Monday, March 12, 2012

Will Yoga Moms Be The Next Reality TV Hit?

Photo provided by: Ron Sombilion Gallery
A year, maybe two years ago, when I first heard of Yoga Asana Championships I was pretty repulsed by the idea.  For myself, the practice of non-competitiveness has been one of the most difficult, most cherished, and most comforting aspects of yoga, but I also realize that others don’t necessarily feel as I do.

However, the 9th Annual United States Asana Championship, held earlier this month, rekindled debates surrounding the possibility of yoga appearing in the 2016 Olympic games.  With new voices discussing the pro’s and con’s of asana as a competitive sport, my initial concerns have reappeared, and with much more clarity.  The more I read the more I find myself asking:

What will happen to yoga?

This question terrifies me.  It seems every year there is a “new” wackier yoga style that has surface, odd yoga trends like doga, and teachers who come out with their own “best” systematic approach, and I have always felt that these adaptations of yoga were at times not very yoga, but harmless, even helpful to those who discovered a meaningful practice through them.  But yoga in the Olympics how will that impact the practice for future generations?

Photo provided by: Ron Sombilion Gallery

The article Yoga Competition: Listen Before You Judge, painted a positive future with competitive yoga, in which Chloe Hallock wrote:
...the Championship, USA Yoga, is working to bring yoga into the Olympics by 2016, a tool to bring yoga to children. Can you imagine what the world would be like if kids grew up doing yoga? I have a hunch over time chronic stress and tension would become things of the past.

I think that's a nice idea, but I also feel the success of yoga especially amongst children and teenagers is the safe and non-competitive nature of the practice.  Yogacharya, editor of The Yoga News, suggests that sports culture today is one that conflicts with the essence of yoga, writing:
“today’s athlete often possesses an unwavering determination to win at all costs. This is quite apparent in the extremely high levels of training, along with the use and abuse of performance enhancing supplements and drugs in sports today…much of the modern sports culture does seem in conflict with the very core ideals of yoga: those of selflessness, compassion, dignity, balance, humility and respect.”

This comment reminded me of why I felt so strongly about yoga not being a competitive sport.   Recently, I caught a few minutes of the reality tv show, Dance Moms, a behind the scenes look at the sport of competitive dance.

I found the show upsetting as the girls, who look to be ages 10-13, rehearsed several hours a day only to be ruthlessly picked apart for their performance, physical appearance, and weight, by both the instructor and the mothers.  While, the show may be dramatized, there is no doubt that those attitudes and pressures exists in competitive environments involving youth, and one that I experienced at an impressionable age.

Photo provided by: tlongacre

At 12, I was accepted into a Jr. Dance Company, within the small studio I witnessed girls my age willing to brutalize their bodies, starve themselves, and continue to push with serious injuries all in hopes of being the "best."  It is these experiences that I cherish the non-competitive virtue of yoga.

Now, I find myself thankful when watching my younger cousin, 8 years old, practice asana.  I love seeing her find joy in a practice that requires such strength, flexibility, and discipline, but I love that the practice offers her something many sports can’t: a place that’s free of competition, where she is safe to grow, and explore her body free of judgment.  

I fear that if asana is qualified as an olympic sport, that the values and benefits of practicing non-competitiveness will disappear.  I worry similar attitudes will also surface in the asana competitions, and find little comfort in viewing the guidelines set by USA Yoga or in watching videos of children manipulate their not yet developed, and vulnerable bodies into such extreme postures.

Do you feel that yoga can transcend the competitive, and at times the self-harming nature of “sport?”

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