When you see the words “yoga competition” what is the first thought that comes to your mind? A feeling of inspiration? You just read an oxymoron? Or did it peak your curiosity?
If you ask Jon Gans, yogi, judge and a board director at USA Yoga, the organization that organizes the competitions, he says that “all of the above” is what he hears from the yoga community.
Just recently, on January 13, 20 competing yogis and their supporters gathered in Reston, Virginia, for the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Regional USA Yoga Asana Championship.
While most of the competitors practice Bikram Yoga style, practitioners from all backgrounds of yoga styles are welcome to participate in the event.
According to Bikram Yoga Baltimore, owner Eddie Garner stated prior to the competition, "Our competitors are strong and have been training for the last several months as part of their yoga practice,but the event is more than a competition, it is designed as a yoga-expo and promotes the health, discipline, and personal achievement available through Hatha yoga.”
Well apparently the training paid off, as three students at Bikram Yoga Baltimore placed in the competition – Chad Rayadurg who placed third in Maryland's men's division, Angelica Daniele, who placed third in Maryland's women's division and Allison Kinter, who won first place in Maryland's women's division.
Garner states, “Allison Kinter, who won first place in the women's division, has been a student and teacher of ours for years. Her yoga practice is such an inspiration. She has struggled with back pain, possibly from being a childhood gymnast, and has had to work extra hard at an understanding of how to progress without any pain. We are very proud of her, as we are of all our students. I'm sure she will do well at nationals.”
But it’s really not about the competition, it’s about the inspiration.
Gans, who has been a judge for a number of asana competitions in the U.S. says, that while it’s called a competition, “they don’t encourage a competitive mentality.”
“Yogis participating in these events show you can hold a competition without an overly competitive mentality,” states Gans, adding, “One of the most remarkable features is the camaraderie of the competitors. I’ve heard many say that the best experience they had [at the competition] was the feedback they got from fellow competitors.”
Blessing from above the hierarchy.
While a number of yoga practitioners in the yoga community ask how can there be a competition when we’re constantly told that the practice is for ourselves, or to not compare ourselves to others in class, or to put away the ego. How can the concept of a competition be acceptable?
Yoga competitions, in truth, have been happening for a very long time, and are still popular in India, the birthplace of asana, as well as the United States.
Yoga competition has also received blessings from yoga icon and master, B.K.S. Iyengar, who states in a letter, “Out of the eight petals of yoga, the only petal that is exhibitive is the yoga asanas, whereas the other petals are very individual and personal. As such, there is nothing wrong with holding a competition of the qualitative presentation of the yoga asanas.”
Gans, who has judged competitions in Pune, India says that the competition is very popular among school-aged children in India because there are a lot of after-school clubs for children that include yoga activities.
How do they judge?
In describing how each yogi is judged, Gans says that there are certain elements in consideration for each pose, and each participant must meet the basic elements for each pose such as balance, engagement of the muscles, as well as strength applied to the pose. Consideration is also given to body types – as they all differ. Women and men are also judged separately as well.
The format of the competition includes each participant doing seven postures in three minutes – the first five are the same for each person, and the last two are yogis choice, and will probably be one that they do well and impresses the judges.
Can we judge ourselves?
As we each progress in our own practice, we can ask ourselves why are we doing handstand? What is the point of pincha mayurasana? Will you gain better balance in life through these poses? Does enlightenment come through perfect bakasana? The answer is probably not.
The real prize is developing a true mind-body connection, and perhaps a bit more strength, flexibility, health and self-confidence.
Many yogis overcome injuries and other health issues using yoga – so why not celebrate the success of self and others through a yoga competition?
Annapolis-based yogini, Laura Loterszpil summed up her feelings about the competition stating, “…What comes down to is that you are challenging yourself. It is not about being better or worse than others competing, but about taking yourself to a level that requires much focus, balance, persistence, perseverance and talent….as long as the intention is to better oneself and get your comfort zone.. it is all about "intention."