May 26, 2014

Finding Joy & Stillness in Competitive Yoga. ~ ChauKei Ngai

ChauKei Ngai Yoga

People are often confused about the idea of how one competes in yoga.

We’ve grown up learning that if we want to win in a competition, we cannot wish our opponents the best; we have to keep our training secrets, or hope a strong opponent gets injured before they get on stage.

It’s all ego and fear-based. That doesn’t sound anything like yoga to me.

To me, the word competition is just a set-up.

Imagine you’re walking through a forest. You are calm, joyful and peaceful.

You are enjoying the scenery when suddenly you see a tiger walk out from behind a bush. As soon as the tiger appears, you lose your sense of calm, even though the tiger may just be looking without attacking. We react with fear to the tiger.

Yoga helps to change our habitual thought and action.

When competing in yoga, how will we conquer our fear-based, competitive mind?

In the middle of chaos, how are we going to find our breath and stillness?

I’ve seen many who can demonstrate perfect yoga poses in front of hundreds, even thousands of people, but as soon as you tell them it’s a competition, they often lose their stillness right away.

With the fear of judgment and their attachment to the result, they lose control of their nervous system.

How far they can bend backward or how long they can stand on their hands has nothing to do with the performance.

If they lose the peaceful feeling because of the fear of judgment, and worry about winning or losing, they will also lose their breathing, the stillness and the balance.

They will lose everything that makes it yoga.

Yoga is a science.

Yoga Asana practice and mediation balance our nervous systems.

When we’re on stage competing, our adrenaline flows and our nervous system is in it’s Sympathetic state (called “fight or flight” mode). In a Sympathetic state, the blood rushes to our fists to prepare us to punch harder, and to our feet so we can run faster.

While we’re in a yoga pose, we’re in a Parasympathetic state.

I call it healing, or house keeping mode.

Our heart rate slows down, blood pressure is lowered; blood circulation goes to our digestive system, skeletal system, and so on. Our bodies are in homeostasis and balanced, which calms the body.

During a yoga competition, we learn to control our nervous system instead of allowing the adrenaline and emotions to take over.

We learn these skills during yoga class.

The first thing we need to apply is our will to use our body as a medium. If we learn to control our thoughts, then we can control the nervous system.

A yoga competitor might spend many hours a day on a single yoga pose. They train for years to change their bodies.

On stage, there’s only the breathing, the conscious movement, the conscious stillness.

The mind needs to be at peace before the body can be at ease. Demonstration of stillness lies underneath the mind and body union.

A friend of mine, who is an actress and has even performed on stage in the nude, has competed in a yoga competition. She shared with me that the yoga competition was more frightening than being on stage fully naked.

When she’s on stage as an actress, she is not herself. When she is on stage competing in yoga, her heart and soul is laid bare and she feels vulnerable, exposing who she is—her weaknesses, her strengths and her fears.

When I watch a yoga routine, I do not pay attention to how the inner thighs rotate, nor to the dazzling transition from one pose to another.

What I pay attention to is everything else—the joy, the love, the breathing, the grace, the stillness. It’s about the decision, the moment of accepting the fear.

It is about being present.

Being the World Champion only means I won in that particular moment of truth. In that present moment, there’s no regret of the past, nor fear of the future.

If I compete again today, I might not even place 10th because things change. Each moment is different.

What I learned is being a champion is not something others give you. It’s a state of being, and that being is timeless and unbeatable.

It’s a conscious infinity.


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Apprentice Editor: Carrie Marzo/Editor: Travis May

Photo: Siuman Photography

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