Competitive yoga is gaining popularity and might be headed to…the Olympics? That’s right: some devotees of yoga are aiming for yoga to be included as a sport in the 2016 Olympic Games.
Bikram Choudhury (the founder of Bikram Yoga) and his wife Rajashnee say they’re hoping that yoga will eventually be accepted into the Olympics as a competitive sport. But wait: Isn’t competition kind of the antithesis of what yoga is all about? I’ve always thought yoga should be more about meditation, relaxation and inner peace than trying to be a cut above your classmates.
That’s not to say that yoga isn’t athletic or challenging; it certainly is. But instructors constantly tell their students to listen to their bodies and find the pose that works for them—not to look to their neighbor and do their best to one-up them. Tapping into your own intuition seems at odds with the idea of competing in yoga, at least for me.
And it’s not like you’d be judged on your oms. Apparently, competitive yoga measures only the postures, or poses, not anything related to meditation or breathing. And it’s been around for over 100 years in India: Rajashnee Choudhury, the founder of USA Yoga International Yoga Sports Association, says she never would have practiced yoga if it weren’t for the competitions she participated in as a child. At the recent Ghosh Cup in Los Angeles, competitors had three minutes to complete seven poses from the Bikram beginner series, plus two poses of their own choice.
Like many yogis, I feel pretty strongly that the meditative and spiritual practice of yoga shouldn’t be competitive in any way. What many of us love about yoga is the accepting atmosphere, and the chance to focus purely on yourself, your breath, and your mat. On the other hand, I know how much my practice improves when I take it out of my living room and into a yoga class with other people; there’s something to be said for a little healthy competition, to push yourself a bit farther into the pose and deepen your practice. And serious yogis are should definitely be recognized for their incredible athletic ability: peacock pose is pretty damn amazing, after all.
Yoga is still a ways off from awarding gold medals on the world stage, though. Competitions have to exist in 75 countries before a sport can be considered for the Olympics, and right now competitive yoga is only practiced in 15 countries.
What do you think about competitive yoga? Would you participate in it? Do you think yoga belongs in the Olympics?