Yoga Musings

Competition

One of the strange things that frequently enters into yoga class, no matter what level or style, is the spirit of competition. I’m certainly guilty of becoming competitive with other students, sometimes even with the teacher. I’d like to air some thoughts today about this competitive spirit, what it is, what to do about it, and how to understand it.

First of all, being competitive is probably just part of what it is to be American. So it’s no wonder or surprise that when we step on to a yoga mat, we start looking around us and measuring ourselves against the other students in class. If we see everyone else doing, say, Bakasana, and we’ve never done it, we suddenly feel the urge or even the need to do it too. Sometimes this competitive spirit is good. It might make us try things we’d otherwise shy away from. It might make us get over our fears and discover that we can in fact push ourselves further than we thought we could.

But more often than not, a competitive spirit in yoga class is counterproductive. At the very least, a competitive spirit takes us away from what we probably should be focusing on (breath, mantra, drishti, or what have you), and makes us overly conscious of the external.

Lately, I’ve been trying to check myself whenever I’m at a moment in class where I’m about to do something crazy, like lifting myself up from Bakasana into a Handstand. Am I doing this just because the teacher said (i.e. challenged me) to do it? Am I doing this because someone else in class is doing it? Am I doing this because I want to compete with someone else in particular? Am I ready (mentally AND physically) to do this?

Once I go through this sort of questioning, more often than not, I back off and don’t do the advanced pose or transition. Unless it’s right for me, of course. This is obviously a hard thing to gauge. For me, I try to be honest with myself in terms of where my body is at that moment. If my body is not warm, and the adrenaline is not pumping, it’s probably not time for me to push myself too hard, even if the teacher or some other students are challenging me to do so.

Unfortunately, competitiveness in yoga has been taken to a whole new level with these yoga competitions and shows that are now taking place. I even hear that Bikram is trying to get yoga into the Olympics. Despite these sorts of developments, it’s probably still possible to practice with honestly and to avoid competitiveness in your own practice. In some cases, if the teacher creates a competitive environment, it might be time to find a new teacher, even if he or she teaches a good class otherwise.

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2 thoughts on “Competition

  1. Well put. It sounds that the classes I attend and teach are less ‘athletic’ than the kind you mention on this blog, but even with physically less intense practice the spirit of competition rears its head quite quickly.

  2. Thanks for the post. Competitiveness seems to be pervasive in the set of values that are seen as ‘desirable’ in the U.S. I see that, in addition to competing with others,we often compete with ourselves, both forms of competitiveness can prevent us from opening to the unfolding of the practice. As you point out, pausing and examining our motives is very helpful to keep our practice honest.

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