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Yoga Competition

November 19, 2009



I just read a really interesting article in the NYTimes called Is the Spirit of Competition in the Soul of Yoga about Rajashree Choudhury and her husband Bikram Choudhury. They created Bikram yoga, often refered to as hot yoga which is a trademarked sequence of 26 postures done in a room above 105 degrees.  It’s yoga that purifies your body beyond your wildest expectations and gets you into the most insane shape.  Now, separate from their own method of yoga, they are trying to make yoga an Olympic sport and have already been conducting competitions for the last 7 years.

There are many people who believe this notion of competition is the completely counter to the intention and goal of yoga, and perhaps their right.  However, I couldn’t help but want to defend people’s right to compete in yoga while I was reading the article.  I can be very competitive in my personal practice, but I am always only competing with myself to get better, go deeper, become more pure, and work harder.  Actually (full admission), I do compete with my fellow students, the other people who are at the studio everyday practicing alongside me.  And although eventually I need to move past this, I don’t think it is the worst thing in the world to do.  I am inspired by what they can do and I it makes me work harder and shows me what I will eventually be able to do.

Yoga is a mental, spiritual, and physical practice.  The physical practice is what first attracts many of us to the incredible world of yoga, and is how we work on our gross physical bodies, but it is not the end of yoga.  The Choudhury’s have made it clear that their competition has nothing to do with spirituality or the mental aspects of the practice, rather, it is a purely physical competition.  I couldn’t help also thinking that in India, the magical land where yoga was born, they have been doing competitions for many years.  Indians believe in such purity with their yoga and are so devotional in their everyday lives, that if they feel that competing does not belittle the goal of yoga, I want to agree.

Reading the comments to the article, everyone seemed dead set against yoga and competition even being used in the same sentence and I completely get their point of view.  You can be a masterful yogi without being the most flexible and physically impressive.  But you can also be a yogi through using your voice, like the masterful kirtan wallas Bhagavan Das and Krishna Das, or through your spirituality or embodiment of ahimsa or meditation practice.  The physical aspect, the asana of yoga is just one way of practicing yoga, usually done in conjunction with scriptural study, chanting, mantra practice and meditation.  I think that if people want to compete in the physical practice, it is just an expression of one method and one aspect of yoga and that is totally ok.  As long as there is an understanding that physical ability isn’t the end all be all of yoga, I think its ok to want to compete.  Thoughts???

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Harper permalink
    November 19, 2009 5:23 pm

    teach me how to do the one on the right.

  2. Harper Dill permalink
    December 24, 2009 3:57 am

    killing it.

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