Yoga has its roots in the Asian world, although it is extremely popular in the western world. Since its invention and adoption, many people have regarded yoga as a spiritual practice that helps address mental, emotional, and physical issues. Also, people regard the practice as another form of health and fitness activity in the modern world. People include it in their fitness routines just as they would any other exercise, while some practice it exclusively for all their fitness and wellness needs.
While some sections of the discipline either require a fit body or help tone and strengthen it, some hold onto the old beliefs that the physical aspects are only coincidental and do not reduce yoga to sport status. This varying reception and perception raise the question of whether yoga is a sport. Let us try and understand what that is all about.
What Makes Yoga a Spiritually Uplifting Practice?
The original purpose of yoga was to train the mind and body construct to observe itself and become aware of its nature. The practice aimed at principles such as awareness, a higher consciousness level, self-regulation, and discernment. The idea was to look within as they went through the motions and poses. This gave those physical activities a deeper meaning than just the focus on muscle and bone development.
Yoga should help make you relax enough to attain a spiritual sense of awareness. The poses are physical and can be quite demanding, but you need to work through emotional stress and psychological issues by directing your physical movements and poses. After a while, you should get to a meditative state. Therefore, whatever physical benefits you gain are all coincidental. They are naturally welcome, but they are not the main reason you practice yoga.
Mindfulness and Yoga
Yoga does not have a particular outcome or target you need to attain, such as sports demands. It is not a race to beat a world record or lose so many pounds of fat. Yoga strives to teach you to be at peace with whatever is happening. Holding a challenging pose, breathing gently, or meditatively reinforces that ability. This opposite approach to life, when compared to sports, is evidence that yoga is more of a spiritual practice with the occasional physical benefits.
Another often overlooked purpose of all the yoga routines, physical exertion, poses, and other demanding challenges is their need to quiet your mind. You may be in a state where your mind has gone through enough to leave it quiet. Doing yoga can physically challenge you and help lift your mood to take you to that higher place.
What Makes Yoga a Sport?
It’s hard to argue that yoga is not a sport, especially since its country of origin has official sporting events that include competitive yoga. Understandably, pushing for yoga to be a sport has many physical benefits, but one needs to be careful to recognize the original spiritual ones.
As mentioned, the western world initially adopted yoga for its spiritual benefits but soon discovered its many physical benefits. Certain forms of yoga that had more challenging poses and movements or were for three or more people and stretches soon made yoga more of a physical practice. Nowadays, gyms and other fitness centers offer yoga as an option when you need to get fit. Its results are not as dramatic as weight lifting, so those who wish to get fit without straining love yoga. Its gentle nature and tranquility further enhance its desirability as the sport of choice.
Repetitiveness in Sport
Yoga poses and routines require practice to get right. For example, you’ll need to develop well-toned muscles and attain a higher level of stretching than you were initially comfortable with. Such physical improvements are directly attributed to sporting activities, and why many people describe yoga as a sport.
Additionally, yoga is the perfect complementary activity for other sports. Mixed martial artists use yoga to calm their nerves and get focused before significant tournaments. Instead of warming up through other activities like running, they find yoga serves two purposes simultaneously.
Furthermore, how you apply yoga in your life makes it a sport. Power yoga classes are intense and lead to many physical improvements over time. With consistency, you don’t need another sport or fitness activity to get in shape. Teaming up with other yoga enthusiasts and receiving the correct training fosters a team spirit that sports are known for.
Perhaps what qualifies yoga as a sport the most is its application at all stages of life. Whether young or old, anyone can practice yoga and advance as their bodies adapt to it. Swimming is the only other sport with such a comprehensive application that comes to mind.
Where Did the Confusion Arise?
The confusion as to yoga’s true definition came about when people focused more on the physical benefits rather than the spiritual ones. Physical benefits are readily noticeable and quantifiable, which further takes away from one’s quest to attain spiritual benefits. Additionally, the level of patience necessary to tap into the spiritual side of yoga is lacking in so many people in the modern world.
What Is It, Then?
A sport is a contest where people perform certain physical activities following a specific set of rules as they compete against each other. Yoga captures most of this definition, except the competitive part. Yes, competitive yoga exists, but you can argue that yoga’s original purpose was never to result in competition, thus its disqualification as a sport.
Additionally, the essence of yoga is a journey of the self, through the self, to the self (PDF). This further moves yoga away from the principles of sports, which look outward, where yoga looks inwards.
While yoga’s many physical challenges and benefits may convince you it is a sport, its original intention and spiritual connection prove it is anything but. Practicing yoga with mindfulness and attaining its spiritual benefits will reveal why it is not a sport. As such, everyone should approach yoga as initially intended, and they should appreciate its physical benefits for what they are.