I won first place in…YOGA! My sirsasana (headstand) was far more linear and I had twice as much blood flowing to my head than my competitors. My deep breathing surpassed everyone’s around me. I also found my Zen and inner being in half the time of the 2nd place winner!
This sounds ridiculous right? Almost as ridiculous as when I found out yesterday in the New York Times that the Bikram school of yoga is trying to turn yoga into a competitive sport. Bikram set up two organizations, The United States Yoga Federation, and The World Yoga Foundation, which have been holding competitions for the past seven years. I’m surprised I haven’t heard about this absurdity before now.
Bikram yoga is already a little seedy in itself. Bikram Choudry, the founder of Bikram yoga, wanted legal protection for “his” yoga, a sequence of 26 postures and 2 breathing techniques. So, he somehow ended up getting a copyright for the yoga sequence. Besides the fact that the actual poses and breathing exercises in his sequence weren’t invented by him but rather date back to thousands of years ago, I find it dishonorable as a teacher to so desperately seek out a patent on a yoga sequence. As a teacher, you should be emphasizing and embodying the importance of the nontactile, peaceful principles of yoga, rather than exemplifying that outter objects and money are just as important. Choudry’s response: “It’s the American way.” (Quoted in USA Today). What? Yeah, I guess you could say it’s the American way of feeding one’s ego, something that true yoga tries to help Americans minimize!
Choudry and his wife are currently working towards taking yoga to the Olympics. While I think the Olympics are wonderful, they are not the right place for yoga. Almost ever yoga class I teach, I remind my students that “yoga is not a competition”. How can I get them to believe me if they see Olympic athletes turning it into a contest?
Yoga is about acceptance of one’s own self, something that’s not possible if you’re trying to compete with the person next to you. This is one area of yoga where the commercialization has gone a little too far. Yoga accepts anyone, and I wouldn’t ever want people to think they have to look or perform like an Olympic athlete to take part in a class.
In fact, I wouldn’t want yoga to get anywhere near the label of a competitive sport. The practice is intended to alleviate stress, not add extra taxing pressures to one’s life. It’s about feeling good on the inside, not purely looking good on the outside.
Yoga is a practice for one’s own individual self, uninhibited by anything in the outside, materialized world, a principle that I hope can stay in tact.