Should Yogis Push Themselves To Compete?

Written by Debbie Steingesser

The year was 1990. New Kids On the Block were gods, neon was the norm, and “Pay What You Weigh Day” at the Ground Round meant you could drop a mere $0.87 and purchase unlimited popcorn, a grilled cheese, fries, soda, and a clown sundae. I was eight years old and I begged my parents to sign me up for Newton Girls Soccer so I could wear a hip pink baby tee and be like all the other girls in my third grade class. On the first day of practice my coach set me up as a defender. The minute someone kicked the ball towards me, I freaked out, cried, and ran to my parents who consoled me: “Don’t worry. We’ll take you home. You never have to compete again.” They were so wrong.

Skip ahead to the present moment. I’m a full time yoga teacher and newly obsessed Crossfitter who's spent 30 years dancing, singing, stretching, mobilizing, and avoiding anything involving judges, time caps, and scorecards… until this spring when I registered for the 2013 Crossfit Open competition.

The Crossfit Open is a series of five-set workouts, introduced over five weeks, that are judged, scored, and open to everyone with some Crossfit experience. Over 120,000 athletes compete in the Open, and the top individual competitors and teams from each area move onto the Regionals. The Open is culty, intense, exhausting, exhilarating and pushes the boundaries of your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual abilities. Basically, it’s yoga for the strongest at heart.

I loved to hate the Crossfit Open. For five consecutive Fridays, I got a sub to teach my favorite class at Satori Yoga Studio so I could compete with my community and judge other athletes at San Francisco Crossfit during our gym's scheduled heat times. After the first week, I was so proud of myself for getting through the workout that I cried with joy and an overwhelming sense of relief. After the second week I got so intensely competitive, I cried because the weight was too heavy, my lower back went into spasms, and my nervous system shut down until week three, when I completely shed my competitive shield, remembered to breathe, have fun, smile, enjoy the process, and not overdo it.

For weeks four and five, I merged all these strategies together, went in with the belief that anything is possible, and reached two new personal records: 4 clean-and-jerks at 95 lbs and 4 chest to bar pull ups. All of this happened while surrounded by a wildly encouraging, supportive, energetic group of my peers at San Francisco Crossfit.

So, why should yogis compete?

Because everyone should experience what it's like to push the boundaries of what’s possible for yourself and others. Even if the feeling only lasts for a second. A sense of possibility is deeply inspiring and contagious.

How does a regular yoga practice contribute to competition?

On a physical level, yoga clearly helps with your joint mobility and range of motion. Yoga also gives you tools to breathe in stressful situations, stay focused and present on the task at hand, and maintain a positive attitude during physically and mentally demanding moments. Yoga is the process of stepping out of your comfort zone. It’s learning how to be strong and graceful on your mat and in your life. Most importantly, it's about practicing these things in the best company you can find: whether it’s in your local studio, a Crossfit gym, or in that big ol’ heart of yours.

I may never come close to winning the Crossfit Open, but the experience of participating in a competition was one of the best in my life. The confidence, presence, joy, and teamwork I discovered was similar to what you feel after a week-long yoga retreat in Costa Rica.

I highly encourage you to take your incredible flexibility and breathing mechanics on a new journey. Try something competitive. Believe more is possible for you, because clearly it is, and you totally got this.

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