Yoga Health Foundation

Excellence in Yoga, and the Olympic Games

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.

~The Olympic Motto, as quoted by Pierre de Coubertin

The emotion and energy of the Olympics Games can be felt across the globe. It’s an exciting time when the world comes alive as it unites through sport; it’s a time when people from all cultures are inspired by others to follow their dreams and better themselves through their own pursuits.

If we deconstruct the Olympic Games, at its core lies a life philosophy that is not so different from the Yoga school of Hindu philosophy. Promoted by the founder of the Modern Olympic Games Movement, Pierre de Coubertin, back in 1894, the Games draw together sport, culture, and education with the aim of creating a harmonious balance between body, will, and mind*. As a direct reflection, Yoga is so named for its focus on yoking the body with the mind, and the spirit. The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, may have been written in India centuries ago, but this foundational text of 196 verses outlines techniques for achieving concentration through the application of a yoga practice. The 8 limbs of yoga are described at the heart of the text; asana is its exhibitive limb, and it is the sport of Yoga.

Coubertin also set a universal set of values for the Games that have stood the test of time; they speak to sport being as much a physical activity, as a way of educating society.

Respect – fair play; knowing one’s own limits; and taking care of one’s health and the environment
Excellence – how to give the best of oneself, on the field of play or in life; taking part; and progressing according to one’s own objectives

Friendship – how, through sport, to understand each other despite any differences**

This time of sportsmanship is a wonderful way for yoga practitioners to recognize that just as other sports are significant in inspiring others, yoga is equally so. The definitions of respect and friendship are integral to yoga – Yamas (morals) and Niyamas (observances) of Yoga Sutra. The pursuit of excellence – this is the healthy competition in yoga.

Though it may not be as obvious in say, track and field, swimming, fencing, or rowing, studies have shown that it is the intrinsic value of mindfulness that allows competitors to achieve their personal best. In yoga however, mindfulness is akin to wearing your heart on your sleeve; it is the aura of calm, effortless ease, and grace of folding into and out of asanas, one at a time, that displays a high level of concentration and will. Just as Yoga Sutra 2.47 outlines: The means of perfecting the posture is that of relaxing or loosening of effort, and allowing attention to merge with endlessness, or the infinite; yoga champions train to achieve stillness in their practice, and it is this very quality that encourages others to better their practices.

Yoga is ours to share. Yoga will create a better world.  Yoga inspires.

Written by Yuan Fisslinger, PhD(c)