Is Yoga Ready for the Olympics?

An organization that will host a national competition this March hopes yoga will be recognized as an Olympic sport.

Who does it better? USA Yoga will host the 2012 National Championships for yoga in March. The organization hopes yoga will become an Olympic sport. Photographs courtesy of Flickr user Ron Sombilon Gallery.

Yoga, the back-bending, leg-twisting ancient practice that prides itself on being a personal, spiritual discipline, is putting on its game face.

Some of the best yogis out there are heading to New York City in a few days to compete in the 2012 National Yoga Championship for youths and adults, an event hosted by the United States Yoga Federation. Each participant is required to perform seven yoga postures in three minutes. The judges will rate each pose based on strength, flexibility, timing, and appropriate breathing in postures.

According to its website, USA Yoga’s mission is to join other countries to form an international yoga federation and to qualify yoga as an Olympic sport. It has already applied to the United States Olympic Committee.

But does adding a competitive edge take away the introspective, know-your-own-body aspects of yoga? Mary Catherine Starr, a local yoga instructor, says yes.

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“By making yoga an Olympic ‘sport,’ you take away that personal, intuitive aspect of the practice,” she says. “Pushing past your edge is not a part of yoga—yoga is all about honoring your edge—but the Olympics are all about pushing past your limit to win.”

Local yogi and blogger Peg Mulqueen agrees, though she recognizes how watching someone else do yoga can be inspiring—“not because I am awed by the posture itself,” she says, “but because I recognize the long road of practice to get there.”

Critics also worry that making yoga a competitive sport will intimidate those who have always wanted to try yoga but worried about being the lone newcomer in a class. While USA Yoga says the “sport of yoga will inspire many [. . .] to improve their practices and encourage many newcomers to take up the practice of yoga,” Starr says competitive yoga goes against everything she tells her own students. “As a teacher I spend a lot of time reminding my students not to compare their bodies with those around them and to honor exactly where they are physically, mentally, and energetically in the moment.”

For some critics, the issue is simply that they believe the benefits individuals experience from yoga are rewarding enough. “It’s not something that needs an award or a medal to reap its benefits,” Mulqueen says.

We want to know your thoughts and opinions on yoga becoming a sport. Take our poll or leave a comment below.

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