Yoga has evolved throughout the centuries and yet has maintained the same core values and roots. With many new practices, yoga has evolved in such a way that it allows for an experience that can be as spiritually enriching as is physically challenging. Much like any other sport, athletes (yogis) all over the world keep pushing the boundaries to reach new levels in their practice. A great example of how far this new yoga movement has come is the International Yoga Sports Federation. The IYSF was founded in Los Angeles, California in 2003 by Rajashree Choudhury and has ever since worked hand in hand with national yoga federations all over the world to unify and promote Yoga Asana. This is the international governing body for the sport of Yoga Asana, and their focus is on creating Yoga Sports competitions that bring together practitioners of all ages, genders, and cultural backgrounds to participate at a competitive level. Not only is it their mission to increase the interest in Yoga Asana, but also in making Yoga Sports into an official Olympic Sport.
There are 3 divisions and age categories in which participants can register to compete:
- Youth (divided into 3 age groups: 9-11, 12-14, 15-17)
- Adult (18+)
- Masters (50+)
The athletes must create a 3-minute routine that includes Compulsory Postures, as well as Additional Postures set through the Posture Guideline for each of the groups prior to the competition. The number and difficulty of postures vary depending on the group that the athlete is participating in. The scoring system encompasses balance, flexibility, strength, execution, and other criteria in a 10-point scale, in which judges can increment or deduct in half and whole points. National and International Championships lead to the World Championship as the flagship tournament.
A lot might come into question when visualizing yoga as a more competitive sport, especially considering its origin and mission. However, the IYSF focusses on respecting and setting boundaries that maintain the spirit of the practice, all while encouraging athletes to explore and push the envelope even further, both physically and mentally.