Yoga performers | Photographer: Tomasz Gudzowaty | BLACK AND WHITE |

There are many interpretations of yoga, both in India and in the western world. In the Vedic religious tradition, yoga is seen as a pathway to achieving spiritual enlightenment through physical training and as a way of living in harmony with your body and nature. It is also an accepted form of gymnastics and is often used as therapy. Yoga, with its Indian roots stretching back 2000 years, is not typically associated with sport since it does not involve any competition. However, every three years, pilgrims, spiritual masters, and yogis travel to India for the Kumbh Mela Hindu feast. Different schools and sects meet to display their achievements in the practice of yoga and pranayama (control over the breath).

It’s the biggest gathering of people in the world. One of Shiva’s manifestations, the god Nataraja, is the patron saint of the event. Over time, the rules of competition were formally organized and most recently, yoga asana has been included in modern sport yoga. Yogis who participate in the contest are separated into age groups and perform in singles, pairs, or groups. But even with all these formal rules and regulations, the technical aspect does not eclipse the spiritual. The official rules of the Yoga Federation of India state that “while performing yoga positions the contestant should show his/her happiness and spirituality.” This helps keep contestants in touch with teachings of the ancient Hindu masters, who regarded happiness as a task well within the reach of all humans.