Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely love the yoga competition, but I'm afraid the yoga competition is largely misunderstood, especially from folks outside the Bikram world. You might think, "How can there be a yoga competition? Don't the two words oppose each other?" The answer is, it depends.
Calling it a competition is necessary because if you called it a demonstration, no one would show up. This is bad for Box office.
In this country, we love competition. We love our baseball, football, golf, etc. If there is a score to provide a comparison and a hometown player to follow, we are in! So why do people get their feathers ruffled over a yoga competition? We have come to believe yoga should be non-competitive and that we should never compare ourselves to another person in the yoga room. Well, that is true, but in a yoga competition you are comparing yourself to yourself. Your getting a score for your demonstration of yoga.
No matter your opinion of Bikram Choudhury, he is a very experienced yogi, and in his book, Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class (that he wrote 40 years ago), he states, "the only person to compare yourself to is yourself." He is telling the reader to take notice of the incremental changes that happen when you step firmly on your mat. You should compare yourself to yourself, you should take notice of your change. Your body is the end point of all that you are. Your body is telling a story. What story is your body telling you? What story is the yoga competitor's body telling on stage?
So, if you should only compare yourself to yourself and not anyone else, you might think a yoga competition is not cool. I respectfully disagree. We need the competition for cultural reasons. At this point, Americans demand a winner! This is where I find the beauty in the competition and where I get all giddy and tingly all over.
In the same book mentioned above, Bikram states over and over again that in yoga "all you have to do is try the right way." When a yogi gets on the stage they are demonstrating the accumulation of their trying. But what exactly are they demonstrating? They are demonstrating Concentrating, Meditation, breathing (Pranayama), Asana, and to do that the competitor must turn inward, which is Pratyahara. This is five out of the eight Limbs of Yoga! Wow! And two more limbs happen backstage and during the training process, which is the Yamas, the restraints (what not to do), and the Niyamas, the observances (what to do)--the character part of the competition. And a little bit of Samadhi (union with the Divine Self) is achieved along the way. Hence, Yoga!!
What happens to a person from the point they first step on their mat? When they first try the right way, to the point they step on the stage to demonstrate what they have discovered is what matters. It takes endless moments of concentration, meditation, pranayama, pratyahara, and asana to achieve what they are attempting to do and without the element of competition they would not have an opportunity to practice the Yamas and the Niyamas. The competition could be considered a metaphor for darkness. Darkness, or competition, has it's profound place of goodness on the planet. Without darkness, light would not have a job. Competition by design creates the friction for alchemy. It creates the circumstances for us to grow and the stage becomes the acid test. Backstage becomes the acid test as our motives for competing and our character are exposed through the competition process. The competitors and their coaches learn precious information about their character in which to build from. It is a process. It is Life.
Yoga is for the courageous soul. The person willing to point the finger at themselves, not others. The person willing to bare themselves for the sake of their personal evolution and to inspire others to be courageous along the way.
A yoga competition will expose the men from the boys. The process will expose the cracks in your character. There are those who will get on stage and force themselves into some contorted position to prove something that simply isn't there. To be significant. They won't have the poise of meditation, the stillness of concentration, the grace of pranayama, and they will throw a fit when they don't win. And then there are those who will simply step on stage and demonstrate where they are in their yoga journey. They will inspire and stir the souls of those with true sight. They will demonstrate one of my favorite quotes from Bikram, "You cannot know the spiritual until you can control the physical." Both have their place in the educational part of the yoga path. Often we have to do things the wrong way to know how to do things the right way.
The body is the end point. The strength and the stability of the yoga competitor's demonstration is telling a profound story. It is telling their story. We all have a story and the story starts to change when we practice yoga. By design, the story becomes more authentic, purified. The competitors have to fall out and get back in many, many times to do what they are doing on stage. It is not in the doing, it is in the trying that we learn. The competition allows us to see the accumulation of all of the trying and it is beautiful.
See you at the competition,