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Competitive Yoga: Vicious or Vindicated? Ask Bikram

in Public Display of Yoga, YD News

“Inner peace and spirituality can suck it!”

We heart Tim Murphy! The yogi who looks like he just sashayed out of a pub into class. A salty downdog if you will.

New York Mag sent Tim to bravely venture into the twisted world of competitive yoga at the 7th Annual Yoga Asana Competition in NYC, October 25. He made it out in one piece, all limbs attached (we think). Check out the video featuring Bikram NYC co-founder, Donna Rubin and Mrs. Bikram herself, Rajashree Choudhury. Though it certainly looks like a Bikram yoga competition, we are led to believe it is equal opportunity asana. Also featured, gumby yogis and the less fortunate shots of wobbler pose.

Tim: What are you looking for in competitors?

Rajashree: Total poise, beauty, balance, strength and flexibility.


They promise it is not a beauty competition, and they do not judge yoga, they’re just judging you see? On a points system. So if you wobble, can’t get your head between your legs, burp in the middle of rabbit pose, minus 2 points! Only beautiful pretzels win top prize.

How do YOU feel about competitive yoga? Is it an oxymoron? Is it American? Is it Indian? Don’t forget both Bikram (the ‘Don’) and Rajashree have won pretzel championships in their native country.

Yoga Lily at BikramYogaNYC blog says “The event was a study in the biomechanics of grace. Far from the tumult of winning and losing and egotism…” Hmm, except it’s competition, in which the very definition means rivalry in contest to win. Can you win at yoga?

ps. Bikram et al are still trying to bring it to the Olympics 2016.

[Daily Intel]

EarlierInside Bikram’s Asana Championship: Fedoras and (Non)Assholes

Yoga Wars: Bikram’s Competitive ‘Yogort’, But What About the Children?

29 comments… add one
  • Rock My Soles

    This is about as bad as an embryo beauty competition. Stay on the mat?

  • I teach in a jr. college and one of my students (a young Indian woman) has a sister who has competed in competitive yoga in India. She told me her sister knows nothing about pranayama, meditation, etc., she’s just all about turning into a pretzel. I said nothing.

    so my student looks to me — a seasoned non-Indian yogini of a certain age — to teach her about meditation, pranayama, and to show her modifications of pretzel poses. she asked me if yoga can help stress. I said, “did you ever ask your sister about that? after all, she’s a “champion yogi”, isn’t she? if she’s a “champion”, she surely knows more about yoga than I do.”

    she said, no, her sister doesn’t know anything about yoga.


  • Tim Murphy’s headstand looks a lot like mine.

  • UGH. to keep it simple. here’s the more complicated version of how I feel on this topic: http://bigskyyogaretreats.blogspot.com/2009/02/yoga-competition.html
    And while I occasionally enjoy sauntering in for a bikram class (esp b/c I live in montana where winter is like 9 months long), it’s hard not to think about all this when listening to a bikram teacher bark at you.
    Lastly, I would so love to hear someone burp in the middle of rabbit pose. I think I might congratulate him/her.

  • Too much emphasis on asana is a mistake. Here, it’s clear that the competitors take pride in their physical skills. But, come on, would they make the cut at Cirque du Soleil? Can they hold a candle to Olympic gymnasts? There is always someone better (plus, we will all age and eventually decline) so the smugness of the sissyish guy at the end (“Show me,” he mocks Tim M) is laughable. Yoga, beyond asana, is a way to help us get beyond physicality.

    My take on yogis who show off their asana skills: They were non-athletes (or not good enough for varsity/pro) in youth and as adults feel compelled to redeem themselves in yoga. That’s a generality, of course, but I find that yogis with full “other lives” and other priorities and achievements are also more grounded in their yoga attitudes.

  • Agreed. Ugh. Compete at yoga? With a criteria of “Total poise, beauty, balance, strength and flexibility”?

    So, I’m guessing that having the perfect yoga body (whatever that is, and according to whom exactly?) would help? And physical beauty, or beauty like grace? I guess this also means they want to see “perfect alignment”, so no point entering (if you even wanted to) if your body/limbs function a little differently to others?

    Honestly. On yoga retreats in my school, we do maybe 3 hours of yoga a day. The rest is sitting in meditation, studying texts, discussing philosophy, gardening, chanting, breathing, eating, living…

    How do I compete in ‘yoga’ when for me, its just part of my every day life?

  • to paraphrase my teacher Sarah Powers, if flexibility = enlightenment we should all be worshiping Chinese circus acrobats

  • hey you haters!

    just because someone wants to compete as to who has the best pose, that doesn’t mean it’s not REAL YOGA!!!!

    remember that no granola, no Sanskrit, and no chanting means it’s REAL YOGA!!!!


  • Is competitive yoga real yoga? I dunno. Lots of people call lots of different things yoga, and this, clearly is one of them. So, it’s like when people say “is this poetry.” If somebody calls it poetry, it’s poetry. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck…

  • and what does granola have to do with REAL YOGA anyway? you might as well say oatmeal….

    sorry, wrong blog….;)

  • One thing I’ll say about granola: it digests easily. So, you can do yoga an hour or two after eating some without any significant nausea…

  • I especially like my granola with some Yoplait Asana yogourt… yums!

  • I have a tumultuous relationship with Bikram. In general, I don’t like the practice, but I love practicing in the heat and I do believe it benefits the body (it gets cold in Chicago, ya’ll). I find it inspiring to see a modern “yogi” or teacher in the full expression of a pose in person. It makes it seem more attainable.
    With all that said, I don’t agree with the Bikram teaching style and think yoga competition is whack! What’s up with you if you feel the need to be adored on stage while practicing? It just doesn’t add up!

  • Ew. I agree with YogaforCynics. Can we still call it yoga? Looks like gymnastics/acrobatics to me…

  • This is so funny because I did a spoof on this quite awhile ago (2007? holy crap, I’ve been at this a long time). I notice this subject makes the rounds of the yoga world periodically.

    The One True Yoga – The Movie


  • Greg

    I think that ultimately competive yoga is just a giant bore. It’s more yap and chatter and noise and it’s maybe a good thing for the yappy, chattering, noisy types but for anyone else it’s a big “so what?”
    Oh, Hey, then again whats the profit magin in this stuff? Maybe I’ll host a competition myself.

  • I’m so glad that you mention that competitive pretzel Yoga started a long time ago in India. Without that I’m sure many readers would have just assumed it was still another result of the American commercializing of Yoga. Not so in this particular case.

    Bikram won the India National Yoga Competition when he was thirteen, and that’s what originally propelled him to prominence. Then he brought his Yoga to Japan for awhile before he came to the U.S.

    Bob Weisenberg

  • Just watched the video. Perhaps we should all be encouraged that the place and the crowd was so small!

    Ok, get ready for this. Even I, Mister Embrace Diversity, think this is mostly about contortion and not-so-much about Yoga. And this really doesn’t begin to compare to Cirque de Soleil or Chinese acrobatics or a decent Circus act.

  • Balls! Would you train for an exhibition? Highly unlikely.

  • Elizabeth

    What’s missing here is that competitive asana did NOT originate with the ancient yogis in India, but sprouted out of Colonial India and British Gymnastics competitions. So sure, they have asana competitions in India, but they are about as native as bangers and mash.

  • Oh, Elizabeth. Is that ever an important fun fact! Where did you find that out? I’d like to read more.

    Well, at least I was correct in saying it wasn’t the American commercialization of Yoga. It was the Brits!

    Thanks for filling us in.

    Bob Weisenberg

  • Every time I hear about the yoga at the Olympics idea I keep thinking…what’s the point. Exposure? Yeah, like all the coverage rhythm gymnastics and synchronized swimming gets…

    Fame and greater glory for Choudhury’s students? As if the Chinese won’t swoop down with a few of their pre-teen acrobats and win all the medals…

    Bringing yoga to the masses? Oh please, enough of that justification!

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