Written by Mira Saraf.
Who says yoga can't be competitive? Although for some a yoga competition may defeat the purpose of yoga, there is actually an international championship (based on this case on Bikram Yoga) but there are whisperings too that they would like to be classified as an Olympic sport.
For the last seven years people of all cultures and all walks have life have traveled from across the globe to participate in the International Yoga Asana Championship (Bishnu Charan Ghosh cup). There are two divisions to the championship - adult and youth. Adult applies to anyone over 18, and youth to people between the ages of 11 and 17.
There is a male and female winner for each division. In order to compete contestants must place first or second in a National Championship. In order to compete in a National Championship they must place first or second in a regional championship. The Toronto Regional Championship was held last Saturday at the Revue Cinema with guest judge Esak Garcia. He has a background both in Capoeira and Bikram yoga. He won the Bishnu Charan Ghosh cup in 2005.
Participants had three minutes to demonstrate seven postures. Five were mandatory from the beginner Bikram Yoga series, and two were optional. The mandatory asanas were standing head to knee pose, standing bow pulling, bow pose, rabbit pose, and stretching pose. We attempted to go, but were running late (from yoga class) and were actually refused at the door because they were at full capacity. It seems that competitive yoga has become quite popular. This represents a huge change from the year before, and shows the growing awareness of yoga and yoga competition in Toronto.
Competitive yoga, although still an oxymoron in North America has been practiced in India for over 2000 years. They occur all over the country. There are many organizations out there such as the International Federation of Yoga Sports that sponsor these championships. Often historically, the competitions have gone further than just pure physical form, they often are mental and spiritual competitions as well. Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj launched the Pondicherry Yoga Asana Association in 1975, thus pioneering the yoga asana championship.
In spite of the apparent taboo around linking the words yoga and competition, many have said that the competition really takes place within the individual, as they seek to push their own limits. As in gymnastics, participants are individually rated, not compared to each other. Which is much like the practice of yoga - you are constantly pushing your own boundaries to see what you and your body are capable of.
Is it right or wrong to compete in yoga? Personally I don't think it impacts anyone's individual practice. Those who compete choose to compete, and those who choose not to don't have to. Now that yoga is part of the mainstream in North American life taking it that one step further is inevitable. The question remains as to whether the more spiritual side of yoga will ever enter a North American competition.