I have lost count of the number of times when I have reminded my students that Yoga is not competitive. It’s a simple statement to say, and logically it should be pretty simple to understand, but somehow it really takes a long time for this to sink in. In truth I’m not even sure I’ve fully grasped it after more than a decade of practice, and several years of teaching. At many levels the competitiveness has melted away, but then other levels seem to spring up from nowhere and surprise me.
This non-competitive aspect of Yoga is one of the ways in which I think Yoga is radically important in today’s society. We are brought up in our schools and families to throw all of our efforts into doing our best in our school work, sports teams, music, art, dance, etc. Get good grades, get the prize, score the goal, pass the exam, win the competition.
Yoga is not like that. It’s very common to hear new students say things like “I’m no good at Yoga, I can’t touch my toes” or similar comments that revolve around the goal of achieving a certain level of strength, flexibility, body shape or getting into a particular pose – effectively trying to ‘score a goal’ with their yoga practice. This isn’t really where we’re going with our work at all.
But if we’re not doing this, then what are we doing, and what’s the point of it? One of the first questions which we were asked when I did my Yoga Teacher Training course with Daizan back in 2015 was “What is Yoga?”
Myself and the other trainees came up with many answers which reflected certain aspects of Yoga, like it being physical exercise, helping with flexibility, good for your wellbeing, a spiritual practice, energising and calming etc. However none of these answers can be used to actually define Yoga or distinguish it from other practices – e.g. yes it is exercise, but so is football.
Going back to the literal meaning of the word Yoga actually helps us to define it and distinguish it from other forms of practice. The literal meaning is to yoke, unite or connect, but what are we trying to connect?
Broadly speaking, we’re seeking to integrate the different elements of our being, which are often thought of as 3 separate aspects: our mind or awareness, our physical body, and our energy or vitality – integrating and bringing them together in union in the present moment is our practice.
The very nature of this integration means it cannot be competitive – if you are thinking that you can do a certain pose better or worse than one of the other yogis in the class, then I doubt very much that your mind, body and energy are all integrated – so to achieve Yoga, we have to drop the competitiveness.
Dropping this competitiveness and integrating the different elements of our being during practice also invites us to explore and embrace a non-judgemental mindset. Being non-judgemental of ourselves can powerfully change our inner dialogue – “I’m no good at this pose”, or “I’m the best at this pose” (notice how both positive and negative views are judgements!) can simply change to “this is how I am with this pose today”
Changing the inner dialogue can then really help us to change how we relate to the outer world. As we become less judgemental of ourselves, we can also apply this attitude to others and become less judgemental of the world around us – and the benefits that this change in attitude can bring to our wellbeing and enjoyment of life in general cannot be overstated.
I cannot hand on heart say that I am fully there yet, nor do I know if I ever will ‘get there’. I am not living this perfect mindful life all the time – I still haven’t fully let go of competitiveness and I know I’m not 100% connected or living non-judgementally in the present moment like a modern day Buddha all the time, but I have started to see big improvements in my wellbeing and enjoyment of life. I still have a lot of work to go, but simply being on this path feels so much more beautiful than before. This is why I practice Yoga and also why I think Yoga practice is so important in our World today. Yoga is not competitive – simple to say, but not always easy to put into practice.
How could you drop some of the competitiveness in your life and how would it help you and those around you?