Should Yoga Be A Competitive Sport?

Stefanie Joshua
Should Yoga Be A Competitive Sport?

USA Yoga is a non-profit organization with the goal of bringing yoga asana (the practice of yoga postures) to the Olympics as a competitive sport. The organization also holds numerous yoga competitions throughout the U.S. each year.

Many people in the yoga community and regular yoga practitioners may see this concept of competition and judging of yoga asana as somewhat of an aberration to the spiritual nature with which yoga has become synonymous.

However, USA Yoga points out that yoga competitions were held in India "hundreds of years ago," highlighting that this concept is not new and has roots in the birthplace of yoga. But is this good for yoga?

As a yoga teacher, my personal practice is individualized and serves many purposes for my well being; competition and comparison with others is not part of it. I also encourage yogis in my classes to draw their senses inward and focus on their individual practice; not comparing themselves to others in the yoga studio who they perceive as more "flexible" or "strong." Often times we come to the yoga class to move away from the competitive nature of life.

However people come to yoga for many reasons; some for exercise, some seeking calm and a sense of being centered, while others want to increase flexibility. With these differing needs and goals in mind, is the idea of a "yoga asana competition" in the U.S. so foreign?

The Concept of Competition in Yoga Practice

Personally, I don't think that your personal yoga practice should be competitive (even so far as reigning in any personal inward competitiveness). Most teaching philosophies promote yoga as a means of meeting your personal needs as well as learning about yourself through your journey.

The areas for concern of yoga competitions, for me as a teacher, are that of safety/injury and responsibility of education. I foresee individuals with backgrounds in gymnastics, dance, acrobatics, naturally excelling in a “yoga competition”. The issue here is that, if someone is a current/former gymnast, dancer, or acrobat, their body has been conditioned for certain movements that may be unrealistic or even dangerous for the average practitioner.

And in the sense of competition, a gymnast or dancer, who may not have ever practiced yoga in their life, could "in theory" end up competing and become a yoga champion.

In terms of safety, creating an ideal look for a posture is something that a practitioner should understand as somewhat of a misnomer. A posture is going to look different on every individual body and for safety and alignment purposes; there is no ideal.

One of the most basic concepts of yoga is that of “being present.” And to some degree, that means understanding that change (even the expansion of yoga) is part of being present. Taking all of this into consideration, how do you feel about yoga as a competitive sport? Are you in support?