Ahh, the Choudhury’s are still at it. First, Bikram wanted to patent “his” sequence of asanas. And now, his wife, Rajashree, is out to make yoga a competitive sport. Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that an organization called USA Yoga, founded by Rajashree, is hosting a national yoga competition this weekend in New York where participants will be judged on seven different poses. According to Rajashree, no spirituality will be judged. Well, thank God she clarified that!
In the article, Rajashree said that competitive yoga has existed in India for quite sometime. Not being an expert on the evolution of yoga, I first did a quick google search of “yoga competitions India” and noticed that while they exist, they seem to be far newer than the “century” old competitions Rajashree mentioned. And then, I asked my yoga teacher, student of the revered Pattabhi Jois, if there was any truth to Rajashree’s statement. He mentioned being aware of “asana competitions in the south for at least 40 years.” Note the marked distinction in his response – “asana” competitions. Not “yoga” competitions.
And thus, we go back to the Hindu American Foundation’s tireless efforts to remind everyone that yoga is a combination of both spiritual and physical exercises. Yoga is a holistic practice that cannot be judged by a panel over the course of a weekend. To simplify yoga into a series of asanas – actually just seven asanas in this case – is a charade that only devalues the spiritual knowledge, wisdom, and insight imparted to us by the great gurus. The Bhagavad Gita, which mentions “yoga” over 100 times, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which are forever cited by the “yoga world,” and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika all clearly demonstrate that yoga is “an inward journey, where you explore your mind, your awareness, your consciousness, your conscience” (Source: Namarupa Magazine).
If it’s just physical, it’s not yoga. Like I’ve alluded to before – just because a person can rock the forearm stand does not mean she is practicing yoga. It just means she has mastered the ability to balance on her forearms.
For such powerful players in the “yoga world,” the Choudhury’s should have more respect for the practice and tradition that has made them so famous. My favorite reaction to Rajashree’s competition came from Phil Goldberg, author of American Veda and friend of HAF. “My money is on the performers at Cirque du Soleil.”