The big question is “Does Yoga belong as an Olympic Sport?”
If you’re looking to brush up on competitive Yoga don’t worry I’ve got you covered
It will be hard for you to contort your body and mind into arguing in favor or in opposition on this topic
As winter dwindles away sports fans across the world are looking forward to March Madness, the NHL and NBA Playoffs, as well as the beginning of baseball. These sporting events turn the seasons from winter to spring leading into the glory of summer. This year however is a leap year, meaning that there is one more day between sports fans and hot summer days, but it also means that the Summer Olympic Games will take place in London, England. All of our favorite events including track and field, boxing, swimming, wrestling and basketball, to name a few, will be televised globally as we enjoy these historical summer games but could we soon add Yoga to our Olympic past time?
The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “Yuj” which means to yoke, join or unite and to practice yoga is to integrate every aspect of an individual into a harmonious experience. You practice yoga in hopes of joining your body with your mind and your mind with your soul and the ultimate goal is to achieve a balanced life. The long tradition of yoga has been in practice for over 5000 years. There are many different types, or schools, of yoga and each style brings you down a different path with varying goals. The entire system of yoga is built around exercise, breathing and meditation and different exercises or poses challenge an individual on varying levels.
There are over a hundred different schools of yoga including Hatha, Raja, Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, Tantra and Kashmir. Hatha is the most popular branch of yoga, especially in the western world. The word Ha means “sun” and tha means “moon” and the combination shows yoga’s attempt to bring together opposites. Hatha focuses on the practice of postures/poses otherwise known as asanas and breath control or pranayama. Learning new poses allows for an individual to develop a stronger inner meditation technique and its ultimate goal is to bring health and energy to the body and mind. Anyone who has tried yoga has been instructed to let go of stress, listen to your own body, settle into a posture and don’t force it.
There are many in the western world who are forcing it, yoga that is, and they are trying to force it to become an Olympic sport. Competitive yoga seems like an oxymoron to an outsider like me but many enthusiasts around the world have been spreading competitive yoga into the world. Yoga is in no way meant to be competitive when you look into its roots but organizations like the United States Yoga Federation are attempting to gain the notoriety needed to get competitive yoga a bid in future Olympic games To make yoga an Olympic sport it has to become recognized, and not just by the 18+million Americans who practice yoga, but rather it must be administered by an International Federation which ensures that the sport’s activities follow the Olympic Charter. It must meet a number of criteria established by the International Olympic Committee.
You have to be kidding me! Yoga, an Olympic sport?
It is hard for me to imagine multiple different “athletes” from countries across the world to unite at the Olympics and “compete” in yoga. To me the foundation of yoga is completely against competition and it is the western world’s necessity to make everything into a competition. Competition itself is not something completely out of the ordinary and nowadays different associations across the globe put together yoga competitions, not in hopes of establishing fierce rivalries between Yogi’s and Yogini’s, but rather in hopes of spreading the interest of yoga and exposing competitors to the beneficial aspects of yoga.
Yoga has become extremely popular and it seems that the billion dollar industry of yoga apparel in the United States is the only proof you need to see just how big the yoga boom is. It could be that men just love seeing women in black yoga pants but as much of an ignorant male as I am, I know that’s not the only truth. Bikram Choudhury, a Indian yoga guru, is the founder of Bikram Yoga (a type of yoga performed in a hot environment) and has become a billionaire by selling franchise options for yoga studios to practice his type of yoga. He has made a lot of money and became a celebrity among the yoga community and was the focus of a popular documentary called Yoga Inc.
Choudhury was the key component behind the creation of an International Yoga Asana Championship dating back to 2003. This year’s competition will take place at Time Square’s Hudson Theatre in New York City from March 2nd-4th in hopes of increasing yoga’s popularity. The competition focuses on the physical aspects of yoga and the athletes are judged solely on the perfection of a pose. Similar to gymnastics a poses difficulty and the competitors ability to keep their poise and composure as well as gracefully transition in and out of positions all plays in to their score.
Ashley Hooper is a former medal winner at the Championship was interviewed during the documentary and she says that “We (competitors) don’t feel we are competing with each other. We are competing with ourselves.” There are many other well-known yoga competitions including the World Yoga Championships, sponsored by the Yoga Sports Federation which dates back to 1989, as well as the European Yoga Championships held by the European Yoga Alliance. The yoga world was heavily influenced by Bikram Choudhury and now it is his wife, Rajashree, who is attempting to revolutionize competitive yoga to the next level, the Olympics.
Rajashree Choudhury is the founder and executive-director of USA Yoga and she is working extremely hard to get competitive yoga into the summer games. She plans on hosting over 40 tournaments in 2012, while the national tournament in NYC will feature over 120 entrants and Choudhury hopes that in the future yoga will be implemented into the Olympics as well as college and high school sports programs. She hopes to develop educational programs, as well as rules and regulations so that the necessary competitive skills can be understood, which is vital to her sport to even be considered by the IOC.
It could be that the popularity of yoga has put so much money into the Choudhury’s bank accounts that they are willing to throw the non-competitive nature of yoga out the window in hopes of expanding the sport’s popularity while lining their pockets. The contortion and ability of a master yogi/yogini is phenomenal and I am in no way bashing the act as a glorified stretching routine but am highly skeptical of it being labeled as a sport. Yogic philosophy states that one should let go of expectations and not concern themselves with the outcome of their actions but how could they do that while competing for a gold medal?
Yoga will not be in the 2012 or even the 2016 Olympic games but if the stars are to align and New Dehli, India is chosen to host the 2020 Olympics it’s hard to think of a better time for Yoga to make it’s Olympic debut. In case you are wondering you do not need to be a vegetarian, nor a trendy hipster, to participate in yoga but if you are in the physical shape of an overweight 20-something male I highly suggest starting out with pregnant yoga first. The yoga community is used to contorting its body into poses that seem unnatural and yoga as an Olympic sport seems unnatural to a sports fanatic like myself, but who knows what the future holds.