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Yoga and the Olympics –
The future of yoga?


2021 Tokyo Olympics – the wait is over

The postponed summer 2020 Olympics are now just over 2 months away, so as a family mad keen on sports from sailing, athletics, rugby, hockey volleyball and canoeing (all with varying levels of success I might add), I thought I’d have a think and draw both similarities and differences between the two – and if their paths will ever meet.

As the Olympic Games draw closer, keep an eye out for future posts on the similarities and differences I may notice between both Olympics and Yoga.

Yoga styles and Olympic sports

As a yoga teachers, we are often asked how to describe the differences between the various styles of yoga. I usually compare the different types of track and field events to the different styles of yoga. Vinyasa flow, resortative yoga to power yoga and yin yoga all offer different people different things. What works for some, works for others – a bit like those who prefer sprints to longer distance to the field events.
An obvious difference is that the different track and field events may be more suited to particular body types than others. In contrast, the different styles of yoga people can do, are not determined by the body shape; though the yoga poses and yoga sequences you may be able to do may be affected by the flexiblity, strength or previous injuries of an individual.

Yoga values / Olympic Educational Themes

The Olympics have outlined 5 educational themes that align to their core values –  earning joy of effort; learning fair play; learning respect for others; learning to pursue excellence and learning balance in life between body, will and mind
With the heavy focus on ‘learning’ it don’t think the values are too dissimilar to the values of yoga; as with a regular yoga practice it is an ongoing process rather than a ‘final destination’ that both yoga and the educational themes outline. 
  1. Inquiry, Safety & Quality
  2. Compassion, Peace & Kindness
  3. Hard Work, Discipline & Commitment
  4. Honesty, Integrity & Service
  5. Optimism, Enthusiasm & Happiness
  6. Acceptance, Healing & Forgiveness
  7. Mysticism, Gratitude & Freedom

In summary, it seems that both share the underlying themes of integrity, dedication, progression along with the sense of fulfilment both mentally and physcially.

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(Is it) All about winning?

Watching the 2021 Toyko Olympics, we celebrate the winners of the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. Similarly, it’s easy to think that those yogis with the large social media following are the ‘best’ at yoga (whatever that may be??)
But only 3 people can be on the podium, once every 4 years. What about everyone else that enjoys regular laps at the swimming pool, going for a bike ride, a sail or taking part in the local parkrun. More than 99% of the people that enjoy any of the 34 Olympic sports are unlikely to get the opportunity to compete at the Olympics.
Similarly, many yoga students, from beginners to more experienced, are unlikely to be able to do some of the more gymnastic yoga poses you often see on social media. 
Whether you do yoga as and when you can or enjoy a leisurely horse ride, row or family game of softball, the most important thing is you are getting some exercise and enjoying the experience with friends, family or club mates alike. The benefits are both from a physical but also a mental health perspective, so actually, maybe there are some more similarities- so long as winning doesn’t become the be all and end all, when some of the educational themes noted above are ‘lost’ in order to reach the final destination or goal.
Do the opportunities that arise from ‘winning’ mean that the values on which either the Olympic sports or yoga could be compromised? 


Is yoga a sport?

In my mind, sport is about being active, doing a form of exercise that you enjoy – be it travelling quicker (swim, bike, run, row, ride, sail), lifting heavier weights or completing against another person or team with clear outcomes (hockey, volleyball, badminton) to ‘win.’

Recently ‘yoga competitions’ have started (of which I know little about) – but I’m not sure how this does not conflict with non competitive nature and essense or intention of yoga. Yoga isn’t purely about the physical yoga asana’s but as much about the sense of being present, calm and more settled in one self. Yoga competitions have been run since 2009 by the USA Yoga Federationm, with yoga being registered as a sport. 

I guess we will have to wait and see how things evolve.

Yoga for Men (and Women) / Sports for all (??)

Firstly, yoga originated in the Indus valley over several thousands of years ago and was practised by adolescent boys. This seems a long way off the more recent, ‘western’ perception that as an activity, yoga was more for women. As yoga ‘moved’ west, particularly in the 1970’s / 80’s ‘it’ became popular with women rather than men.
It is perhaps only in more recent years that you see more men enjoying yoga either to support other interests or as an activity in it’s own right. Certainly going through the yoga teaching programme there were only 10% men in the class, so it’s certainly not equally balanced just yet.
In contrast, the inclusion of women into the Olympics was started back in 1900 with Helene de Pourtales, representing Switzerland in sailing and who was also to become the first female Olympic Gold medalist. Since then, female participation has gained more of an equal footing with the men in the Olympics (though I am not going to venture into the differences of prize money / sponsorship etc that exists within many sports).
For both yoga and sports, the activities are ‘open for all’ but are not quite equal in their uptake just yet.

Yoga and Sport For All

“Life is change. If you aren’t growing and evolving then you are standing still.”

This couldn’t be truer for both yoga and the Olympics.
Yoga is constantly evolving with all sorts of new variants evolving such as Power Yoga, Hot Yoga to SUP yoga, Goat Yoga and Broga – some of the variants may not be for the purists but they can introduce more people to a yoga practice. Everyone has to start somewhere.
Similalry the Olympics is changing. The Tokyo Olympics feature the 4 new sports of Softball / Baseball, Surfing, Rock Climbing and Skateboarding. Golf and Tennis are other sports that are relatively new additions to the schedule.
You may or may not agree as to whether any of the newer sports ‘fit’ the Olympics, however, it seems that one the key criteria is the participation levels of both men and women in the sport. Taking the commercial considerations out, providing inspiration for boy and girls, men and women can only be a good thing.
Will yoga ever be apply to be apart of the Olympics – we’ll have to wait and see.
My one final thought would be, as with any sport and yoga, it’s about taking part, enjoying the activity to a level that suits your ability, interests and time.
So, I think that’s enough of my ramblings about Yoga and the Olympics. The more I’ve thought about it, the more ideas I’ve had. Do watch this space, as I think there could well be a few more posts before, during and after the Olympics. 

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