What is yoga? That is a question that has created both animosity and union, depending on who you speak to. Yoga has evolved immensely and yet maintained the same core values and roots throughout the centuries. So many new practices, visions, abilities; yoga has evolved in such a way that it allows for a practice that can be as spiritually enriching as it is physically challenging and demanding. Much like gymnastics, athletics, or any other sport, yogis all over the world keep pushing the boundaries to reach new levels in their practice. This is when a new generation of schools, teachers, and students start developing a system that brings them closer to those goals.
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 main 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 have to 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. The final score is automatically carried out in a Tabulation Grid and it is then taken into account to either qualify or disqualify a competitor from the Finals. National and International Championships are carried out all over the world throughout the year, making the World Championship the final, most incredible achievement.
A lot might come into question when visualizing yoga as a more "rigid" or competitive sport, especially considering its origin and mission; however, the IYSF has done an incredible job at respecting and setting boundaries that maintain the spirit of the practice, all while encouraging yogis/athletes to explore and push the envelope even further, both physically and mentally. Yoga has forever been a popular, challenging practice, so why shouldn't it evolve and be on the same platform as other Olympic sports?