Yes, Competitive Yoga Is Still Yoga

Written by Lauren May

When my previous article ("I Never Thought I'd Love Competitive Yoga") went live, I hadn't expected many of the negative comments that it immediately received, but I wasn't shocked by them, either. Most of us associate yoga with relaxation and serenity, which makes competitive yoga a very controversial topic.

I had hoped that my account of competitive yoga might change people's minds, especially because I, too, had judged it so harshly before. Although many people liked the article, I was struck by the negative comments such as, "That's not my yoga," or "Leave it to the West to make yoga a competition."

It spurred me to reevaluate the subject. Over the next month, I carried this thought with me to my yoga practice, brought it up in conversations, and dragged it with me to New York. I was now seeing yoga as this last bit of untainted space, which people in an over-competitive world were desperately claiming as theirs. Is yoga really our only true outlet, I wondered? Why do we immediately see the ugly side of competition ? Was I a traitor?

I thought about my love for running. Just as with my yoga practice, I feel a great mind-body connection when I run, especially when I explore wooded trails. I am forced to stay in the moment as I jump over roots and dodge hanging branches. I focus on my breath as I inhale all the oxygen from the trees, connecting me with nature.

Still, it is hard work as I am improving my strength and stamina, and it takes discipline to keep going when it it gets rough. When I am finished, I feel great; I have just worked my body, meditated, and feel a great sense of appreciation for life.

If I sign up for an occasional 5K to run with the community, not trying to win, is that wrong? This could apply to any activity. Where do we draw the line? Better yet, do we have to? Does competing do any harm?

As the 2013 National Yoga Asana Championship neared, I continued asking myself these questions. All I really knew was that I felt grateful that yoga, something that I love and have worked hard at, had afforded me this opportunity to travel to New York. I felt an invigorating sense that I was exactly where I should be, and that I couldn't possibly hate the competition.

Yes, this time it seemed more intense. Backstage, I watch a girl's tears boil to steady sobs after a misstep, and I listened to another girl curse every other word after an unexpected tumble out of a posture. Another woman paced back-and-forth, fluttering like a boxer before a bout in the ring.

Seeing their energy made me extra nervous, and I felt a need to keep it together, which I carried into my performance. This time on stage, I did the same routine I'd performed at Regionals, but in toe stand, I didn't fall out as I'd done before. I focused. I did my best. I smiled. And I finished right under the three-minute time limit with one second to spare.

Looking back, the asana competition was like that landmark lampost you use when running a race—the goal you need to take you to the next goal. That’s what it’s been for me—an accomplishment that I needed to remind me of all that I'm capable of doing.

The competitions are held to inspire others to do yoga (the "unthinkable" for many) and by participating, I have inspired myself to strive for my own “unthinkables.”

That first night that I sat reading other "yogis' " comments, I made a huge mistake. I had been so attached to my own idea of yoga, I had pegged a "yogi" as someone who practices acceptance. I had full faith that my fellow yogis were just going to support me because that seemed the "yogic" thing to do. But to criticize the competition saying "your yoga," it insinuates that one kind of yoga is superior.

But isn't that comparison a competitive position in itself?

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