Yoga v. Gymnastics

First of all, this isn’t very yogic of me, but the Olympic gymnastics commentators really need to shut it.  I swear 99% of what comes out of their mouths is either vaguely (or not so vaguely) degrading, insulting and unnecessary!  The swimming commentators really aren’t much better. /end rant

I did get really excited when I noticed a lot of yoga poses in the warmup/training montage NBC showed for the USA women’s gymnastics team.  Nancy, the Flying Yogini, mentioned it on twitter as well so I know I wasn’t imagining things!

Anyways…watching all this gymnastics got me thinking about what separates yoga from the acrobatic/gymnastics tricks that the poses resemble.  Certainly, having a gymnastics and/or dance background does give you a physical advantage when practicing some of the fancier poses, especially ones that require a lot of strength, balance and flexibility.  Natural ability in those directions doesn’t hurt either.  Of course, the physical practice (to say nothing of the mental, spiritual and emotional practice) is so much more that just being able to contort your body into a pretzel or balancing on one elbow.

So what is the difference?  I don’t claim to have all (or any) of the answers, but here are some ideas based on observation.

The purpose of the pose or movement is different.  Traditionally, yoga poses (asanas) are meant to prepare the body to sit in meditation.  The poses can also be used to heal.  My sense is that most elite athletes use their sport to push their bodies to the limit.  Not saying you can’t do that with yoga, because you really can, but I’m not sure that’s the intended purpose.

The breath guides the yoga pose in a different way.  By linking the breath with the movement, asanas can become a moving meditation.  Hey – I wonder if moving meditation would make balance beam less scary!

Finally, in my class anyways, there are no deductions for doing a pose “wrong’ or not doing it at all.  And there are no extra points for increasing the degree of difficulty in your poses.  And, shiny, bejeweled leotards are totally optional! 🙂

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