Why Yoga Should Not Be An Olympic Event
Update 08 Aug 2016: These days some are advocating to include yoga in the Olympics – as an actual Olympic event. This piece – penned 4 years ago – aims to show why yoga should never, ever become part of the Olympics…
With the 2012 Summer Olympic games underway this past weekend in London, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on why yoga should not become an Olympic event. Bear in mind, I am not against the Olympics per se. Here the only point is should yoga be part of the Olympic paradigm – as some lobby for this to happen.
Top 10 reasons why yoga should not be an Olympic event…
10. Yoga is about selflessness, not self-glorification.
Explanation: In our yoga practice, we aim to overcome the trappings of the petty, unit ego by cultivating selflessness – serving others and ideating on the Supreme. Naturally, competing at the Olympics will hinder this process as the little “I”, or unit ego, will be glorified again and again.
9. Yoga stands for universalism, not nationalism.
Explanation: The oneness sought in yoga does not only apply to the spiritual realm. The social expression of this ideal is the formation of one human society, free from the barriers of nationalism – as well as other perceived differences across race, gender, language, and culture. In yoga, we encourage points of commonality and human unity, and discourage all kinds of narrow-mindedness and feelings of difference.
8. Yoga promotes healthy competition, not cut-throat competition.
Explanation: The yogis acknowledge that within the human psyche is an urge to compete. So all kinds of healthy competitions are encouraged: Games, sports, literary contests, and dance competitions etc. However, to devote 4 years or even the totality of one’s life to show that one is “better at yoga” (whatever that means) than someone else would indeed be a misuse of time and lead one astray from the true yogic path.
7. Yoga would become riddled by steroid use.
Explanation: One of the main aims of yoga is balancing the mind and body – in particular bringing balance to the all-important glandular system. By this way, the practitioner becomes physically fit and mentally sharp. Should yoga become an Olympic event, this might all go awry as some might try to gain an “unfair competitive advantage” by resorting to anabolic steroids and / or other types of harmful, performance-enhancing agents.
6. The spirit of yoga would be wrongly projected.
Explanation: As yoga practitioners, we must always be keen to faithfully promote the ideals of yoga: Physical wellness, mental clarity, selflessness, social service, and spiritual attainment. In becoming, an Olympic event, unfavorable qualities might creep into this formula like self-promotion (ego), extreme competitiveness, arrogance, heightened social status, corporate allegiances, and popularity.
5. The yogic mindset is service oriented, not self-serving.
Explanation: In yoga, one’s energies in the social sphere are to be spent alleviating the pain of those in need and helping others progress in all stratums of life. Should yoga be turned into an Olympic event, competitors would be forced to spend most of their time focused on their own survival and training: gaining sponsorships, securing funding, and the like.
4. Yoga would only be thought of as physical postures.
Explanation: Making yoga an Olympic event would further “glamorize” the yoga asana (i.e. posture) to the neglect of the the other 7 main limbs of yoga: yama & niyama (10 codes of morality), pranayama (controlled breathing with ideation), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses from external physicality), dharana (specialized concentration), dhyana (sustained meditation), samadhi (attainment of spiritual bliss). Already in the west, and more and more so in the east, the asana is viewed as the totality of yoga. Displaying asanas in the Olympics would further reinforce this false notion. Ultimately, yoga is about the cultivation of bhakti (devotion) and the expansion of mind – not physical prowess.
3. Yoga as lifestyle transformed into yoga as competition.
Explanation: The ideal of the yogi is exemplified in their day-to-day life practices: sentient diet, regular fasting, chanting kiirtan, doing meditation (sadhana), helping others, self-study, community service, and so much more. Should yoga become an Olympic event, all these wonderful aspects of yogic life would potentially be cashed in for the notion of yoga as a competition.
2. The “winner” would not be a real yogi.
Explanation: Can you imagine that really a true yogi would win – or even participate.
1. Become great by making others great.
Explanation: According to the yogic ideal, the only way to become great is by making others great. Becoming great oneself does not establish one in greatness. One must elevate others to that same high standard; therein lies one’s greatness. Thus, rising above others and winning the gold medal does not a yogi make.
For all these reasons and more – feel free to add yours – it is best to keep yoga out of the Olympics and in the hearts and minds of the people.
Finally, best wishes to all those athletes who have dedicated so much time and energy to performing their best at the 2012 London games. Here’s to your victory in all the realms of life!!