Yoga Asana Competition: Is there anything yogic about it?
Very nice piece by Anna Holmes in the Washington Post, entitled When yoga gets competitive:
Somewhere on the path to enlightenment — or, at the very least, lowered blood pressure — the famously nonjudgmental and inward-looking practice of yoga became a public performance.
Like in every class you’ve ever been to. As Anna says, “ugh, the showoffs. Like the bald guy at the beginning of some classes who loudly practices his handstand when everyone else is trying to relax. Or the Mila Kunis-look-alike who smirks at everyone else in the room after successfully standing head-to-knee.”
Certainly, the competition, put on by Bikram’s wife, Rajashree Choudury, has earned the scorn of serious teachers. At least in the West – Choudury herself is a five-time winner of the all-India Yoga Competition. (And modern yoga, as I understand it, was developed at least in part to show the colonial British that India had a tradition of strength, as well.)
“The more you separate yoga from its real intention, the more you center it on the physical, you might was well go to the gym,” says Linda Sparrowe, a yoga instructor based in Rhode Island. “That’s not really what yoga is about. And it’s certainly nothing that I’m interested in.”
Sparrowe wrote a piece, Making Friends with Your Body for Yoga International that warned, “a yoga practice that focuses primarily on the physical body can actually exacerbate any preexisting body issues.”
In any case, worrying about the other people in the class, whether to admire or quietly complain, does not help one’s growth.
Later that day, I take an evening class with one of my favorite teachers, Danielle, who makes it a point to create a calm and accepting atmosphere. She puts us through an exhausting series of poses before instructing us to squat on the back of our mats to prep for crow, a difficult arm-balancing maneuver.
“Lose your ambition,” she says. I’ve been trying for months to achieve the pose, in which one’s body weight is fully supported by one’s arms and core. I suck in my gut, push into the ground with my palms, then lift my right foot off the floor. “Lose your ambition,” Danielle calls out again. My other foot comes up off the mat and I take a peek to my left to check on the progress of a woman who made a big show of balancing in tripod five minutes earlier.
Then I fall forward, flat on my face.