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Rajashree Choudhury on Championing Yoga Asana as Competitive Sport – Watch the National Asana Championship Livestream

in Competitive Yoga, YD News
National Asana Championship 2013 Winners

National Championship of Yoga Asana 2013 Winners. via usayoga facebook

Yoga Asana Championship. Three little words that will ruffle many a yogi’s crow pose. For all intents and purposes we’re glad Rajashree Choudhury wrote this piece to try to clear up a few things around competitive yoga, because we’ll be darned if we ever quite get it. As the wife of controversial and real life yoga comic book hero/villain Bikram Choudhury, Rajashree Choudhury is at once in an arduous and a perfect position to defend and grow competitive yoga asana in America. Yep, we said it. It’s really happening.

Rajashree is president and founder of the United States Yoga Federation, the group responsible for hosting the National Championship of Yoga Asana (the 10th anniversary of which just happened this past weekend in NYC) and lobbying for yoga to be in the Olympics as a competitive sport.

Yoga as a sport? [see: ‘wussification’ of America] Many believe ‘yoga competition’ is an oxymoron. Yet like it or not, competitive yoga continues to grow in popularity and is still, as we speak, being pushed to reach Olympic heights, not surprisingly by the pose master flex, “enlightenment has nothing to do with it” Bikram Choudhury. But Bikram the man, with his penchant for controversy and sweaty de-pose-itions, and Bikram the yoga style may be moving to the sidelines while asana championships go for the gold.

Interestingly, Bikram isn’t listed as a board member nor is his name found anywhere on the USA Yoga website in connection with the organization (besides about a dozen Bikram studios as sponsors of the events.) A source working closely with USA Yoga tells us there is a “concerted effort to move away from anything that has to do with the word Bikram, Bikram Yoga or Bikram Choudhury,” while the organization makes a strong effort to promote that they are indeed open to all lineages as an equal opportunity asana championship.

In this recent article on the HuffPo, Rajashree took it upon herself to explain the history, logic, practicality, sportsmanship and fearlessness of yoga asana championships because, ironically enough, many Western yogis just can’t wrap their brains around the concept. We can’t say we entirely agree, but at least we can hear it from the enterprising woman herself.

Rajashree Choudhury on her own history of growing up with asana championships.

Yoga Asana competitions are part of the Indian way and I participated in consecutive events from an early age. The grounded discipline, determination, and perseverance that was required of me to champion Asana then, armed me with the skills that I use to navigate life’s ebbs and flows. While Yoga Asana was such an integral part of my upbringing, I never imagined I would one day be leading an organization like The USA Yoga Federation, which is dedicated to encouraging people across the country to experience the health and happiness benefits of Yoga Asana.

Here she breaks down yoga in India into 3 parts: prayer, therapy and competition.

If I am able to categorize it, yoga was, and continues to be, practiced in India in either of three ways (with some overlap): at home, where it is part of a daily ritual that includes prayer; as a form of therapy; or as a physical practice — in class, as a demonstration, or in Asana competition, where “Asana” is the Indian equivalent for the word “posture.” India has championed Yoga Asana for hundreds of years, and though its practice differs from figure skating or gymnastics, its concept as a sport is on equal footing with the latter. Each sport requires a dedication to training and a sense of fearlessness.

What is the difference between yoga asana and figure skating, again?

I understand that mentioning figure skating and gymnastics in the same sentence as Yoga Asana might have a few readers wondering, “What is the difference between Yoga Asana, figure skating, and gymnastics, if they are all classified as sports?” It is human nature to feel challenged; to be self empowered. The competition aspect of Yoga Asana comes from within; from striving to achieve one’s personal best at any given moment.

On judging asana and mindful performance versus other sports.

Carefully defined judging criteria are based on rules and structure that follows the Hatha Yoga tradition; championship judges are educated by counterparts in India on how to award marks based on a points system. Ultimately though, it comes down to the competitor’s ability to master their sensory control; to execute postures to their fullest potential while holding them in stillness. In contrast, while figure skating and gymnastics may also be performed as an individual sport, their practice relies on momentum. Mindful practice is the foundation of Yoga Asana competition; the body, mind, and spirit working in unison navigates each participant’s performance. The beauty of continually working towards such a union is that one is also training themselves for being able to gain a better handle on their life.

On why she’s championing yoga championships, as it were.

My desire to champion the sport of Yoga Asana in the U.S. through the non-profit organization, USA Yoga, has one goal at its forefront: to promote the betterment of people’s health across the nation. To be honest, it hasn’t been an easy path to transcend the Eastern concept of Yoga Asana as a sport to the Western world. Coming from a place of non-judgment, I appreciate that there are currently many yoga traditions in the world which lead to different points of view. It is my hope, however, that bringing yoga into sports and introducing it to children will create a lasting change and equip the younger generation with the skills and tools needed for growth and constant improvement.

Phew! It all makes sense now doesn’t it? So, competitive yoga…you be the judge?

If you missed the National Championship of Yoga Asana this past weekend and you’re curious what on earth they could be like you can watch the rebroadcast livestream of the Womens and Mens division finals below as well as the awards ceremony. (There’s also a youth division you could watch too if you have hours to spare and feel ok about it.)

Men’s Division Finals

Women’s Division Finals

Awards Ceremony

17 comments… add one
  • Mahangun Kaur


  • B_Cums

    Why stop there? Let’s start having Samadhi competitions. I’m much more interested in who can achieve and hold an exalted state.

    2 Words: KALI YUGA.

  • Honomann
  • arlet

    these competitions always leave me speechless. crazy! http://extendyoga.com/

  • Elizabeth

    “Asana” means “seat” or “seated posture” and not just “posture” or “pose.”

  • Ramini

    Just like Yoga Journal’s “Karma Yoga Awards”!!!

  • All those locked knees are making me anxious.

  • George

    Why does it seem like everyone competing is like 10 years old? Obviously younger people are going to have more natural flexibility. This essentially demonstrates how stupid this competition is.

    In bodybuilding you actually have to work to build muscle, in marathons you train to endure the distance/speed.

    This is basically just maintaining natural ability that you are born with. Yes there is work involved in this as well, but it is not nearly as impressive.

  • Honomann

    The reason why they are so young is that they get injured if they practice in competetions past 25 years old. In Benjamin Lorr’s book, he said that routine trips to the chiropractor were the norm for competitors. 10 year old mentality perhaps.

  • michael

    Wow, seems like a lot of judgment being passed from the enlightened yoga community. My friend and teacher Zeb placed second in the national comp, is older than 25, and when he began doing yoga was, as mary Jarvis put it “as flexible as a heath bar”. He did not just keep his childhood flexibility but regained it. Pretty amazing considering I couldn’t do full wheel as a child and still can’t. I personally am 28, and participated in the last PA regional comp, have not injured myself, made many really great friend and have furthered my yoga practice farther and deeper than most would able to achieve in less than a year… not that I’m In a hurry. Just a little insight from the other side, from someone who has been a part of competition and not just read someone else’s tell all best seller… which was a very interesting read.

    • Honomann

      Not saying much about your friend Zeb according to how winners are picked in Bikram championships:

      “The suit also describes Bikram as rigging the 2008 asana competition in which Baughn was a contender and was expected to take first place but instead placed second to another student who was sharing Bikram’s hotel room, according to the lawsuit.”

      • michael

        Bikram isn’t at the regional/ national comps anymore and they’re not bikram yoga specific either. His wife choudry (sic) is doing a wonderful job making it enjoyable for anyone interested and is very sincere with her cause. I can assure I will injure myself many times over before I’m 60 doing yoga or biking or just crossing the street. I inherently like to push limits and find boundaries in my life. In no way is a yoga competition for everyone, but please try it first before bashing it and the people involved and stop relying on any media source anywhere. They’re all biased and you are your own person.. not a sheep

  • Glenna

    Very well written Michael. My family has lots of yoga athletes,, and even if you are born flexible it is a lot of work to gain the muscle , and to not fall into your flexibility. My daughter works extremely hard at alignment and strength. When she first started competing 3 years ago she had a curve in her lower back that would lift her hip up 2″ higher than the other. Today she is only 1/2″ out. The more she practices the stronger she gets and her spine straightens out. Our guys like to compete too, because it gives them an opportunity to demonstrate to other teens and young adults that this great activity. It is helps with your flexiblity and strength, which will help with recovering from other sport injures or in their case work related injures. Their injures have happened outside the yoga room! And they recover very quickly because of their yoga practice. Hope you all have a great weekend!

  • honomann

    Michael if you keep practicing the way you do, competitions and all, until the age of 65 injury free, I shall bow to you and call you my guru. Until then, I will stick to doing yoga without competitions.

  • Are there any over 40s in the competitions?

  • Lindsey

    It’s about lining the Bikram pocket – again. Really no one but the Bikram crowd is fooled.

  • jeet

    i can not believe this choudary clown was getting away with almost murder.his wife is also to blame for this cause she could ve stooped him earlier.i guess money is more important than anybody s soul getting hurt.hope there is more harsher punishment for this guy than just money.pls let me know if anybody agrees with me.

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