Campus News

DifCon to focus on ‘Yoga, Meditation & Cultural Appropriation’

People practicing yoga.

Yoga is an appropriate way to explore building a more inclusive community, as it has been part of human cultures since ancient times. Here, paraplegic yoga instructor Matthew Sanford, who will be visiting UB, leads a class. Photo courtesy of Mind Body Solutions


Published September 9, 2019

“Yoga is an appropriate way to explore human connection and build a more inclusive community, as it has been part of human cultures since ancient times. ”
Susan Mann Dolce, assistant director
Accessibility Resources

“Yoga, Meditation & Cultural Appropriation” is the title of the latest session in the Difficult Conversations series sponsored by the Office of Inclusive Excellence (OIX).

The session, which will include discussion and a free lunch, will take place from noon to 1:30 p.m. Sept. 12 in the Landmark Room, 210 Student Union, North Campus.

It will tackle the variety of debates and controversies surrounding the growing popularity of yoga and meditation around the world. In particular, some are concerned that yoga in the West has developed into an elitist, anti-diversity practice.

Discussion will address such issues as whether practicing yoga and meditation is a form of cultural appropriation, and if these exercises can be practiced in more culturally appropriate ways.

Panelists include Saba Butt, a psychology student and Accessibility Advocate; Bharat Jayaraman, professor of computer science and engineering, and meditation instructor; and Stephanie L. Phillips, professor of law and founding member of The Mindfulness Alliance.

The Difficult Conversations, or DifCon, series aims to bring faculty, staff and students together to address critical issues and explore various viewpoints to provide new perspectives and deeper understanding on sensitive topics.

This week’s session is one of numerous activities planned this semester by OIX for its yearlong series “Year of Yoga for Every Body.” Events range from yoga workshops and classes, both on campus and in the community, to a talk by internationally known meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg and a screening of the documentary “Standing | Still Standing,” which looks at the experiences of three people with medical conditions and disabilities who learn yoga from Matthew Sanford, a paraplegic yoga instructor.

Why the yoga theme?

While many people in the West think of yoga as a form of exercise for fit and flexible — and primarily white, economically privileged women — this is a very limited view, says Susan Mann Dolce, associate director, Accessibility Resources, who is leading the yoga initiative for OIX.

“Yoga and meditation both have a rich history from ancient India and North Africa — and possibly other places — that is expressed in different yoga and meditation traditions,” Mann Dolce says. “Ancient traditions conceptualized yoga as having multiple aspects that often included some form of meditation. There are also meditation practices that do not include yoga poses.”

She notes that current Western yoga and meditation practices draw from these ancient traditions in varying ways and to varying degrees. “For example, some yoga studios use ancient sacred symbols in ways that may be considered culturally insensitive, others explore yoga philosophy, while others may not acknowledge the history or traditions of yoga at all,” she says.

“To acknowledge the history of yoga and meditation as we begin the “Year of Yoga for Every Body,” the DifCon provides an opportunity to explore, discuss and share our thoughts and experiences.”

Mann Dolce explains that the yearlong series of events related to yoga is another avenue being taken by OIX to explore the theme of building a more inclusive community.

“Yoga is an appropriate way to explore human connection and build a more inclusive community, as it has been part of human cultures since ancient times,” she says, noting that yoga and meditation have endured because of their multiple benefits.

“Breath is an essential element in the practices of yoga and meditation. As human beings, the one experience we all share is breath,” she says. “Through exploring yoga and meditation in ways that include as many people as possible, we focus on our common humanity, as well as learn practices that foster inner balance and awareness — things that contribute to being more present in our own lives and more open to the experiences of others.”

A full list of “Year of Yoga for Every Body” events can be found on the OIX website.