Such is yoga’s huge international success – 18 million people worldwide practice – that competitions are now held for yogis to show off their strength, flexibility and well-honed bodies.
Last month, Los Angeles (where else?) played host to the third annual Bishnu Gosh International Yoga Cup, (www.yogaexpo.com), aimed at “helping the public understand and experience the profound aspects of yoga”, according to the organisers.
When it was born in September 2003, the organisers continue, the Yoga Expo intended to celebrate “the extraordinary growth of yoga in the Western World.
"Its goal is to help the public understand and experience the profound aspects of yoga. This ancient, yet very modern health and fitness program can be extremely beneficial in every aspect of life.”
The trend to “competitive-ise” yoga, and bring it in line with sports such as sailing and golf, has also taken hold closer to home. Two years ago the first British Yoga Show was held at Olympia, West London. Around 10,000 people attended the event, which was packed full of stalls, workshops, products and lectures.
The show’s popularity has increased further since then – helping to build up a whole industry. All this has helped to build yoga up into a multi-million pound industry, and something suspiciously resembling a commodity.
There’s even a possibility of yoga becoming an Olympic ‘sport’, helped, no doubt, by celebrity endorsements by the likes of Madonna and Sting, and the success of Bikram yoga, which attracts a young, fashionable crowd.
We're all aware of yoga's manifold health benefits, but do we really need a full-on competition to prove it? Surely one of the beauties of yoga is the supposed absence of competitive instinct it promotes? To pitch yoga as a competitive pasttime is anathema: it’s contradictory, promotes the wrong message and is probably pretty dangerous in the wrong hands.
Far from making yoga seem accessible, yoga competitions are likely to have the opposite affect; chances are, they will make it appear intimidating to those with less experience and flexibility, not to mention smaller egos.
Yoga is not a sport; it was never meant to be showcased up there with the likes of swimming or gymnastics. It’s an ancient practice, philosophy and (if you want to take it this far) life system.
What it shouldn't be is a platform on which egos can be stroked and bodies paraded like slabs of very bendy meat.