Yoga is a mental, spiritual and physical practice with far reaching health benefits. According to the Yoga Journal,  people in the United States spend nearly $6 billion per year on classes and other related materials such as clothing and DVDs.

People have practiced yoga for more than 5,000 years. The word yoga originates from the sanskrit root “yuj,” which means union. It is described as the union of the body, mind, emotions and intellect. Experts and aficionados alike, agree that yoga has many benefits not only for centering the mind but to heal the body as well; but the latest buzz is whether it should become an Olympic sport.

Yoga - health benefits

Competitive posing

The USA Yoga National Championship was held in New York during the first week of March. Participants were asked to perform seven poses, or asanas, during a three minute time frame and winners would go on to compete at the International Yoga Championship in Los Angeles in June. Competitors were scored based on stillness, breathing, strength and flexibility.

Yoga - health benefits
In the USA Yoga National Championship competitors were scored based on stillness, breathing, strength and flexibility.

Rajashree Choudhury, founder of USA Yoga, told the Associated Press,“The competition will appeal to the more competitive athlete than the meditative type. It emphasizes the athletic side of yoga, aiming to pique the interest of athletes who might be put off by the spiritual aspects.”

USA Yoga also has applied to the United States Olympic Committee to be officially registered as an Olympic sport and also hopes to form an international yoga federation to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games.

More harm than good?

“I’m not trying to measure anybody’s eight states,” Choudhury said in an interview on NBC Sports.com. “The posture can be competitive.”

The question is does competitive yoga go against the basis for the practice? With that in mind, striving to attain the perfect posture brings up another problem with competitive yoga that experts have debated for years: yoga-related injuries.

William J. Broad discusses these injuries in his book, “The Science of Yoga.” Broad warns of the risks of yoga if the poses are done incorrectly or “over zealously.” Participants who push themselves past the natural limits of practicing yoga can suffer major issues such as hip replacements, rib injuries, stroke or even brain injury.

In an article published by the N.Y. Times, Broad interviewed veteran Yoga teacher Glenn Black who also warned against possible negative effects of yoga, if performed incorrectly.

“The awareness is more important than rushing through a series of postures just to say you’d done them,” Black said.

Yoga - Health benefits
Veteran Yoga teacher Glenn Black who also warned against possible negative effects of yoga, if performed incorrectly. (Shutterstock photos)

Yoga is beneficial

Besides the horror tales of yoga performed over zealously, the benefits have been proven in various medical studies and can be far reaching if done correctly.

  • Increases flexibility and range of motion through stretching, not only your muscles but also your joints.
  • It has been shown to help improve balance and posture.
  • Has even been found to help with chronic conditions such as depression, anxiety, insomnia and improve mood through the stimulatory effect it has on the nervous system and increase in blood circulation.
  • Has been shown to help reduce high blood pressure.
  • Studies conducted on the subject have found the regular practice may result in lowered cytokine interleukin-6, a protein linked to aging and stress.
  • It effectively reduces lower-back pain. Studies done on the effects of yoga for back pain have resulted in decreased pain and increased mobility.
  • It can relieve osteoarthritis and may even help with ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome and carpel tunnel syndrome.
  • Some experts even agree that it can also help increase strength.

Really, the list can go on and on with experts touting yoga health benefits ranging from increased immunity, circulation, improved gastrointestinal functions, core strength, memory and even social skills.

It is established that when practiced correctly and cautiously yoga can offer a wide range of positive results – but is this practice fit for inclusion as a competitive or Olympic sport?

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