Fearful symmetry: Confluence in SD, Competition in NY

So, as we Asthangis gather in San Diego today — right this second, we are half way there, paused in Irvine so Bobbie can teach her class — a different type of yoga gathering is happening in New York.

The National Yoga Asana Championship. It’s getting lots of press — here’s a Wall St. Journal story, and here’s a piece from the New York Times — because of one simple thing:

These are the folks who want to make yoga an Olympic Sport. The United States Yoga Federation. Sounds official, huh?

Also behind things: Rajashree Choudhury, the wife of Bikram. You may have heard of him.

Now, I think I can speak for Bobbie when I say we don’t approve. This bit from the Times story probably hints at why:

But how does one master easeful meditation during competition when being judged and ranked creates the very mind tremors that Patanjali assured yoga could quiet?

At last year’s regional championship, Bangora said she believed she performed so poorly that she hid in a broom closet and wept, being sure to put a smile on her face before rejoining the other participants. She ended up winning.

“No one feels good about their performance on stage,” she said.

Who would like that? Well, Choudhury, apparently (also from the Times):

As a child in Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, Choudhury loved track and field, though yoga was always around.

“I was 4 years old when I started, and everyone practiced yoga after school,” she said.

But she was irritated when her physical education teachers signed her up for a school yoga competition at age 9. Yoga did not seem exciting enough.

Then she won.

“I saw the amazing things people could do with their bodies, and I got hooked,” Choudhury said.

She became a five-time national yoga asana champion.

I bet you caught the same thing there that I did, though: “she won.” Really? That’s what got her “hooked” on yoga? Winning? Ego validation (I’m assuming)?

I don’t think so. This isn’t for me.

At the same time, I’m not sure I find myself in the “camp” of those opposing this idea. Here’s from the Journal:

“The roots of yoga are based in acceptance and non-violence and compassion toward self and others,” said Roseanne Harvey, 35, of Montreal, who’s been practicing yoga for 15 years and blogs about it at http://www.itsallyogababy.com.

She pointed out that in most yoga classes, “what we’re trying to do is encourage students not to compete,” she said.

While saying that the universe of yoga had “room within it for lots of different approaches,” Harvey had some concerns about what yoga pose competitions would be promoting, that people could get hurt if the idea filters down that it’s about being able to get into the perfect positions.

That, for me at least, swings too close to any number of “heart-opening” yogas that aren’t precisely my thing. (At this point, anyone who has been in Tim Miller’s “Circle of Tears” with me is encouraging to keep silent!) It goes back to my “yoga is hard and should hurt you” position, one I’ve come to learn makes me a bit of an “Ashtangi cultist.”

Which I guess is a good place to be as I head to the Confluence.

But… I do have to ask: Thoughts on yoga as competition and as a possible Olympic Sport? Is there value to it I’m missing?

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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