity, gratitude, and social intelligence,” writes Steinberg.

Mathematica study compared students whose families had applied to a KIPP middle school but lost out in the lottery to students who’d won the KIPP lottery. If KIPP kids have more motivated parents, so do the children in the control group.

 . . . KIPP students outperformed the comparison children on numerous measures of achievement, across a range of subject areas. KIPP students also spent more time on homework. . . .

However . . . the KIPP children showed no advantage on any of the measures of character strengths. They weren’t more effortful or persistent. They didn’t have more favorable academic self-conceptions or stronger school engagement. They didn’t score higher than the comparison group in self-control. In fact, they were more likely to engage in “undesirable behavior,” including losing their temper, lying to and arguing with their parents, and giving teachers a hard time. They were more likely to get into trouble at school. Despite the program’s emphasis on character development, the KIPP students were no less likely to smoke, drink, get high, or break the law. Nor were their hopes for their educational futures any higher or their plans any more ambitious.

While nearly 90 percent of former KIPP students enroll in college, only a third earn a degree. That’s triple the graduation rate of students from comparable disadvantaged backgrounds, but far below KIPP’s expectations.

Ryane Burke, assistant principal at KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Academy, leads sessions in mindful movement to help students stay focused and energized.  - See more at:

Ryane Burke, assistant principal at KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Academy, leads sessions in mindful movement to help students stay focused and energized.

Steinberg believes character education is not the best way to develop students’ self-regulation. Other approaches include: meditation, yoga, aerobic exercise and “cognitive behavioral programs, such as those used to help children learn impulse control.”

Some KIPP schools do use these techniques.

Why do people go to yoga class?

Why do people go to yoga class instead of watching an exercise video? asks Matt Yglesias on Slate.

The prospect of online education continues to attract a lot of interest and commentary in various circles, but I think the issue that people considering this need to ponder has nothing to do with convention and signaling and everything to do with yoga. Specifically, what is it that’s driving all these people to show up in person at yoga classes.

. . . When possible, people simply prefer to do this in person with a live human being standing in front of them.

At this point, online learning is like convenience food. It’s not as good as “slow” learning in a classroom, but it’s doable when other options take too much time, transportation and money.

Better breathing, less fighting

Yoga is helping low-income students cope with stress and control anger, say San Jose principals. From the San Jose Mercury News:

The six-week class teaches students to avoid conflict, “how to focus on school and how to study better,” said Overfelt freshman Rosavelia Valencia, 14.

Classmate Priscilla Orabuena, 15, said the skills are useful. “When you are going to get into a fight” — like when people are talking about you, she said — “you want to do something to them. But you breathe and feel calm and just walk away.”

. . . According to surveys, East Side students report the program has improved their sleep, focus, calmness and mood, and general feeling, said Irene Yamane, a program manager.

Yawning, another form of breathing, is great for the brain, writes Penn’s Andrew Newberg, a doctor.

Several recent brain-scan studies have shown that yawning evokes a unique neural activity in the areas of the brain that are directly involved in generating social awareness and creating feelings of empathy. One of those areas is the precuneus, a tiny structure hidden within the folds of the parietal lobe. According to researchers at the Institute of Neurology in London, the precuneus appears to play a central role in consciousness, self-reflection, and memory retrieval. The precuneus is also stimulated by yogic breathing, which helps explain why different forms of meditation contribute to an increased sense of self-awareness.

. . . yawning should be integrated into exercise and stress reduction programs, cognitive and memory enhancement training, psychotherapy, and contemplative spiritual practice.

Students who yawn in class can explain they’re working on their yogic breathing.

Update:  Yoga is catching on in Minnesota and elsewhere as a way to help kids cope with stress and focus their energies.