SKILLS ACTIVE: works with 7 sections namely sport, fitness, hair, beauty, play work, outdoor and caravanning to develop standards and qualifications and frameworks.
As a physical education teacher with a good honours degree in the Art and Science of Movement, further qualifications in coaching and judging in several sports and a qualified yoga teacher and remedial yoga teacher I have knowledge and experience in both areas and am baffled as to why anybody who understands yoga could possibly think that it could be classified as a sport or that it would come under any of the 7 categories that skills active list.
This came up 12 years ago and was finally put to rest as it was totally inappropriate. In my opinion the person or persons who are pushing for this do not understand yoga or they have other self-interests.
The demonstration of yoga at the Commonwealth Games in India and the World Yoga Championships that were held in Malaysia this year would be better described as gymnastics and do not help the public understanding of yoga.
MANY PATHS: there are so many different types of yoga/paths practised in so many different ways it is impossible to categorise it into one form so how could one be chosen to be the national standard? No one path is better than the other and each will suit different individuals.
AUTHORITY: who has the authority, experience, knowledge and respect from the yoga community to decide the standardisations content and needs? Certainly not a body involved in sport.
DICTIONARY DEFINITIONS OF SPORT, EXERCISE AND YOGA
Sport: an outdoor game or competitive activity involving physical exercise eg cricket, hockey, football, athletics etc.
Exercise: an activity requiring physical effort, done to improve health. A particular body task devised for the above. A military drill or manoeuvre. It can also apply to mental faculties.
Yoga: a Hindu system of philosophical meditation and asceticism designed to reflect reunion with the universal spirit (Oxford) and involving controlling the breath, prescribed body positions and meditation with the aim of attaining a state of deep spiritual insight and tranquillity (free dictionary).
I appreciate that dictionary definitions have their limitations so include some differences between sport, exercise and yoga from my own knowledge and experiences.
Some body positions can become exercise or asana depending on the approach, attitude and practice.
SOME DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SPORT, EXERCISE AND YOGA
1a) Sport and Exercise involve repeated movement of the body and limbs with various degrees of effort, create tensions and its goals are externally orientated.
1b) Asana (posture) is a small part of some yoga paths that involve some physical movement until the position can be held in stillness. The 195 yoga Sutras of Patanjali written around 250 A.D are a gathering of practices and philosophies of yoga into an easy to follow system that is often referred to as classical yoga. Only 3 of the 195 sutras mention asana/posture.
Sutra 2.46 says ‘posture is an attitude in which the body is kept steady (motionless) while producing a feeling of ease’. Sport or exercise is not motionless?
2:47-48 says posture is mastered by freeing the body and mind from tension and restlessness and meditating on the infinite………When posture is mastered one is undisturbed by pairs of opposites (dualities) and harmony can be restored in the body and mind and particularly in neuro-muscular tone.
Asanas/postures are designed to counteract disturbances in the tonic rhythms in the body that create instability. These are the result of disharmony between two opposing neural impulses (pairs of opposites) or in yoga terminology from a disturbance between prana impulses. Texts often refer to dualities/opposites that disturb the mind and body as heat/cold, success/failure, joy/sorrow, pain/pleasure that tend to occur in meditation. What sport creates harmony in the tonic rhythms and leaves one undisturbed by opposites/dualites? None. Unsteadiness of the body or its limbs is an indication of the unsteadiness of the mind. Sport and exercise employ the limbs to fulfil their goals. Postures are mastered when we are stable in the posture, stable in the mind and body, comfortable and steady. The body and mind are alert, relaxed and in an effortless state. The mind is free and one pointed to contemplate on the infinite. Once in position asana/posture can be held for some considerable time (it can be hours).It is inwardly oriented and there is no mind goal.
2a) In sport and exercise the effort needed leads to muscle tone changes that result in tensions that can remain for varying periods of time afterwards and linger in the body. Professor Candace Pert refers to tensions that are held in the gangliated cords near the spine, maybe for years.
2b) Asanas are prepared and maintained by least effort as they move towards stillness. There will always be some tensions but asanas practiced correctly should reduce them to the necessary minimum and should not develop disturbing muscular, neural, glandular and visceral tensions in the process. They can also release subtle tensions not realised until working experientially on our inner self. Once gross and subtle tensions are realised they can be reduced or eliminated through gentle movement, the breath or gentle stretching. Mental tensions that surface can also be dealt with so they stop bothering us and resurfacing.
3a) Sport usually involves becoming someone else eg a swimmer, gymnast, weight lifter etc. The aim of exercise is to increase fitness, muscle strength, flexibility and power. It also involves our sense organs that give us information and knowledge from outside the body and help us to make decisions.
3b) In yoga we are working towards self-awareness/self-realisation and not towards becoming someone or something else. We disconnect from our sense organs as we don’t need information from outside and start to pick up messages from other internal receptors.
4a) In sport we are outward looking and focus on our physical body and objects outside.
4b) In yoga we are inward looking and become an observer or witness as we experience and realise the different sensations and events that are happening inside the body and mind.
5a) Sport and exercise can lead to fatigue, exhaustion, injuries, pain, stiffness and discomfort. These all create tensions that disturb the body and mind and interfere with our ability to go inwards such that it would be impossible to feel at ease, stable and comfortable in order to contemplate or meditate in the posture
5b) In yoga when it is practiced correctly fatigue, injury etc do not occur. Going inside our body with our awareness we start to recognise areas of pain and tension and can then find ways and means of releasing them. Yoga can energise rather than exhaust the individual.
6a) Sport and exercise increase the load on the cardio-vascular system.
6b) Yoga slows down the cardio-vascular system.
7a) Exercise acts on superficial muscles.
7b) Yoga acts on the deeper muscles and nerves.
8a) Sport is highly competitive.
8b) yoga is not competitive. Union would never be achieved with the mental and emotional activity of competition.
9a) Practiced in the right way both sport and yoga can lead to a healthy body and mind.
9b) Only yoga can lead to self-realisation and union.
DIFFERENT AREAS OF THE BRAIN ARE INVOLVED WITH SPORT, EXERCISE AND YOGA.
10a) In sport/exercise a lot of activity is in the motor and frontal cortex of the brain and the sensory areas are heavily involved.
10b) When postures are practiced as the sutras state the frontal cortex and motor cortex become quite. Asanas/postures are then controlled and maintained from the cerebellum which is the part of the brain responsible for maintaining tone, posture and equilibrium. The senses are not involved.
There are many other comparisons that can be made but too many to list here. There are some similarities but far more differences that demonstrate that yoga can never be classified as a sport or exercise.
Many yoga classes in western societies are really exercise classes with a few yoga concepts thrown in so if standardisation is the way they wish to go then they should consider calling it something else and definitely not yoga. It would then fall into the sport or fitness section of skills-active.
Just because many classes do not really practice yoga, one has to accept that and I would rather they were doing that than nothing. However if you are going to create a teaching standard that will go on into the future then it has to be based on what yoga really is so that as human consciousness evolves it will develop in the right direction and humanity will not lose this valuable healing art on the way.
June A Skeggs (September 2016)