Like many other forms of exercise, yoga offers a variety of physical and mental health benefits, especially during social distancing. And like all other forms of exercise, yoga frequently causes me to fall over, get tired immediately, and showcase my lack of hand-eye coordination.
But what I love about yoga is that practicing it requires a completely different headspace than other physical activities — a contrast that’s especially clear to me when measured against more traditional sports. While most sports are centered on a player or team defeating competitors, yoga retains the physicality of sports while removing the sense of competition bred by sports culture..
In conventional sports, there is a metric quantifying your success. Whether it be swim times, football scores, or gymnastics points, numbers consistently play a role in how an athlete is valued.
On one hand, I understand the purpose of these numbers is to create a standardized system to evaluate athletes’ performances as fairly as possible. Yet I wonder if the numbers might deter some from participating.
Numbers are supposed to help us interpret a performance, but by extension, they also make it easy to compare people. In any aspect of life, a degree of competition can be a nice incentive to push people to work harder, but I feel like the way that competition is deeply interwoven into sports leaves that feeling of comparison lurking in situations where it’s unnecessary. Particularly at a non-professional level, I dislike how this could leave space for someone to feel they aren’t good enough to play.
So I admire the way yoga can disconnect from competitiveness and focus more on personal growth.
Primarily, I think what sets yoga apart the most is that it’s intrinsically very inclusive. Having an emphasis on self-improvement makes yoga less intimidating and, paired with the fact that so many different styles exist, yoga is arguably one of the most all-embracing forms of exercise.
Whether you’re starting off with zero experience or already have a strong foundation, you can tailor your practice to best match your interests and get a lot out of yoga at any level. Most poses have modifications so you can push yourself to an appropriate extent, and with so many unique types of yoga — hatha, aerial, and chair yoga, to name a few — the options for your practice are limitless.
No matter your experience level, you can build up your strength, balance, and flexibility in an environment where you don’t need to worry about anyone’s progress but your own. While there are plenty of collaborative exercises available for people who like working with others, in a yoga setting, these interactions yield the benefit of teamwork without the drawback of comparison.
Ultimately, though, however you choose to practice yoga, you’ll have the opportunity to challenge yourself and stay active without needing anyone else to compete with.
Realistically, I don’t think it’s possible to reconfigure the mentality surrounding sports. But I also don’t believe it’s necessary to change the way sports are structured. Instead, it’s simply nice to recognize that options exist outside of sports to stay active — especially an inclusive option like yoga, where you simply need a positive attitude and desire to try.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, exercise can be a great way to de-stress and feel a little less locked in while in isolation. I’m appreciative that yoga (my favorite way to exercise) has so many quarantine-friendly workouts, and I highly encourage anyone searching for new ways to stay active to try it out.