Rajashree Choudhury would like to convince you that yoga and hyper-competitive athletic contests go together. Her organization, USA Yoga, is holding the National Yoga Asana Championship in New York this weekend, and is actively lobbying to get competitive yoga accepted as an event in the 2016 Olympic Games. Yoga is physically strenuous and requires balance and grace, not so different from some types of gymnastics. But it's also geared toward spiritual self-awareness and relaxation. Is Olympic yoga a plausible proposal, or is the whole idea of cutthroat downward-dog posing "comically beside the point"? Here's what you should know:
How would Olympic yoga work?
Much like the national championships USA Yoga is hosting: Each Olympic-class yogi would have three minutes to do seven poses, five of which are mandatory (standing head-to-knee pose, standing bow-pulling pose, bow pose, rabbit pose, and stretching pose). The final two poses are yogi's choice. The judges would rate the contestants on their strength, flexibility, timing, and breathing.
Will the Olympics say yes?
That remains unclear. For now, USA Yoga has asked that the U.S. Olympic Committee recognize them as the governing body for the sport of yoga asana (posture yoga). Choudhury's organization is also banding together with similar yoga groups worldwide to form an international yoga federation that will lobby for Olympic inclusion.
Is this a new idea?
No. Choudury says yoga-offs are common in India, and that she and her husband, Bikram Choudhury – the founder of Bikram yoga, or hot yoga — took part in them growing up. It's also not new "to compare what you're doing in yoga class against the person beside you," says Wency Leung at Canada's Globe and Mail. Or for that matter, "to propose dubious sports for Olympic recognition. (Pole dancing? Kite flying? Disc golf, anyone?)" But because yoga is meditative and conspicuously non-competitive, "some find the idea of bringing it to the Olympics particularly unsettling."
Is this a good idea?
No way, yoga instructor Mary Catherine Starr tells the Washingtonian. "By making yoga an Olympic 'sport,' you take away that personal, intuitive aspect of the practice." Plus, "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." Hold on, Choudhury says. Yoga can be about pure athleticism, not meditation and stress release. And for her critics, Choudhury offers a yogic tenet: "Yoga teaches people to be non-judgmental."