“Yes, there is such a thing as competitive yoga,” explained 26-year-old Danbury resident Leila Noone, the 2013 Connecticut State Yoga Asana Women’s Champion, in an interview. Ms. Noone’s first-place ranking qualifies her to compete at the National Yoga Asana Championship in New York City next month.
“I can do a lot of cool stuff in the comfort of a yoga studio on a squishy mat with soft music playing. Life is not always comfortable. If I can perform and focus the same way in a pressure-less situation as a pressure-filled situation, I feel more confident and prepared for whatever life throws at me,” theorized Noone.
So, what is competitive yoga? It may seem like a strange concept, or an oxymoron, but according to USA Yoga’s website, competitive yoga has been practiced for hundreds of years in India. Competitive yoga was brought to America when USA Yoga was founded by Rajashree Choudrey, the wife of Bikram Choudrey, founder of the extremely popular Bikram or “hot” yoga. Noone explained that Rajashree Choudrey established USA Yoga in an attempt to make yoga into a sport, and nowadays, there are regional, national, and international championships.
All adult competitors must perform five compulsory poses, or asanas – Standing Head to Knee Pose, Standing Bow Pulling Pose, Floor Bow, Rabbit Pose, and Stretching Pose – as well as two asanas of the competitor’s choice. Competitors are awarded points based on strength, flexibility, timing, control, and grace. The entire routine must be completed in three minutes or less.
“Does being a yoga champion mean that I can do poses better than anyone else or meditate better than anyone else? Absolutely not. It’s not some zen-off.”
Noone began practicing yoga at Yoga to the People in New York City around the same time she started college in 2005. She later earned her Yoga Teacher Training certification from the studio.
“Competition often gets associated with having a big ego and always needing to be better than someone else, which translates into negative feelings towards others. But for me, competition has always been just the opposite. To achieve anything great has always taught me to be more humble, disciplined and compassionate towards myself and others than I’ve ever been before. Does being a yoga champion mean that I can do poses better than anyone else or meditate better than anyone else? Absolutely not,” asserted Noone. “It’s not some zen-off.”
Noone believes that being a yoga champion merely means that she can set her mind to a goal, discipline herself to train meticulously, pay attention to detail, and “get in the zone” well enough to demonstrate her training in front of a large group of people and judges.
But should yoga be competitive?
“Whether or not yoga should be competitive is really not even a question in my mind,” Noone said. “The question is really whether or not you want to be the type of person who competes. It is not about seeing how much better you can be than someone else. If the objective is ever to outshine someone else, then you’ll never be great.”
Leila Noone is a gymnastics coach at Elite Gymnastics Center in New Milford and practices yoga at Bikram Yoga Danbury. She will compete in the National Yoga Asana Championship in New York City on March 2 and 3.