It IS a Competition, Yoginis!

It IS a Competition, Yoginis!

It IS a Competition, Yoginis!

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Nov. 20 2009 10:40 AM

It IS a Competition, Yoginis!

Yoga is a meditative practice sometimes thought to help liberate the soul from all worldly suffering. The Olympics are a tribalistic sporting event in which nation states battle to produce impressive feats of human athleticism. Bikram Choudhury-a man who teaches yoga in a speedo and a diamond-studded Rolex, guards his trademarked pose sequences like a Rottweiler on meth, and likes to compare his balls to "atom bombs "-says its high time to combine the two. "This," Bikram’s wife tells the New York Times , "is our dream."

There’s always a story in your local yoga instructor’s reaction to Bikram’s hyper-competitive corporate orientation (the man is proud of the term "McYoga "), so the New York Times asks some very centered people whether yoga ought to be a competitive sport. A tournament "seems fairly antithetical to what yoga is all about," says a typical respondent, "I don’t really understand how you would compete to be the happiest, most balanced person."

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Competitive yoga certainly sounds like a crazy American way to ruin a spiritual Indian practice, but competition is neither new to yoga nor a particularly American adaptation. The Choudhurys were yoga champs in India long before they made it overseas and got rich selling an especially intense version of the traditional practice. Bikram has been so successful in mainstreaming yoga that the Calcutta-born yogi now gets to endure lectures from Americans on what "yoga is all about." Happily, no one actually gets to decide what yoga is, who ought to participate, and whether the most successful yogi is the one who gets the gold.

Kerry Howley's work has appeared in the Paris Review, Bookforum, and the New York Times Magazine. She is currently finishing a book about consensual violence, ecstatic experience, and the body.