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Competitive Yoga Sports Are Here Whether We Like It Or Not

in Competitive Yoga


It’s not a Bikram Yoga Competition, organizers insist, but it looks an awful lot like a Bikram Yoga Competition. It’s the Yoga Asana Championships and they’re coming to New York this weekend (as well as Colorado and Nevada. Arizona had theirs this past weekend. Minnesota will be later this month. The national championship will come in March).

“The New York Regional Yoga Asana Championships features some of the Regions top Yogis from across yoga disciplines bending, stretching and displaying breathtaking talent,” begins the press release for the event.

We’ve seen this before. Displays of bendy-bodied yog-athletics in a competitive arena where judges deliberate over the fine details of asana, eventually crowning the champion, as it were. It doesn’t sound all that much like the non-judgement stuff we read about in the Sutras nor the non-competitive atmosphere a lot of us cheerlead and work hard to preserve and promote in a classroom (and headroom) setting. And yet, these Yoga Asana Championships have been thriving in the US for over a decade now, thanks to the United States Yoga Federation.

Born from the Bikram Yoga tradition, the United States Yoga Federation (USA Yoga) is an organization headed by Bikram Choudhury’s wife Rajashree. The mission of USA Yoga is to proliferate the National Championship of Yoga Asana and lobby for yoga to be in the Olympics as a competitive sport. They mean business. As inherently intertwined with Bikram Yoga as it is (Bikram Choudhury used to be a fedora’d staple at these events, but has been notably absent as of late), USA Yoga and Rajashree maintain that the championships are open to yogis of all lineages, even if the smell of sweaty carpet is still very much a lingering aroma.

The regional competition coming up this weekend is being sponsored by the New York Yoga Sports Club, a newly organized branch of USA Yoga, and Bikram Yoga Grand Central where they’ve recently held “competition coaching” workshops.

If you’re curious just what a yoga championship entails, the NYYSC provides a definition:

A yoga asana championship is a competition in which individuals perform a series of yoga asanas and, using standardized judging criteria, are given scores to determine who amongst the participants is the champion. It is structured much like a gymnastics competition with regards to the performance of the asanas.

And it’s a sport not that unlike figure skating, explained Rajashree in an article last year:

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.

Each of the 15 male and 30 female yogis registered to compete this weekend are required to do five compulsory poses:

  • Dandayamana Janusirsasana – standing-head-to-knee
  • Dandayamana Dhanurasana – standing bow pulling pose
  • Dhanurasana – bow pose
  • Sasangasana – rabbit pose
  • Paschimottanasana – stretching pose

…and two poses of their choice from a list of back and forward bends, splits, twists, inversions, etc. within a three minute time frame. You can read the full posture details and notes here.

Judges score based on “balance, strength, flexibility, well-paced timing and appropriate breathing in postures.” If the yogi achieves the “maximum expression of the posture” and be still in it for five seconds they can keep the full points. But points are deducted for “wobbling, or lack of stability, hesitation or reversal of motion once the posture has begun, lack of proper alignment, poor timing and flow of posture, lack of stillness or lack of control once in the posture, falling out of a posture, uneven or forced breathing, etc.”  See the full set of rules here.

So if you were thinking of demonstrating your super human yogi abilities, we’re sorry to tell you registration is already closed. However, if you have a burning desire to watch half nekkid, flexible people show off their stillest rabbit whilst being judged meticulously by lookers on, and you happen to have $35 to spare, tickets are still available to the spectacle.



12 comments… add one
  • S.

    They should have a Yama and Niyama competition.

  • Jennifer Songer

    I am disgusted by this. Yoga should NEVER be about competition.

  • Stephanie Barnhill

    This goes against everything I’ve ever been taught. I am not, by nature a competetive person except with myself. This is what attracted me to yoga in the first place and continues to attract people who don’t want to be held to the same standards as the person next to them. Everyone’s body is different and has different capabilities and that is what should be celebrated. This is very disappointing…

  • Yoga Dude

    Competitive yoga is simply another name for slow speed gymnastics.

  • Joe Sparks

    Competition is a distinct cause of anxiety since in a given competition people will lose. Competing also promotes a selfish orientation. When we compete we do so out of our own concern for our own welfare. Competition is also not productive because, by its nature, it makes people suspicious of and hostile towards one another. Competitive behavior is taught.

  • Kid Samyama (Morgan)

    Competitive Asanas. Our motto is “keeping the “I” in yogi.” I’m more at one than you are. Some folks just don’t get that being THE center of the universe is not the same as being AT the center of the universe.

  • Giedrius

    What about pranayama and meditation? Would be nice to watch over TV 🙂

  • an anthropologist

    yoga asana competitions are about the same age as hatha yoga and the yoga sutras of patanjali having any sort of meaningful connection. Likely older. They’re stupid but this certainly isn’t new.

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