August 23, 2012

Why The Olympics Would Ruin Yoga. ~ Kerry Maiorca

Every few years, when the Olympics roll around, there is a renewed push from an insistent camp of yogis trying to get yoga in the Olympics.

I am not usually one to take a hard stand about yoga; when students ask me what I think about Bikram or Hot yoga—or any of the latest trends in the industry—my genuine response is that although it’s not for me, it works well for some students.

The diversity available in yoga today is part of the beauty of the practice and there is a particular style or approach that suits each individual.

To that end, although I, personally, am not a supporter of yoga competitions, I can respect the fact that they serve a purpose for some yoga practitioners.

Just not in the Olympics.

Yoga competitions are like any other PR-grabbing commodity in the yoga industry—they exist to make headlines and money—and fortunately, the general public is largely unaware of their existence.

If yoga took to the Olympic stage, competitive yoga would become the representative of all yoga—and yoga would be perceived as one more unattainable, misunderstood endeavor, to the average-Joe couch potato.

Yoga has come a long way since I started practicing over 15 years ago; it used to be that when I mentioned that I was a yoga teacher, the first question in response was “Can you wrap your legs behind your head?”

Olympic yoga would set us back years in that regard because of the way it would reinforce the wow factor and the misperception the crazier the pose, the more advanced the yogi. Yoga is one of the few remaining safe places where competition is set aside, at least in theory. On the mat, it’s not about being more or being better…but rather about just being.

Imagine if your asana practice was fueled by a desire to achieve perfection.

Ahimsa, non-harming, is the first tenet of yoga.

This would be a problem for an elite yoga athlete who, in order to become an Olympian, would have to train harder than everyone else, pushing past the body’s signs of injury, to stay step above the competition.

And, what about the concepts of asteya, non-coveting and of santosha, contentment?

Why can’t the Jordyn Wiebers of the world just be content with all they have achieved, instead of grasping for that elusive, all-around gold medal?

The saying goes that all PR is good PR—but in the case of yoga, it isn’t necessarily so. Imagine the confusion a new student would feel coming into a class after having seen yogis compete in the Olympics. It would appear contradictory if the teacher suggested students avoid pushing too hard or comparing themselves to others—and any insistence that the shape of the poses is not what matters would seem silly and disingenuous, if that was the standard by which an Olympic yogi was judged.

Now is the time yoga must become even less competitive and less image-focused, in order to counter our strongly competitive, image-based society.

Yoga is not about achievement; it’s about the process of continually coming into the moment.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for very good television ratings.

As a former competitive gymnast, volleyball and softball player myself, I’m wowed by what the Olympic athletes can accomplish physically.

But even more impressive is their mental discipline—and the hours of training and dedication that lead them to that one crucial, stress-inducing peak moment that distinguishes Gold, Silver and Bronze, from the others.

By contrast, the practice of yoga teaches us that every moment is a peak moment because the present is all that we have, this moment is all that’s real. And therefore, instead of experiencing the extreme joy of winning the gold or the devastation of losing out on a medal, yogis pursue the steady path to sustained contentment, despite wins and losses, ups and downs.

My biggest objection to the idea of yoga as an Olympic event is that as in gymnastics, in which a routine is assigned a maximum, perfect start value and deductions are taken for any perceived errors, a scored asana competition makes perfection the goal.

I’ve tried the whole yoga-as-a-quest-for-perfection thing—and I can’t say I recommend it.

When I first started yoga, I was so taken with the practice that I made it my life’s mission to follow the perfect diet, speak the perfect words and perform the perfect asana practice.

As a result I became rigid, self-obsessed, even joyless and I began to see yoga as just one more way that I couldn’t measure up to those around me.

Eventually, after hearing teachers encourage me over and over again to just be where I was that day, embrace my imperfections and have compassion for myself when I slipped up, I learned to look beyond perfection to something more truthful and joyful: the imperfect reality.

I can only hope that yoga’s retreat from perfection keeps the practice far away from the Olympic stage, so that all practitioners, of varying levels of fitness and experience, may experience peak moments day in and day out, rather than limiting the glory to an elite few, every four years.


Kerry Maiorca got into yoga for all the wrong reasons but continues practicing for the right ones. As the Director of Bloom Yoga Studio in Chicago, Kerry joyfully pursues imperfection on a daily basis and invites others to join her in this worthy pursuit at  Thinking Yogi and Bloom Yoga Studio.




Editor: Bryonie Wise

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