Sports have always played an important role in my life. My interest was born from a desire to participate in track and field, yet it was through the practice of yoga at a young age that I cultivated a sense of healthy competition. Yoga Asana competitions are part of the Indian way and I participated in consecutive events from an early age. The grounded discipline, determination, and perseverance that was required of me to champion Asana then, armed me with the skills that I use to navigate life’s ebbs and flows. While Yoga Asana was such an integral part of my upbringing, I never imagined I would one day be leading an organization like The USA Yoga Federation, which is dedicated to encouraging people across the country to experience the health and happiness benefits of Yoga Asana. It’s an unwavering dedication to the pursuit of excellence, which I nurtured from a young age that continues to motivate me on a daily basis and is the reason USA Yoga is celebrating the 10th anniversary of our National Yoga Asana Championship in the U.S. this weekend.
For me, growing up with the practice of yoga is similar to the connection the U.S. has to say, baseball — each is a significant component of its respective culture. Rooted in India and being the oldest holistic system of health, I grew up watching how yoga guided the approach to everyday living. If I am able to categorize it, yoga was, and continues to be, practiced in India in either of three ways (with some overlap): at home, where it is part of a daily ritual that includes prayer; as a form of therapy; or as a physical practice — in class, as a demonstration, or in Asana competition, where “Asana” is the Indian equivalent for the word “posture.” India has championed Yoga Asana for hundreds of years, and though its practice differs from figure skating or gymnastics, its concept as a sport is on equal footing with the latter. Each sport requires a dedication to training and a sense of fearlessness.
I understand that mentioning figure skating and gymnastics in the same sentence as Yoga Asana might have a few readers wondering, “What is the difference between Yoga Asana, figure skating, and gymnastics, if they are all classified as sports?” It is human nature to feel challenged; to be self empowered. The competition aspect of Yoga Asana comes from within; from striving to achieve one’s personal best at any given moment. Carefully defined judging criteria are based on rules and structure that follows the Hatha Yoga tradition; championship judges are educated by counterparts in India on how to award marks based on a points system. Ultimately though, it comes down to the competitor’s ability to master their sensory control; to execute postures to their fullest potential while holding them in stillness. In contrast, while figure skating and gymnastics may also be performed as an individual sport, their practice relies on momentum. Mindful practice is the foundation of Yoga Asana competition; the body, mind, and spirit working in unison navigates each participant’s performance. The beauty of continually working towards such a union is that one is also training themselves for being able to gain a better handle on their life.
My desire to champion the sport of Yoga Asana in the U.S. through the non-profit organization, USA Yoga, has one goal at its forefront: to promote the betterment of people’s health across the nation. To be honest, it hasn’t been an easy path to transcend the Eastern concept of Yoga Asana as a sport to the Western world. Coming from a place of non-judgment, I appreciate that there are currently many yoga traditions in the world which lead to different points of view. It is my hope, however, that bringing yoga into sports and introducing it to children will create a lasting change and equip the younger generation with the skills and tools needed for growth and constant improvement. Also, by unifying all yoga disciplines, we can create a greater sense of community. I grew up competing in yoga championships, the heart of which lies in promoting health benefits and having a passion for sports, where all yoga schools and traditions came together in the celebration of Hatha Yoga. It is because of competition that I am able to extend my service through its practice.
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