Do we Really Need a Yoga Champ?

yoga trophy
Photo by dgrinbergs

According to the wife of Bikram Choudry, Rajashree Choudry, competition and yoga go hand in hand. To support this she has created two non-profit organizations that sponsor and stage yoga competitions in the U.S. and abroad.  The most recent of these was in October at a Bikram studio on the Lower East Side, The New York Regional Yoga Championship.

The competition hosted 34 contestants and Mrs. Choudry as one of the three judges.  The Choudry’s have high hopes that these regional competitions are small steps on the path to making yoga an Olympic event, an aspiration that is shunned by many in the yoga community.  The Olympic “dream” is still a long way off.  In order to be considered, the sport has to have active federations in 50 countries, at the moment competitive yoga is only standardized in 15.

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There are many critics of the idea of making yoga into an Olympic sport.  Many yogis disagree with taking an ancient and spiritual science and placing it under the guise of sport in general, but there are also the critics who believe that the Choudry’s aim has underlying tones of marketing their “brand” of yoga.  Though they are quick to point out the many differences between the Bikram style and the requirements for the competition, the overlapping factors are hard to overlook.  Like the fact that five of the seven required postures are taken directly from the Bikram sequence.

Ultimately, the notion of yoga as a competitive sport is inflating the Western view of yoga as a purely physical practice. Though the administrators of these yoga competitions tout that the more publicity and exposure the practice receives the more it will attract those who really need it, even the participants in the competitions see the inconsistency. Bikram instructor in New York City, Luke Strandquist, who placed third among the men, though he had no issue with the idea of competitive yoga, recognized its inconsistency.  “As a teacher, it’s the opposite of what I’m always telling my students: that you’re here to practice your yoga, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing.”

So you want to show off your asana, no big deal, right?  But, if your aim is to promote and grow a yoga community, I believe that these competitions are sorely missing the mark.  Yoga is a word that in the West has become synonymous with asana, but in reality encompasses vast styles and approaches to practice all of which are meant to lead the practitioner into deeper realms of inner experience.  The thought of comparing yourself and your physical progress in asana to others does not, in my mind, equate with the experience of uncovering the depths of knowing for which yoga is a guide.  If anything, these competitions promote a distorted idea of the practice and further exacerbate the imbalances that many people have when the come to their mat.

If you want to show off your asana, more power to you.  My only request is that you please, please take the word yoga out of the title, and maybe promote asana competitions instead.  What do you think?

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