The Yogini from Manila

Yoga…in the Olympics????


Today — August 8, 2008 — marks the opening of the Olympics in Beijing, China.

As usual, I hope to follow my favorite event, gymnastics. For some reason, this event always mesmerizes me and holds me in awe. I hold my breath as the gymnasts leap in the air, somersault and land on their feet. The floor exercises of the girls keep me glued to the TV set. I always love to watch these dance routines combined with gymnastics.

But can you believe that there seems to be a serious move to include a new event in the 2012 or 2020 Olympics? In an article on The Wall Street Journal Asia, John Krich writes that India is planning to make a pitch for New Delhi to be the venue of this Olympics — and they want yoga to be included as an event!

In Ashtanga News, they reported that ashtanga yoga could be included as a demonstration sport in Beijing. I just came from the Beijing Olympics website however and could not find yoga anywhere in the events listed so it is just possible it was not included anymore for this year.

Chinese pictogram representing yoga in the 2008 Olympics

Chinese pictogram representing yoga

But let’s go back to India’s bid to make it a competitive sport in the Olympics.

There are obviously 2 opposing schools of thought here.


Those in favor of yoga becoming an Olympic competitive sport are mostly practitioners of Bikram Yoga. The Bikram founder’s wife, Rajashree Choudhury, brought the competitions to the U.S. from India and competitions are largely organized by those who practice Bikram yoga.

Competitive yoga can be found even in the ancient home of yoga — India — where it is a sport in some Indian schools today. Since 1989 there has been a Worldwide Yoga Championship where participants from about 20 countries show off their athletic, artistic and rhythmic yoga asanas. Mr. Gopal Ji, son of a famous yoga guru and Executive Director of World Yoga Council of International Yoga Federation, relates the case of taekwondo which began as a demonstration sport during the 1988 Seoul Olympics and became a full event 12 years later. At that time, taekwondo had far fewer participants, he contends. He strongly sees yoga becoming a full Olympic event down the road.


Those opposed to the idea give different reasons for it: yoga was never meant to be a competition but one’s journey with one’s self; questions about who can judge if one’s asana is more perfect than the other’s; what will then distinguish a yogi from a contortionist; that this is just focused on the outward asana pose and not on the stillness of mind of the competing yogi.

Yoga began as a Hindu discipline. Aside from the physical positions, it involves discipline of the mind as well as controlled breathing. Many yoga devotees, in India and in other countries, feel uncomfortable with the thought that yoga would become one where contestants would vie for honors — where there would be clear winners and losers.


When I was introduced to yoga, it was initially from the physical standpoint (the asanas). Taken per se, that would be the primary focus of competitive yoga if ever it becomes an Olympic event. How the organizers would qualify the athletes for this by separating real yogis from contortionists or simply flexible athletes is another thing to hurdle. I would not mind seeing it performed in the Olympics. It would be interesting to watch.

However, I would hesitate to attribute the title “yoga” to such an event because yoga itself encompasses more than just the asanas. It includes one’s mental state, the breathing, the lifestyle, and more. It advocates ahimsa (non-violence) to one’s body and accepting where you are at every moment. In my case, yoga is my own journey and each yogi’s journey is different from everyone else’s.

What are your thoughts on this? Would you like to see yoga in the Olympics? Why or why not?

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  1. Hi Jane! I would like to comment again the way some teachers promoting YOGA here in the Philippines. I just saw in TV a commercial AD of a certain famous brand of paint. Maybe by this time all of you in YOGA community has saw it. How can someone painting the room and the rest of the people inside is doing YOGA specifically emphasizing the importance of breathing? The word “exhale” was repeatedly uttered by the teacher. Again I want to speak in medical point of view. PAINTS contains chemicals that are hazardous to our health particularly to lungs. FYI most PAINTS contains LEAD. If you could check each can of those PAINTS a precautionary warning was indicated. The danger of breathing the vapor as well as the spray mist are included in the warning together with necessary first aid instruction in case an emergency happened. I really do not understand why you have to breath in the room when someone is painting?…..I find it the most insensible advertisement I ever saw. YOGA here are used in a wrong way and this poor teacher wasn’t aware that they are already conveying a wrong message to the public. I am sad because the teacher in the commercial was my favorite instructor. Its all in the name of money and publicity!…Now I am waiting for the next MONEY POSE my instructor will teach me….so sad….Thanks.

  2. Hi Jane! I like your point and I truly respect it. Is just that I am speaking in behalf of my medical point of view. As a medical professional I think it is my right to give my opinion and advice in a public because these are the things we took under oath when we got are license to practice professionally. I admire your discipline in eating right and doing some good exercise. I also eat more fruits, vegetables and I do not eat pork meat but these discipline did not happen because of bikram yoga. My views regarding heat and flexibility are based on the researched I conducted and a study I made 3 years ago. The study even won a scholarship and made me obtain my masteral degree. And really there are no such thing as toxins in medical science point of view. I have nothing against YOGA. The basic definition of YOGA is union with GOD and since none of those asanas in bikram, astanga etc. implores spirituality then why is it still called a YOGA. Yoga has also its 8 limb that separate human from any worldly cares. Do you think an owner of certain YOGA studio or bikram studio in a sense still follow this limbs?..I just dont know maybe I am not an ignorant jerk…Thank you so much.

  3. I do not understand why we Filipinos has to embrace this Bikram Yoga extreme exercise. All the claims regarding its medical benefits are purely just testimonials and this is not enough to prove that they can really cure or healed your medical condition. I really just don’t believe that heat can help your muscles stretch more and toxins will be release if you sweat. I don’t know I just don’t buy those things since I know in medical science there is no such things as body detox or I haven’t seen any toxins comes out from the skin due to sweating. As far as I know, heat is form of physical stressor and that heart rate should only reached its minimum or maximum target and not to abuse it to the extent of forcing your heart to lose all its potassium (electrolyte). I cannot imagine what will happen to the human’s heart if you subject them to extreme heat and at the same time due to stressful stretching. I also do not believe by the just breathing alone postures can be held and someday you will gain your flexibility. Flexibility has something to do with the age and forcing the muscle that are too tight somehow are protective. I also do not understand why the instructors are expecting change will happen to my life if I continue to attend the class. I didn’t go to class to change my life and totally believe this Bikram whack.. who is a totally dick…I just go there to exercise and to be physically fit. I don’t know maybe I am not an ignorant jerk…

    Jane: Hello Sandy. It seems you have opinions that may differ from others. With your comments out in public, maybe others may want to share their own thoughts and views on matters you expressed.

    Yoga, as I know and experienced it, has never been a forced exercise. True teachers would always emphasize that one must do only what one’s body can at a point in time. I don’t know how old you are but I may be a lot older than you considering I have 4 kids, 2 of whom are in college and almost about to start working. When I first began yoga 2 years ago, I had a lot of inflexibility in me owing to years of sitting down at work. But that quickly changed with a regular yoga practice. I found myself able to do forward bends which I never thought I could do. For someone my age, the return of such flexibility is a wonder and truly convinces me that in time, yoga brings back flexibility. Maybe not as much as when one is a lot younger but definitely a big improvement.

    Bikram is one style of yoga. There are many others as well: vinyasa, ashtanga, anusara, Iyengar, etc. I believe that sweating does help eliminate toxins. Whether heat needs to be introduced as an external factor (as in Bikram) or comes naturally from a gradual workup as you progress in your yoga class (like what happens to me when I do vinyasa or ashtanga yoga), is one’s preference. Some can tolerate external heat; others can’t.

    Change happens to one’s life only if you allow it. My personal experience in this area came in the form of subtle changes in my diet (I now take more fish, fruits & vegetables; less meat). And in my work, I think I handle stress better now than before. Different people respond differently to a regular yoga practice. It is not always the same for all.

    So those are just some inputs from me. Whatever it is, I hope that yoga is something that does you well. Namaste.

  4. It’s here. Have you heard of the Philippine Yoga Asanas Competition?

    The Indian community will be benefiting from this event. Using Filipino resources. Got no explanation from the PYAC chairman.

  5. Hi Jane,

    Yep that was a joke–which I almost fell for. But when I got to the part that the reason they didn’t consider Bikram for the Olympics was because the practitioners would be too skimpily dressed…hmmm, I thought, that should be a non-issue or one that could be resolved easily… 😀

  6. Did you notice that it was posted in Ashtanga news on the 1st of April? I believe it was intended to be an April Fool’s joke. But that article on Wall Street sounds like people are really taking it seriously. Asana competitions have been done in India for years so I guess there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be included in the Olympics. But then, it’s just asana competition… and technically… not a yoga competition… “yoga is asana… but asana is not yoga.” Get what I mean?

Thanks for reading! I'd love to know what you think.

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