Yoga is Non-Competitive?

You’ve seen them.  Those brochures.  Those promises.  Those cliche words that say yoga is non-competitive.  Is it really?  Did you know there’s such a thing as a yoga competition?

Since I’ve broadened my reach in my community, I’ve noticed the competitive vibe that hovers amongst students, teachers, and studios.  I know it’s in our nature to compete and set goals to achieve more whether it’s in our lives, careers, or yoga poses.  In fact, it’s healthy.  It’s called growth.  But there is a fine line between healthy competition and serious ego.

As a student, our egos might get in the way of being present.   Who’s talking while you’re in a pose?  Is it sensations?  or is it ego?  Are you looking at the person next to you and wish you could do what they’re doing?  Or even worse, do you put yourself down because you can’t do what your neighbor is doing?  That is serious ego.  So what does healthy competition look like?  One of the things I am working on this year is my handstand.  I envy those who can turn upside down without any support.  At one point I was getting really wrapped up in this self competition.  I wanted others to envy me.  I wanted others to say, “wow!  look at her.”  I was really beating myself up about it and pushing myself until out of the blue, my carpal tunnel syndrome reared it’s ugly head again.  I caught myself listening to my ego.  I realize that I was not ready for it.  I had some healing to do physically and emotionally.  I am still working towards it, but the difference is I am really honoring the sensations in my body.   Some days I’m upside down.  Other days, I’m lying on my back.

As a teacher, competition is many fold.  I see teachers bring their egos into classrooms all the time.   Some teach advanced poses to show off what they know even though the students aren’t ready for it.  We compete for the popular time slots.  We compete for students.  Again, unhealthy competition takes us out of the present.  Are we there to show off?  Are we there to share?  Are we there to help people heal?  Or are we causing them more suffering?  Some teachers have even said some really mean things to me like “why do you teach for free?  why would you give away your podcasts for free?  You’re stealing all the students with your free classes.”

I teach at 6 different studios and I see competition amongst studios who are not even in direct competition with eachother.  Let’s face it.  If you’re a studio owner, yoga is a business.  You’re fighting for the student base.  You’re fighting about how your yoga is better than the next.  You’re fighting to get the best teachers. You’re fighting because you don’t want your business to fold.  That’s a lot of fighting and competing.  But what happened to the sayings on your pretty brochure?  Why can’t you refer a student who may benefit more from another studio’s style of yoga?  Why shouldn’t I refer students to the other places I teach because they might fit in over there better?

Just as I see my asana practice as a constant inquiry about my body, I think we all could question our intentions and behaviors every now and then.   Are you promoting the very thing that you are teaching students not to do?


10 thoughts on “Yoga is Non-Competitive?

  1. One of the studios I teach at changed space recently. We moved right next door to a hot studio, we actually share a parking lot. The hot studio owner was extremely upset about our move at first, then she realized that her hot yoga students weren’t interested in yogadance or gentle Hatha. We were offering spmething completely different and our students didnt want hot classes either. If the style of yoga I teach doesn’t resonate with my students, I tell them to actively seek out different styles and studios until one does. Yes, I’m worried about possibly losing students, but in the end I just really want them to love being on their mat. It doesn’t matter I’d I’m the one teaching or not…

    I think studios in general are worried about their bottom line, but if we remember to come from a place of abundance rather than need or lacking-there will always be enough to go around.

    • really liked your points, i felt the same way doing art shows; people do go to what they want anyway

      and i think yoga is similar

      plus, there’s no harm or threat when anyone wants to do things other than yoga, dance, art, zumba, elastic bands, cycling, all that

      it’d be like an italian or mexican restaurant fearing someone’s going to go out and do chinese or cook-in, it just ain’t gonna hurt the mix 😉

  2. I see this a lot here in LA, but I am sure it appears everywhere. I’m not a teacher, so I can’t comment much further on that aspect, but as a student I’ll admit that being driven and type-a, I’m extremely competitive (though mostly with my own self). The need to be better than yesterday, to constantly ascend, is great. And sometimes overpowering.

  3. interesting post nikki 😉 thanks

    if it’s any consolation, i’ve found the same potentially disruptive competitiveness (vs that fun competitiveness friends can enjoy with each other) in most anything people get themselves into

    i did art and craft shows for decades and found the same type competitiveness you speak of in your article

    this was disturbing to those of us who thought art could only be created by tapping an essence that prohibited that type of behavior

    your comment and questions, “We compete for the popular time slots. We compete for students. Again, unhealthy competition takes us out of the present. Are we there to show off? Are we there to share? Are we there to help people heal?” – could just as easily be for artists –

    competing for best booths, buyers, taking us out of our zone to create authentic art, showing off and really not doing our best, not sharing our inner selves, not presenting a level of work we “know” heals that range of people who respond to the light-wave-frequency we have access to at that particular time

    so what does all this mean in relation to the question of competition in yoga?

    only that the problem is not something one can avoid by leaving yoga, or any other field of interest, the problem will just be waiting in the next area of interest, including in yoga

    my own focus, when i keep focus 😉 is to integrate those things i’ve come across that have proven to have deep meaning for me, dance, art, movement, writing, fitness, yoga, and meditation

    if, as you say, “unhealthy competition takes us out of the present,” then competitively staying in the present must be part of the answer; like agonist and antogonist muscles

    i’m a competitive person and what’s kept me competitive, in as positive a way i so far can manage, is to continually remember, it’s a process –

    sometimes the integrating works, sometimes it doesn’t…it’s a process…

    like learning to walk 😉 it keeps one in the present 😉

  4. Braidedbear says:

    As both a yoga teacher and a licensed massage therapist, I find this so interesting!

    In my massage-world, there is little competition. So many amazing hands doing great work, and yet you’ll hear people referring and supporting and offering help, advice and assistance to newbies in the field. And that seems, at least in my circles, to be the norm.

    In Yoga-world, I feel so blessed to be surrounded by people who are sincere and supportive. Who embrace the asanas that challenge them and offer this to their students. I find that, when my instructors can fall in arm balances or wobble in single-leg balances, there is more permission for my own inability to be ‘perfect’. {Whatever that may be!} But I do hear stories and tales of very non-yogic events in the business-side! And that is discouraging.

    We ask of ourselves to come to the mat in a non-striving manner. One that honours our strengths and weaknesses equally. There are lessons in learning to achieve a more ‘advanced’ asana, but there are lessons as well in learning to not compete against others and not to work against one another.

    As one Massage Therapist said to me: There are many who have not yet made it onto my table. And there are many for whom I am not ‘it’. I want EVERYONE to get massage. And that may not be from me, but there are so many great people entering the field, I just want the public to find ‘the one’ for themselves!

    I strive to maintain that philosophy as I teach yoga. And in my personal practice, I sometimes need to recall that maybe every asana is not ‘the one’ for me. And I need to stop striving to be off my mat and in someone else’s practice, but rather to stay within MY experience and enjoy my own mat!

    really offered me some food for thought …. THANK YOU!

    • Yoga is definitely not perfection but a practice of catching ourselves when we forget (as the last comment made) how we are being that might not necessarily align with who we are meant to be.

      Thanks for sharing.

  5. blogasana says:

    what a great topic. so true, so touchy, so timely.

    i see my own feelings of competition, jealousy and ego (as well as generosity, grace and contentment) come up in all three areas. i am a student, a teacher, and i run a studio.

    for me, a big part as been acknowledging/admitting that these feeling exist and are human (duh) and that i’m not horrible for having them. once i stop shutting a whole section of myself off, i can handle what’s coming up with more awareness and respond from a place of Yoga.

    anyone who is offended or threatened by your sharing is probably stuck in fear and forgetting themselves in that moment. we all do it at times.

    rather than focusing on others (people, studios, teachers) where I can get wrapped up in comparison, i do my best to keep my attention on my own thing — do i feel good/honest/real with what i’m doing. the more i focus on that, the more inspired and creative i feel… rather than comparing and trying to be like someone else.

    wow, that brought up a lot of inner dialogue – thanks for the post and the chance to comment!

    • “forgetting ourselves in the moment,” that nails it. I think part of the practice is remembering to come back and it only happens when we are in inquiry.

      Thanks for chatting.

  6. this so hits home.. the idea that each studio is ‘fighting for student, fighting for teachers’ is so true. Isn’t there enough yoga for everyone? enough students, enough teachers, each bringing their own unique self to the table. I know i’m a nubie (which of course makes me idealistic), but can’t we all just flow (or not flow) spread the love and help each other.

    great post! love it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *