Rarely does the average person associate yoga with sports. Its meditative and spiritually cleansing properties are far more personal than, say, boxing. However, people have been participating in yoga sports in India for hundreds of years, and it's increasingly gaining momentum in the U.S.
Competitive yoga, also known as Yoga Asana, does not measure the amount of soul you put into a pose but rather how precisely you can hold it. Competitors have to do a series of seven poses within three minutes: the standing head-to-knee pose, standing bow-pulling pose, bow pose, rabbit pose, stretching pose and two of their choice.
Judges base their scores on such details as whether or not the pose is rhythmically performed; if muscles are engaged and tight; if the pose was held with steady control; the level of difficulty; and poise and composure. Also, each pose has its own set of guidelines for judges to score.
One of the missions of the International Yoga Sports Federation is to increase awareness of the sport of Yoga Asana to encourage existing practitioners to sharpen their skills through training, dedication and devotion to the sport, and inspire new practitioners. Several yoga organizations around the world, including the International Yoga Sports Federation and USA Yoga Federation, are working together to develop Yoga Asana into an official Olympic sport.
"Ultimately ... it comes down to the competitor's ability to master their sensory control, to execute postures to their fullest potential while holding them in stillness,” explained Rajashree Choudhury, founder of the USA Yoga Federation in a Huffington Post blog. “In contrast, while figure skating and gymnastics may also be performed as an individual sport, their practice relies on momentum. Mindful practice is the foundation of Yoga Asana competition; the body, mind, and spirit working in unison navigates each participant's performance. The beauty of continually working toward such a union is that one is also training themself for being able to gain a better handle on his or her life."
The 2013 International Yoga Asana Championship, which took place in Los Angeles last month, brought together 100 competitors from 26 countries to demonstrate the sport of Yoga Asana.
Take a peek at what it takes to compete in yoga sports. Here's a video of Gianna Purcell, 2013 USA Yoga Gold Medal Winner, at the 2012-2013 USA Yoga Asana National Championship Semi-Finals in Texas: