- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2012

NEW YORK | The judges will be watching. Were the competitor’s knees locked? Were the wrists straight? Did the forehead and the knee connect? If not, points are going to be lost.

Seeking the perfect pose will be the order of the day at the National Yoga Asana Championship, being put on here March 2 through 4 by an organization that wants to see yoga asana, or posture, become an Olympic sport.

Wait, competitive yoga? Isn’t that counterintuitive to something that’s usually presented as a spiritual, meditative discipline? Not according to Rajashree Choudhury, who founded USA Yoga, which is holding the competition.

First of all, she says, the focus is on yoga postures. “I’m not trying to measure anybody’s ‘eight states,’ ” she said, referring to the meditative and spiritual aspect of yoga practice. “The posture can be competitive.”

Participants must do a series of seven yoga poses in three minutes. Five are compulsory - standing head-to-knee pose, standing bow-pulling pose, bow pose, rabbit pose and stretching pose. The participants pick the last two themselves.

The poses show “how someone can have perfect strength, balance, flexibility in the body,” Ms. Choudhury said.

Competitors who have come in first or second in state meets are expected from 32 states. The New York competition is March 2; the national semifinals on March 3 and the finals on March 4. Winners will take part in an international competition in June in Los Angeles.

Yoga pose competitions take place in India, where yoga originated, and elsewhere around the world. Ms. Choudhury took part in them growing up, as did her husband, Bikram Choudhury, founder of the Bikram Yoga form of hot yoga, which consists of a series of 26 poses done in a heated room.

She says the competitions can be a way to interest people in yoga who might be put off by the spiritual aspect.

But not all yoga practitioners agree.

“The roots of yoga are based in acceptance and nonviolence and compassion toward self and others,” said Roseanne Harvey, 35, of Montreal, who’s been practicing yoga for 15 years and blogs about it at www.itsallyogababy.com.

In most yoga classes, “what we’re trying to do is encourage students not to compete,” she said.

Ms. Harvey said she had some concerns that people could get hurt if the idea filters down that it’s about being able to get into the perfect positions. She also wondered if emphasis on the perfect pose would put off people who would look at the competitors as attaining a physical level they can’t reach.

Ms. Choudhury isn’t too concerned. as she says, “Yoga teaches people to be nonjudgmental.”

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