Yoga’s deep breathing, careful balance, and gentle stretches may ratchet up to a new and competitive level if the ancient practice becomes an Olympic sport, which could be possible in 2016. USA Yoga wants to become the governing body of yoga asana, or posture, and has petitioned the U.S. Olympic committee for recognition.
Yoga has traditionally been noncompetitive, blending spiritual and meditative components with exercise, and some devotees dislike the concept of yoga competitions where poses are rated and judged. Gabriel Hall, yoga instructor and owner of Yoga World in Long Beach, separates the idea of yoga as an Olympic sport from the everyday practice people can enjoy to benefit their physical and mental well being.
“No one should look at a yoga pose done by a 26-year-old Olympic athlete and think, ‘I need to look like that,’” he said.
However, Hall says that certain yoga poses are beautiful and awe-inspiring and that Olympic recognition would be a way of honoring the skill required.
“Some poses take grace, strength, flexibility, focus, and coordination,” he said.
But competition doesn’t belong in a yoga class where people are there to calm their nerves and build their strength, Hall added.
“You’re not there to outdo your neighbor, and there is no audience,” he said. “It’s not a performance.”
Whether your style leans toward fierce rivalry, noncompetitive oneness, or something in the middle, you can take home the health benefits of yoga:
Ease joint soreness. Gentle yoga is especially good for people who have arthritis. In a study done in the United Arab Emirates, people with rheumatoid arthritis who practiced yoga had significantly less disease activity and better quality of life than the group that did not participate in yoga.
Reduce back pain. People with chronic low back pain who did yoga for 12 weeks had diminished pain, took less pain medication, and experienced improved back functioning, according to a study published last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine. The benefits of yoga lasted for the six-month follow-up period.
Lessen stress. Yoga has the ability to regulate cortisol, the stress hormone produced by the adrenal gland. High cortisol levels are linked with a host of health issues, including lowered immune response, digestion problems, abdominal weight gain, and poorer outcomes in cancer patients. Breathing and relaxation in yoga help the body adapt to stress, says Jack Ebner, director of the Ayurvedic Center for Natural Medicine in Seal Beach, formerly Omadawn Yoga.
Improve balance. Better balance means fewer falls. Strengthening and toning your muscles with yoga lessens the likelihood of taking a spill. Falls are a very serious health risk for older adults and people who have had a stroke. Yoga offers a means of cutting their risk for falls. Poses can be adapted to meet the specific needs of older adults and those recovering from a stroke.
Rev up your sex drive. Yoga sparks a rise in testosterone, the hormone of desire in men and women. Along with the hormone spike, the breathing and increased blood flow can also boost a flagging libido. Someone who hasn’t been exercising and who takes up yoga benefits from the stretching, toning, and strengthening, says Ebner, and will “be in better shape for sex.”
A broad term, yoga includes many forms of the discipline, from gentle stretches you can do at your desk, to challenging “power yoga” poses, to Bikram yoga, which is done in a very hot room. In any style, even a few minutes of yoga a day can help you feel stronger, calmer, and more alert.