Last weekend I went to the UK Yoga Asana Championships 2013 at the Harrison Hotel near London Bridge. I only found out recently that practitioners of Bikram yoga are pushing for yoga in the Olympics. Do you think this is a good idea?
I practise yoga regularly and also love to see others practising the asanas, so I went to watch the yoga competition for several reasons:
1. Curiosity — I didn’t want to fully make up my mind about yoga becoming a competitive sport until I’d actually seen it.
2. To watch some beautiful yoga — I understand that traditionally yoga is personal and not something for display or something to show off; however, I do think there’s a place for yoga demonstrations. Watching yoga whether it’s for competitive purposes or not is really mesmerising and incredible to see.
So, prior to watching the competition I was asking myself, ‘Is it really necessary to compete? Can’t there just be yoga demonstrations?’
On the other hand, when you single out the postures — they’re very athletic and require lots of physical strength, flexibility and balance. Why shouldn’t the physical side of yoga become competitive?
I found part of the answer when the youth yogis were performing. The first girl must have been about eleven — she’d almost finished her sequence, but her last posture — the spinal twist — she couldn’t get into and I could see her frustration. Afterwards, she went off to sit down looking really disappointed. I thought, that’s not what yoga’s about.
It made me think that perhaps the young yogis would be better off doing gymnastics and then taking up yoga when they’re older. This then lead me to question what the main difference would be between yoga and gymnastics if yoga did become an Olympic sport. And then what about contortionism?
In some respects, highly flexible gymnasts or contortionists might put yoga practitioners to shame if yoga were to become an Olympic sport.
Although I did really enjoy watching the competition — the overall energy was positive — I’m still unsure about the competitive aspect. What is yoga without the mind and meditation — a contortionist form of gymnastics perhaps? How can you judge what’s going on in someone’s head? You can’t.
You could, for example, have someone who isn’t particularly flexible, but they practise yoga daily; have a good mind-body balance and they’re able to control the chatter in their brain during savasana (corpse pose).
However, at the other end of the scale, you could get a gymnast or contortionist who’d never done yoga before. From the outside looking in, they might appear to be amazing at all the postures, but their mind-body balance might be terrible. There’s no way of knowing.
I’m happy for the physical side of yoga to be competitive — my only concern would be the message it’s sending out to the younger people practising and the rest of the world. It would be a shame if people were put off because they thought they could never be as flexible as the yoga champion gold medallists.
The beauty of yoga is that rather than measuring yourself against others, you work only to your full potential — a good philosophy for life — let’s hope yoga as a competitive sport doesn’t dilute this message.
What are your thoughts about yoga in the Olympics? Should yoga competitions be allowed? Is it a positive move forwards or something to be avoided?