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.
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
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 WHO OPPOSE IT
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.
MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS
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?