The spirit of sport, or of schmort?
By Natalie Serafini, Editor-in-Chief
Yoga entails meditation, and gently pushing your body to its fullest potential. The practice possesses a rich history originating in India, and is ingrained in many different cultures. It’s been lauded for its health benefits, whether yogis are in need physically, mentally, or spiritually.
Yoga comes in a variety of forms, including Ashtanga, Hatha, Raja, the more Westernized versions of power and hot yoga, and others. The yoga flows will vary between practices, and some will be more meditation-based than others. Essentially though, yoga involves stretching and holding many different poses in a given session, and often ends with a meditation.
That’s all well and good, but does yoga also have the potential to be a sport? Or is its gentle, soothing nature the definition of a schmort?
First off, sports are often lauded for their mental elements—yoga has that in spades. In sports, we talk about not getting psyched out, and lots of athletes have practices that help them get mentally prepared for a game. That might include not shaving during playoff season, wearing a lucky medallion of some sort, or any other habit. During a competition, there are so many different things that can get in the way of performance, so it’s important that players stay focussed on the matter at hand.
In yoga, it takes great mental fortitude to push your body in ways it has never bent or stretched before. You have to stay focussed on every muscle in your body as you hold Adho Mukha Vrksasana (basically a handstand), lest you fall flailing into the person beside you. It takes work to align your chakras, to focus on self-kindness and bring positive energy to the world around you.
Yoga also possesses the physical elements that sports are so known for. It’s no surprise that gymnasts and dancers often practice yoga, or that, as Michael Huie of USAHockeyMagazine.com reports, “Yoga is becoming more accepted as part of an athlete’s training.” The practice incorporates both strength and flexibility, so it complements most sports in addition to being a workout on its own.
Yoga might incorporate both physical and mental aspects of sport, but what about all that incense? And where’s some good old-fashioned competition to spice things up?
In 2009, New York Magazine covered the seventh annual Yoga Asana Competition with a YouTube video titled “Inside the Vicious World of Competitive Yoga.” The video was clearly a touch tongue-in-cheek, as the narrator opened with, “Inner peace and spirituality can suck it, as these vicious yogis and yoginis smack down head to head to see who’ll kick the most, major, chataranga butt.” The competition was not at all a smackdown, or a direct competition with anyone—no fists were thrown, no chataranga butt was kicked.
Nevertheless, it goes to show that competition is not just about kicking someone else’s ass. Sometimes—in sport, yoga, and in life—it’s about having the mental, physical, and spiritual fortitude to bring your best to the mat. Athleticism is about pushing yourself to its utmost capacity; not only does yoga do that in a holistic way, it helps athletes in other fields to work on their spirituality, mentality, and physicality.