This past weekend was the Yoga Asana Championships for Washington State, and the more I hear about competitive yoga the more it sounds like an oxymoron. Let me preface this piece by saying that I began my yoga journey as a Bikram yogi, and "fallbackwaybackgobackmorebackCHANGE" still rings in my brain whenever I do a standing backward bend. Now though, my internal monologue talks back, saying "Fall back? No thanks, I like my cervical vertebrae."
Over the years my mind has been changed to believe that there is no "perfect yoga posture" and in fact, you should not try and fit your tight hips into gomukasana (cow face pose), but do a safer, more accessible to you, adaptation (I once had a Bikram instructor pick up my leg and physically move my injured, pre-surgery hip into "proper" alignment while I was in savasana. Sorry lady, my foot falls like that because there's nothing holding my hip socket in place. But I digress...).
Apparently I’m not the only one who feels conflicted about this trend. Huffington post, BBC and DailyMail have all posted articles about this topic, outlining the dangers, the draws and how it can become as obsession. In his book Hell Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga, Benjamin Lorr chronicles his journey from just having a goal of losing weight, to becoming consumed by competitive yoga.
These are the reasons why the notion of Competitive Yoga blows my mind! Not only is it putting unnecessary pressure on yogis to go deeper, look pretty and risk potential injury for the perfect standing bow, but you've totally left the thousands of years of yogic tradition and education in the dust.
Yoga, back in the day (way way back in the day. So far back, historians don't have a start date for asana practice.) was developed primarily for spiritual connectivity and self guidance, as a way to help our superficial selves shake hands with with our yummy, juicy, inside soulful selves. “Leave ego at the door” I was told in my teacher training. It doesn't matter what you look like in the pose, as long as you’re staying safe and going to YOUR edge and no one else’s, you get all the benefits no matter what.
So why yoga competitions? Isn't it enough to compete with ourselves in some other way every day? Every minute it seems like we're always trying to one-up others and ourselves in our daily work and personal lives. Shouldn't yoga be the one place we can chill out and be ok with our imperfections, and be happy where we are right now? I am where I am, where I am.
I take no issue with your perfect split-legged forearm stand. I enjoy healthy competition in other areas of my life like running, and attempting to improve my efficiency at work. I even enjoy looking at bendy yogis in cool poses. But to have a judged competition for the “perfect pose” seems to be going a little too far and counterintuitive to the purpose and value of yoga.
What do you think? Do yoga competitions help or hinder yoga philosophy?
Sarah Monk is a die-hard Coloradan, running addict and yoga instructor. Her passion is empowering young women through fitness, and does this by coaching several high school girls sports teams. She lives in Fort Collins with her yummy boyfriend and their two hairy kids, Nikki and Gala. Currently Sarah is helping to grow the YogaTravelTree.com community as Outreach Coordinator. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @FoCoYogini and on Instagram: @Badkukie