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Bikram Preps Yoga for Olympics, Poses New Meaning of “Competition” with Asana Championships

in Business of Yoga, YD News

photo by David Phillips via ghoshcup.com

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.

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13 comments… add one

  • Richard K

    I’m all for the free market of ideas and to each his own, but I just can’t get my mind around yoga competitions. My immediate reaction is “what a silly-ass dumb idea”. This said, I wish the contestants luck and happiness, and that they make progress towards achieving whatever it is they set out to achieve.

  • David D

    I have the same reaction. Can’t say I understand it (not that it’s important if I do or don’t), but if they are going to do it, I hope it goes well for them.

  • When they add pranayama to the competition…I’m totally in. My ujjayi is definitely Olympic quality….haha :)

  • Vision_Quest2

    Wow! As to yoga’s current PR problem, it just mounts!

    If you are looking for a truly non-competitive mind-body discipline (If you are an American, I don’t know why … Uh, could it be that you get enough of that stuff at work, other competitive hobbies or in sports?) come on and join me on the other side: pilates!

    (Though I basically do somewhat of a fusion of vinyasa yoga and pilates. And I used to admire Bikram for not being into teaching inversions in his main classes … because I’d had no taste for them for a long time … )

    In addition, I really had thought pilates was the last of the mind-body disciplines that was competitive. Not any more!

  • What’s next, competitive Feldenkrais?

  • YES YES I WILL WE ARE HEADED TO THE OLYMPICS!

  • Roberto

    If yoga is union, how can be a competition?

  • Showcasing yoga at the Olympics will bring greater awareness of its benefits to the world at large, and inspire others in their yoga practices. Your practice will always be your practice. I spoke with Rajashree and other about that here, and dedicate this article to a positive move: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5318/Yoga-as-a-Sport-The-Olympic-Games.html

  • Kevin Casey

    Agree with RichardK above. Of all the dumb-ass ideas I’ve ever heard this is the dumb-assiest. But people will do what they do and corruption abounds. I hereby relinquish my need to point out the dumb-assiness of this venture (and other yoga-related ventures). I will continue to practice, promote and teach yoga as the course of transcendence I understand it to be and try to let go of reacting to all the silliness.

  • Kimberly

    Bikram needs to reread his Yoga Sutras!

  • A'sha

    Bikram, you are the circuit training of yoga, do us all a favor and just go to the gym to show off your “talent”… Don’t take a passionate, heartfelt, loved and cherished personal practice we all carry close to our hearts and spirits to the olympics and make it a competition. You do not have support from the yoga community, and I hope you realize this won’t work. myself, and others as passionate as myself will do everything in our power to not let this happen.

  • When this next big wave crahes and all the sweaty yogi-competitors have left their mats for Olympic Zumba, I will still be quietly practicing on my own mat and reaping the benefits of yoga.

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