Yoga a Competition?

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.

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  • Reply
    November 22, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Wow, so weird! I actually thought yoga was the last standing activity that did not end in a praising a “winner”. I am NOT an organized sports fan in the least, so the fact that yoga might be heading in that direction is disheartening. I hope people are able to still consider doing yoga for self growth.. not to be the “best”!

  • Reply
    November 22, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Great post. Yoga for me is the simple act of taking time to meditate, and nothing more. Competition can be such a difficult thing to appreciate and respect that sometimes it is difficult to know whether it really is a positive thing at all.

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    November 22, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    I can’t see Yoga as a competitive sport…hmm where is the zen in that????

  • Reply
    November 22, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    yeah- i didn’t do sports in high school for a reason! bahah.. that’s why I love just working out and yoga, its all for the competition within myself, not others!

    I’ve tried two bikram classes since being home, and so NOT enjoyable. The first class was only 10 dollars and you got the second free, but then after that it was 14 $ a class- not worth it. My second class the instructor even had me move to the back of the room, where I couldn’t see the mirror, just because I was a bikram beginner. (I had specifically arrived early to get a good spot.) I was not a happy yogi. 🙁

  • Reply
    November 22, 2009 at 8:33 pm

    Huh, interesting post! Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Kristen @ Simply Savor
    November 22, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    what an interesting topic! i completely agree with you that the idea of making yoga a “competitive sport” seems like a contradiction of the basic principles that yoga is supposed to be all about! but i can also see how some people think making yoga an Olympic sport will help yoga gain exposure so people can learn more about the benefits and want to try it out! i’m still torn on the topic, but interested to learn more. Thanks so much for your insight! 🙂

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    November 22, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    Wow, yoga in the Olympics . . . I don’t know about that one! I thought yoga was about peace within yourself, not competition with those around you!

  • Reply
    December 1, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    i actually got kind of upset when i say that article on aolonline! I am by no means an yogi, and it better make me sweat and feel a bit sore the day after, but, i thought the ultimate goal was to be ego-less and just let-go. Adding competition just seems ridiculous. then again, bikram is quite ridiculous. Love the workout, but he’s a little too much!!!

  • Reply
    December 3, 2009 at 8:33 am

    […] Yoga isn’t the only aberrational “sport” trying to make it to the 2012 Olympics.  The Pole Fitness Association is petitioning to include pole dancing in the upcoming Olympics. […]

  • Reply
    Teniah Howell
    December 11, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    I know this is an older post, but I just found your blog and read it today…Thanks for the wonderful comments regarding this new “American Way” of commercializing yoga. I totally agree that it’s getting out of hand. Turning yoga into a competitive sport goes against all the very basics of what yoga is. I am a huge advocate for yoga and it has totally changed my life. In my own personal practice one of the main focuses for me is on letting go of myself and working through the poses with non-reaction and without judgment. I could not agree with you more – Hopefully it will not make it so far as to become an Olympic sport and hopefully people will be encouraged to get back to the basics and the root of what yoga really is. Thank you for sharing, Namaste~

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