Yoga competitions!! What's up with that?!
When people first hear the words "yoga" and "competition" in the same breath, the typical response falls somewhere in the spectrum between a puzzled "Wait.... what?" and an aggressive "What the %$&*?!" Now, I could go over all the talking points for why yoga championships are a fine idea (like the fact that they've been doing them in India for centuries or the fact that it's a yoga asana competition, not a yoga competition), but I'd rather just share my personal competition experiences a little bit.
The first time I competed was in the New England regionals in October 2007, at the request and encouragement of my studio owners. I was still pretty new to the world of Bikram yoga, and I had never heard of a "yoga competition" before, but I was interested in trying something new and learning a little more about yoga, so I said, "Sure, why not?" So I started training, with a group of other students and teachers, and I learned how a yoga competition works.
It goes like this: each participant has exactly 3 minutes (no longer) to demonstrate a routine of 7 postures on stage. The first 5 postures, the compulsories, are taken from the beginning Bikram class and are the same for everyone: standing head to knee, standing bow pulling, bow, rabbit, and stretching. The last two postures, the "optionals," are where you get to strut your stuff a little bit and demonstrate something that you are especially good at. Those postures are usually chosen from the advanced series. The goal is to demonstrate strength, flexibility, and balance. Each of the postures is scored out of 10 points based on form and technique. There's also a subjective score for "grace."
I had a lot of fun training, because all us students started working together after class to help each other improve in the postures. We started sharing tips and trick and stories, and it was the first time I started being really social at yoga. (Of course now I am Miss Social Butterfly, but in the beginning I didn't talk to anyone!!) I learned a ton about the postures, and I gained so much confidence. Before I started training, I really never wanted anyone to watch my postures. After a couple months, I was totally comfortable going up to any teacher after class and asking them to watch my routine and give me feedback.
One of the most important things about yoga for me has always been the lack of judgement. Yoga class was the first place in a very long time where I was able to just see myself instead of constantly judging. So this idea of getting up on stage to be judged was unsettling, at best! I went up to one of my coaches after a class in September, all teary for some reason, and told her that I didn't like the thought of going to stage to have everyone judge me. She said that I shouldn't think of it like that; I should just think of it as "show and tell." It was a chance for me to go in front of my teachers and peers and show them what I'd been working on, nothing more. I liked the idea of "show and tell." I decided that my goal for the performance would be to demonstrate everything that I had learned in the past months, so that other people could see how wonderful my teachers were.
I was scared shitless before I got up on stage, but once I was up there I had SO. MUCH. FUN. I held all my postures and I was so proud of myself, because I'd made my teachers proud and I'd done something that I didn't think I could do. The whole team went out for a celebratory dinner that night, and I was the happiest I'd been in a long time.
I competed again one year later, in November 2008, in the southern California regionals. I had just moved cross country a few months earlier. This time, I didn't have a team of coaches and teachers and friends. It was just me! I did it to challenge myself, because I didn't especially feel like doing it, but I knew it would help me to grow as a yogi. I practiced my routine on my own and got feedback when I could.
My postures definitely improved through the training, but that year was all about the community! If you're new in town and you want plug into the local community, showing up on stage at the competition is a pretty good way to do it! Competitions are really just these big old yoga conventions. They are the least competitive things ever. We all hang out backstage and help each other with our routines. We watch each other from the wings and hold our breath, wanting to see everyone else do their best. Everyone winces when someone wobbles and cheers when someone does well. Some of the people who I met at that event are now among my best yogi-friends in Los Angeles, so it was totally worthwhile!
As far as the actual performance that year, I was totally relaxed backstage, giving last minute tips and cracking dirty jokes, and then I was scared shitless when I got up on stage! It was very dark, and Emmy was in the middle of the judges' table - yikes! I wobbled pretty badly coming out of standing head to knee and was sure it was all over. But as soon as that happened, I thought to myself, "Whoops, well, that's that, oh well, too bad!" I put a big smile on my face, relaxed completely, and finished the routine very cheerfully. (My friend in the audience said that I was the only one who smiled, like, at all.) Whaddaya know - I got third place. Didn't qualify me for nationals (that's first and second place winners only), but it was something to write home about.
I didn't get to compete this year, so that's the extent of my personal experience on the yoga stage! (I'm really gonna have to do it again next year, though, or certain people will kill me.) Since my experiences have been so positive, I always encourage people to get involved in their local events. They're inspiring to watch, they bring the community together, and it's empowering to be a part of them.
"Competition" gets a bad rap, but it's not inherently a bad thing. When good people compete with each other - not against, but with - without malice or pettiness, everyone improves from it. Bikram likes to point out that competition is the foundation of democracy, and I think he's got a point. Without competition, you have either a monopoly or a caste system, right?! Everything in life is competition, but that's not necessarily bad news. Let's compete with each other to see who can raise the most money for Haiti, and we'll see if anyone's worse off at the end of the day.
I'll be in LA all weekend for the national and international championships, and it promises to be a fun time! (Yoga family reunion yay!!) Maybe I'll see some of you there! For those of you staying at home, the events will all be streaming live online. You can watch on Friday at USA Yoga and on Saturday and Sunday at Yoga Cup. The schedule of events is here. Enjoy!!