Yoga competitions. Oxymoron? Many believe so, while others make it a point to bring their yoga on stage to compete on a regular basis. Bikram of course, being the prominent style in the US to host yoga competitions, has the hopes and the chutzpah to bring yoga to the ultimate global competition, the Olympics. We can see the opening ceremony now: Bikram yogis rabbit-roll their way into the arena, clad from sticky sweatband to stinky toe in Lady Gaga-designed Olympic-inspired gear. Y-O-G-A! G-A-G-A! USA! USA!
New York Magazine had a piece this week on what a yoga competition means, with an interview with the first lady of Bikram herself and leading yoga madame of Michael Jackson tributes, Rajashree Choudhury. Competitive yoga is certainly an interesting thing to observe, and we’ve definitely heard a few things you’ve had to say about it (it’s seen it’s fair share of detractors as well as supporters).
Yet this sweating bullet shows no sign of slowing as the ninth annual Yoga Asana Championship rolls into NYC March 2nd-4th. But it’s not just contortion and elastic ligaments that win trophies and medals; enthusiasts will argue that as many points in the competition are earned from “grace” as any fancy piggies to your nose pose. And sure, words like competition and championship are used, but we could probably just ignore that part all together, right?
Yoga-championship competitors and organizers talk as if it’s a weird coincidence that someone wins. “You don’t have to use the word ‘competition,’” says Rajashree. Afton Carraway herself says the event is “about celebrating yoga rather than being fierce and competitive.” First-time competitor Vicky Sarmiento believes “other competitors … [are] trying to encourage you to do as well as they do, or better.” (Sarmiento says she’s doubtful about her chances against “crazy people without spines.”)
Because being compared and measured on a stage in front of an audience of judges (a few actually sanctioned and paid) at an event sponsored by Coca-Cola backed Zico hosted by a fedora clad Indian ‘Sopranos’ character to win a medal and a title has nothing to do with showmanship and besting anyone else.
As a founder of the United States Yoga Federation (USA Yoga), Rajashree is working hard to bring yoga into the Olympics. It’s true yoga has been competitive in India for quite some time, but like rhythmic gymnastics, or racewalking in the Olympic Games, we just don’t get it. (seriously, are they walking or running? are potato sacks next?)
If nothing else though, this will require us all to stretch our minds beyond what we think yoga is and what it isn’t (tip: this keeps evolving again and again), and to find ourselves ok with accepting others’ definitions. Something Bikram Choudhury has had some trouble with himself.
- Competitive Yoga: Vicious or Vindicated? Ask Bikram
- Watch the Video for Bikram-Produced Bappi Lahiri Michael Jackson Tribute Song Feat. Rajashree Choudhury
- ‘Yoga Don’ Bikram to be Bigger Than Elvis?
- ‘Yoga Don’ Bikram’s Best Quotes
- How Yoga Boosted Coconut Water to $100 Million Gatorade Antichrist
- Inside Bikram’s Asana Championship: Fedoras and (Non)Assholes