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Posts Tagged ‘Bikram Choudhury’

 

photo courtesy Vancouver Courier

 

 

In today’s edition of The Vancouver Courier, reporter Megan Stewart profiles the yoga competition coming to Vancouver, Canada.  Her question is one that echoes each time a yoga competition makes in American cities…”can you win at yoga?”

Competitive yoga is on the rise but still doubted and even scorned by many in Vancouver where the practice is largely associated with meditation, well-being and personal growth rather than the competitive rivalries of sport.

But for Vancouverite Brad Colwell, president of the Canadian Federation of Yoga and the director of the Western Canadian Hatha Yoga Championships, the spirit of competition is aimed at self-betterment above bettering everyone else.

Ms. Stewart identifies the root of the yoga competition in the west:

Established by the World Yoga Federation, a non-profit organization run by the founders of Bikram yoga, and supported by a growing number of national federations, those … who promote competitive yoga also want it included as an Olympic sport.

In a November interview with the New York Times, Rajashree Choudhury, the spouse of the man named for the copyrighted series of 26 Bikram postures, said the inclusion of yoga in future Summer Games “is our dream.”

But the controversial practice of yoga competition draws many critics:

For the co-owner of Semperviva Yoga, a West Broadway studio and teacher training centre, the concept of Olympic yoga is “weird.”

“It’s a bit unfortunate because I think it scares people away,” said Gloria Latham.

The most fit may stand to benefit, she said, but added that an emphasis on physicality alone can be intimidating and detracts from the primary benefit of yoga, which she said is breath work.

“If I can’t put my foot behind my head, then I don’t belong here,” is one self-conscious doubt Latham does not want to see gain traction as competition drives a sense of contest and panders to ego.

“It makes you completely physically focused,” she said. “I don’t think you can benefit from yoga by focusing on only one aspect of the practice.”

Another Vancouver yoga studio owner and teacher trainer dismissed competition altogether. When shakti mhi was invited to participate in the Western Canadian Hatha Yoga Championships, she put the letter on her blog–along with a scathing reply.

“How can ‘hatha yogis’ and ‘championship’ be beside each other in one sentence, let alone in one room? I guess the biggest winner will be the biggest fool that believes the discipline of hatha yoga is for the purpose of showing off,” wrote the founder of the Prana Yoga Teacher College.

However, one can’t ignore the history of the yoga competition.  Which makes the yoga competition much more confusing for western yogis:

Competition is popular in India, where it was formalized in the late 1980s. The Yoga Federation of India has categories that distinguish between athletic and artistic yoga, “rythemic” (sic) yoga and synchronized pair yoga with a focus on presenting various postures to “perfection and relaxation without strain.”

Ultimately, Ms. Stewart writes, the competition is a “spectator sport”. The “competitors are beautiful, their postures mesmerizing.” As one competitor adds, “We want people to feel inspired to do yoga.”

As for Bikram, YogaDork recently wrote a blog post entitled “Cult Rock Star, Yogapreneur, Magic Genie Sex Machine”, which discussed an article in Details magazine profiling the Yoga Don, Bikram Choudhury.  It is a highly entertaining read.

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courtesy of the NYTimes

 

Yesterday’s New York Times profiled an emerging campaign backed by the Hindu-American Foundation called the “Take Back Yoga” campaign. The group encourages that yoga practitioners learn more about the ancient Hindu traditions which they say are the root of yoga practice.  While this is a seemingly small group of people, their message, or rather the question that their message raises – who owns yoga – has sparked an intense debate and has drawn responses from some heavy hitters on both sides.

In June, it even prompted the Indian government to begin making digital copies of ancient drawings showing the provenance of more than 4,000 yoga poses, to discourage further claims by entrepreneurs like Bikram Choudhury, an Indian-born yoga instructor to the stars who is based in Los Angeles. Mr. Choudhury nettled Indian officials in 2007 when he copyrighted his personal style of 26 yoga poses as “Bikram Yoga.”

Organizers of the Take Back Yoga effort point out that the philosophy of yoga was first described in Hinduism’s seminal texts and remains at the core of Hindu teaching. Yet, because the religion has been stereotyped in the West as a polytheistic faith of “castes, cows and curry,” they say, most Americans prefer to see yoga as the legacy of a more timeless, spiritual “Indian wisdom.”

“In a way,” said Dr. Aseem Shukla, the foundation’s co-founder, “our issue is that yoga has thrived, but Hinduism has lost control of the brand.”

The “Take Yoga Back” campaign had a somewhat quiet beginning:

The effort to “take back” yoga began quietly enough, with a scholarly essay posted in January on the Web site of the Hindu American Foundation, a Minneapolis-based group that promotes human rights for Hindu minorities worldwide. The essay lamented a perceived snub in modern yoga culture, saying that yoga magazines and studios had assiduously decoupled the practice “from the Hinduism that gave forth this immense contribution to humanity.”

Soon, Dr. Shukla made his argument in a piece for The Washington Post, in which he said that yoga had been the victim of “intellectual property theft”.  Didn’t take long for the likes of Dr. Deepak Chopra, an Indian-American writer who has made his living popularizing alternative medicine techniques as well as yoga.

For Dr. Uma V. Mysorekar, the president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, the campaign represents the growing pains of the Indian-American population in the United States:

A naturalized immigrant, [Ms. Mysorekar] said Take Back Yoga represented a coming-of-age for Indians in the United States. “My generation was too busy establishing itself in business and the professions,” she said. “Now, the second and third generation is looking around and finding its voice, saying, ‘Our civilization has made contributions to the world, and these should be acknowledged.’”

It is an interesting debate that I’m sure is just beginning to rage.  Thoughts?

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Let me back up a bit. Remember the whole sh*t storm started by Albert Mohler a few weeks ago? He’s the head of Louisville’s Southern Baptist, Albert Mohler, who blogged about his thoughts that the practice of yoga is at odds with the beliefs of Christianity.

Well, ladies and gentleman, stop the presses because Bikram Choudhury has weighed. During an interview with Clifford Pugh of the Houston-based daily digital magazine CultureMap, Mr. Choudhury was asked to respond to the recent hoopla. In typical Bikram awesomeness, his response will likely send you laughing into your weekend

Choudhury scoffs at Southern Baptist Seminary president Albert Mohler’s recent pronouncements that Christians should not practice yoga because it has a spiritual aspect meant to connect with the divine.

“What he said is normal but the way he said it is totally ignorant,” Choudhury said “If you do yoga, you have good health. It’s a preventative medicine.”

And, he maintains, no one in the western world understands spirituality, anyway.

“So far in my life, no western man, including the Pope, can answer this question: ‘In one sentence, what is spiritualism?’ So when people talk about spirit in the western world, we Indians laugh because if people can’t learn A,B,C,D, how can you explain Shakespeare, Byron, Shelley and Keates?”

And he shrugs off criticisms that he copyrighted his 26-posture sequence, even though yoga is a 5,000-year-old tradition that cannot be owned, to create the “McDonald’s of yoga.”

“Nothing bothers me,” he replied. “I’m bullet proof, waterproof, wind proof, money proof, sex proof, emotion proof, stress proof, strength proof.”

Yup. You can read the full interview with CultureMap here.  And, if you enjoyed these…um…hard-hitting philosophies, you can check out some of my favorite quotes from him courtesy of YogaDawg via YogaDork.  Enjoy the full moon tonight and have a wonderful weekend!

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