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Is the Spirit of Competition in the Soul of Yoga?

NYTIMES.COM | SARA ECKEL | 11/19/09

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THE competitors stood nervously on stage, awaiting the judges' decisions. As each name was called the crowd cheered, and the winner stepped forward to claim a prize, bowing his or her head to accept a medal.

"Wow, that was a miracle," said Kyoko Katsura, the winner in the women's division of the New York Regional Yoga Championship.

Yoga championship?

Yoga enthusiasts like to talk about the many benefits of their practice -- good health, inner peace, killer abs -- but seldom do they brag about the thrill of victory. Yoga as a competitive sport has been almost unknown in this country, largely because the practice is seen as a spiritual quest rather than an exclusively physical exercise like gymnastics.

But now Rajashree Choudhury and her husband, Bikram Choudhury, who created the style of yoga known as Bikram, are trying to build momentum for competitive yoga in the United States. Mrs. Choudhury has set up two nonprofit organizations, the United States Yoga Federation and the World Yoga Foundation, and she has been staging competitions for the last seven years. This fall and winter, regional championships are being held in several states, and the winners will advance to a national championship in Los Angeles in February.

The ultimate goal of the Choudhurys, who emigrated from India to Los Angeles, is to have yoga qualify as an Olympic sport. "It's far away," Mrs. Choudhury said in an interview. "A lot of work needs to be done before we really get into it, but this is our dream."

One big obstacle may be the yoga community itself. To many people, the idea of competition goes against the philosophy of yoga, which emphasizes self-acceptance and inner growth. Although yoga does tend to attract people who are limber, the physical poses, or asanas, are only one aspect of the practice; others include chanting, meditation and reading Sanskrit.

"The initial reaction from most people is always the same thing: competition yoga? Those things don't belong in the same sentence," said John Philp, a filmmaker in New York who directed a documentary film, "Yoga, Inc.," about the commercialization of Western yoga, and wrote a book with the same title.

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I say no, competition is not in the spirit of yoga. The promoters of this type of competition say that it helps promote yoga. I think it just helps promote the false idea that yoga is for lithe-bodied contortionists.

I am a 53 year old male, I’m not especially flexible. I practice yoga 5 to 6 days a week. I love it. Few of my friends practice yoga because they believe they are not flexible enough. Unfortunately this competition is the kind of thing just reinforces the idea that being young, thin, and flexible are prerequisites to practicing Yoga.

In truth, yoga is meant to be accessible to all and can benefit all. A person named lyone, commenting on the NYT website, puts it this way:

Yoga is about overcoming the illusion of identifying oneself with the material aspect (ie: the body)? The purpose of all the stretching, etc. is to create a balanced body that will enable the practitioner to breathe smoothly during meditation, and during the other moments of life. This enhances a calm demeanor, and a peaceful mind. The other purpose is to straighten and support the spine, to unblock the energy flow along the major neurological pathways, resulting in enhanced energy and clarity available for living one's life. The prize is the result of the practice itself. Anyone who doesn't understand this, has had the wrong yoga teacher.

I agree

Namaste
terrabiped

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