Joseph visits the Arnold

Presenting Truth in Three Minutes



In November 2015, Robin Fox competed for the first time for reasons similar to why she had started practicing yoga in 2012: She was looking for something to help her manage and heal from her depression.

Fox found her first class terrifying for all the usual reasons: the length and the heat. But on top of that, Fox recalls the visible self-injury cuts she had on her body. From the beginning of that class, Fox felt like she couldn't escape her negative thoughts as she looked at herself in the mirror. However, by the end of the class she found that something incredible had happened. She wanted to return the next day, and she did.  

As she explains, "When you show up to your mat everyday in a sweaty room full of incredible people working through their own struggles, change is inevitable. I started to find joy, gratitude, and love within myself as I unfolded among a community of yogis."

After watching her current coach Michele Vennard compete, Fox was impressed by Vennard's grace and beauty on stage as well as the hard work she knew had taken place before the competition. The inspiration was enough for Fox to decide to compete the following year. As Fox explains, she fell in love "with the process of trying, failing, unfolding, and growing."

According to Fox, she thinks the two largest factors for success, both in competition and life in general, are dedication and time. That's why her training routine in the weeks leading up to a competition includes practicing yoga at least once a day.

This dedication and patience has also helped Fox manage her depression, and while she still struggles she finds that yoga has helped her be a happier person.

Fox says that the best advice she has gotten is to "tell your story with your spine," advice from her coach Michele Vennard. It's advice that, along with Fox's dedication and patience, has helped her with a posture she's excited to master: dancer. Fox says that she tries to practice the pose after every class, and the repetition has led to large changes and improvements for her spine, something she thought would never happen when she first started. She still shows patience towards herself, however, finding peace with the emotions that can sometimes arise when she comes out of the pose.

Overall, Fox competes because she wants to show others that yoga can aid with whatever struggles a person may have, whether they stem from mental health or anything else. As she says, "your story matters, and those three minutes have a beautiful way of presenting your truth."

Yoga's Lifelong Journey


Stephanie Chen has been competing for four years. Her first competition was at the 2013 California Regionals in Los Angeles.

Although she was reluctant to compete at first, mostly because she was nervous that it would detract from her enjoyment of practicing yoga, Stephanie credits her teachers at her yoga studio in San Jose with helping her realize how the motivation of a competition could enhance her practice and cause her to enjoy it even more. As she explains, "I go into every class with a clear intention of what I need to work on, and having an end-goal to work towards amplifies my energy as I practice."
 
In the weeks leading up to competition, Stephanie attends coaching sessions and practices her routine in front of other people, whether it's on the podium, in the lobby, or at home. She explains that, so long as she cannot look in a mirror, it helps her work on her focus and blocking out all the surrounding distractions.

As a competition gets closer, Stephanie tries to relax more to avoid over-exhausting herself. As she advises other yogis, "By the time you decide to compete, you’re already prepared. You don’t need to do abnormally more than you’re already doing, except showing up to class and rehearsing your routine with a coach."

Yet the best training advice Stephanie says she has gotten is to focus on what she should be doing in a posture rather than what she shouldn't. For example, if she focuses on not falling, she feels like she is more likely to fall out of a posture. Instead, more positive thinking, like focusing on what she can do in a pose (elbows bent below the calf muscle, knee locked), she feels more solid in her posture.

Overall, Stephanie has continued to compete for four years because she has fun. As she says, "That combined feeling of butterflies when you’re about to walk on stage, soon followed by exhilaration once you’ve finished can’t be matched. In the end, whether I nailed my routine or fell out a bunch, I always leave learning something new about myself and making several friends along the way."

Making new friends is also another reason why Stephanie enjoys competing. Seeing yogis who support one another from around the country adds another dimension to competition, and all the competitors get to learn from one another.

In her final words to her fellow competitors, and those interested in competition, Stephanie says, "This yoga is a lifelong journey, a constant progression, where there will always be room for improvement. So, if you can’t get into the full expression of the posture by competition time, that’s okay. Do what you can, and keep working on it, as usual. Maybe you’ll get it next time, or the time after that."

Three Champions, Six Questions

Ryan

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Intense Concentration

Angel Rodriguez placed first for Virginia during the 2017 Regional Asana competition in Columbus, Ohio, his first live yoga competition.

Although this is Angel's first year competing, he already respects the dedication that it takes to do well on stage. As he explains, yoga isn't a "sissy" sport. "It requires intense concentration, strength, and determination in preparation for success." This intense practice and concentration is what first drew Angel to compete. In fact, he compares the rigorous training and dedication to how he felt when he used to wrestle and play football.

Angel carries this dedication through to his training schedule. He practices yoga six days a week, and attends circuit training sessions and lifts weights four days a week. In the days leading up to competition, he focuses more on his yoga practice and makes time to meditate.

Despite maintaining his focus during his practice, Angel admits that the best training advice he has received is counterintuitive: "don't think about it, just do it!"

Furthermore, Angel's focus has helped him improve the posture that drives him crazy: Locust Pose. Hard work and patience  has paid off for Angel in a pose that tends to improve by millimeters.

As Angel gets ready to join his other competitors in Grand Rapids in a few weeks, he is looking forward to meeting yogis from across the country and excited to see the other competitors practice offstage.

A Moment in Time



For more than two years, Lisa Pafe has been competing which, for her, is a demonstration of what she can do with her body, mind, and spirit as a senior athlete.

For Lisa, a variety of workouts is important to training for competition day. To prepare for nationals, Lisa practices different forms of yoga, including weight training and barre classes to build her strength, balance and flexibility.

Furthermore, she draws on the knowledge and insights of her competition team members at her yoga studio. They meet for weekly sessions and critiques. Finally, maintaing a consistent practice of her own routine is also important to Lisa; she makes sure to practice her routine once a day in the weeks leading up to competition.

For all of this practice and dedication, Lisa also maintains a healthy attitude toward her performance. Her best advice to competitors demonstrates her comfort and confidence. As she advises, "Competition is a moment in time. Just do the best you can do in that moment. Whatever you do, it is perfect for you."

This attitude has certainly helped with the pose that gives Lisa the most difficulty: rabbit. As she explains, because she has short arms it is difficult for her to hold her heels properly. Yet Lisa's approach to training is one way she has overcome this challenge.

Although Lisa's training will culminate in her three minutes on stage at nationals, she is most excited to see and bond with her fellow senior division competitors. In her own words, "seniors rock!"

Fight Through It

This is Clara McGrail's first year competing, but the best advice she has gotten, and the mantra she repeats to herself, is "fight through it." It's the advice her coach, Jean Agress, repeats to her when she is having difficulty with holding a pose.

Clara first practiced yoga when she was 17 years old. Trained as a classical ballerina, she was attracted to the spirited discipline of yoga. Now, a decade later, she is excited to begin her competition journey and honored to be able to compete at Nationals.

While she is still learning the best ways to train, Clara meets with a group of competitors each week to share tips and critiques on each other's poses, in addition to regular classes.

"Admittedly, I have very limited experience competing," Clara says, "but for me, I love the challenge of demonstrating tranquility and grace through yoga, even if I feel nervous on stage."

Demonstrating tranquility under pressure comes in handy during Clara's favorite posture: standing forehead to knee. While she acknowledges how difficult of a pose it is, she loves the intricacy and detail of the pose. It's also the pose that drives her craziest, but she tries to remember her coach's words to "fight through it" when she starts to wobble or lose her balance.

In addition to meeting more of her fellow competitors, Clara is looking forward to watching their routines, which she says provide boundless inspiration for her.

From injury to competition


It all started with a running injury. Jennifer Vanderhart had pulled her groin muscle as she neared the finish line. But for Jennifer, recovery wasn't a race; she felt like it was taking too long, and two months in she decided to take a yoga class at her local gym.
 
Jennifer didn't love yoga immediately. In fact, she thought her first class was boring. It wasn't until another two months had passed and she tried yoga again, this time at a different studio. She still wasn't convinced, but Jennifer kept up with her yoga practice. A year and a half later she was competing.
 
For Jennifer, competing gives her extra incentive to work on her postures, and it has helped her approach her practice with a more detail-oriented focus.
 
Best of all, Jennifer enjoys competing because it has led to her meeting an array of people, and she loves working with other competitors and would-be competitors.
 
Jennifer says that from her own experience, the best advice she can give her fellow competitors is not to "train" at a specific point in time before competition but rather to practice mindfully and consistently. Your practice is your training.  Although she tries to practice every day, Jenifer admits that it can be difficult. However, she makes the most of her classes by picking a few postures to practice after each class, no matter how tired she may be.
 
For her fellow competitors, Jennifer says, "Competition day is such a rush!  Try to enjoy the day, the people, the heightened awareness and energy.  Maybe this year you hit everything perfectly.  Maybe that's for next year.  It's a long yoga life."
 
A long yoga life indeed, where injury and setbacks can lead to competition and success.

Taking It Slow

Joseph Collins' yoga competition journey has been about taking his time and hoping that he can someday share what he is learning with others in the classroom. As he explains, "I have my whole life ahead of me."

Joseph started competing in fall, 2015 at the Regional Asana Championships in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

While his yoga journey has been long, Joseph considers himself to be at the beginning. His attitude towards competing has been to see himself as his only competitor, and competing only against himself has benefitted his personal growth and self-confidence.

Joseph maintains his focus throughout training, but he is especially committed in the final stretch before competition to visualizing himself in his postures, allowing him to take stock of each detail of each pose.

In addition to this meditation, Joseph makes sure to eat healthfully and get enough sleep. Finally, he practices his routine multiple times a day, and he takes between seven and ten yoga classes each week.  

Despite practicing more mindful intentions, Joseph admits that savasana drives him crazy. But the posture he lives for is standing head to knee. As Joseph promised himself, "one day I will slay that posture."

Overall, Joseph is excited to compete because it allows him to be a part of something greater than himself and keep learning something new in the life that he sees as a gift.

Consistency

Lucy Homiller’s Athlete Advice: Consistency
 
For Lucy Homiller, year-round consistency is key to her competition training. She practices a beginning yoga class every day and advanced classes twice a week. In addition to her classwork, Lucy follows a routine outside of class, including homework from her yoga teachers, and additional practice postures and drills.
 
With the encouragement of the teachers at the yoga studio where she practices in Richmond, Virginia, Lucy first began competing during November 2013 at the Mid-Atlantic Regionals. Lucy was also inspired by the other yogis she knew who competed, and now she passes along the excitement of competition to others at her studio with another facet of her competition training—practicing her routine after the beginner’s class for anyone who wants to stay and watch.
 
In fact, performing her routine in front of others on a regular basis is, according to Lucy, the best training advice she’s every received. As she explains, “Practice your routine immediately after class, in front of as many people as you can, and on the teacher’s podium, if possible. It is almost impossible to duplicate the feeling of demonstrating your routine on stage (the nerves, the cold, the lights, the eyes upon you), but doing it after class is the closest I’ve come. You’re tired, you don’t want to do it, you’ll fall, you get frustrated, but these are all real circumstances that could arise on stage at any time and it’s so important to learn how to work through them before you’re actually on stage.”
 
Practicing her routine in front of an audience on a regular basis certainly helps Lucy with the posture that she considers “no easy feat”: standing head to knee. Lucy considers the posture difficult because it opens her routine and can set the tone for the rest of her postures. However, once she makes it through standing head to knee, she feels relieved and ready to take on the next posture.







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My Senior Moment: A Yoga Competition Journey (Part 2) )

Part 2: My Senior Moment: My First Competition(s)


How can I describe the excitement and joy as well as the calm and self-realization of being on stage? I was excited for my first competition, but I was not nervous. I asked myself why. I realized that I was looking forward to showing the world what I could do with my body and mind and soul as a 55-year old “senior.”


Arriving at the competition venue with my crew from Pure Om Fairfax, I wondered what the day would entail. I soon learned that it was all about supporting your fellow competitors. Everyone I met that day was so positive and encouraging. Competition is not a “me versus you” thing; it is about encouraging your friends to do their best. I went to competition with friends from my studio, and I left with new friends from all over the Mid-Atlantic Region.

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My Senior Moment: A Yoga Competition Journey (Part 1)

My Senior Moment: A Yoga Competition Journey (Part 1)

In 2014, I had been practicing Bikram yoga regularly for a few years. At age 54, I was seeing progress. My asanas were improving slowly and surely, and I was really feeling the benefits of a regular practice. The benefits were not just physical, but mental and spiritual as well. Plus, I was truly enjoying the yoga community I found at my studio, Pure Om Fairfax.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional competition was coming up in January 2015. I saw some signs up in the studio for USA Yoga competition training, but gave them little notice. After all, wasn’t I well past the age of sport competition?

One evening I was chatting with a fellow “senior” yogi, and she said she was competing. I wanted to learn more. I did not know that age 50 plus had a separate competition division. I decided to attend the regional competition…just to observe.

I ended up spending the entire afternoon enjoying the competition. I was inspired! I thought, “I can do this!” I wanted to participate and resolved to join the competition training for the following year.  Fall 2015, I joined our competition team, one of two seniors.

Did I feel a bit overwhelmed, a bit intimidated? At first, yes, but as we practiced together, and sweated, and refined our routines, and encouraged each other, I forged new friendships, new confidence, new calm. I started to realize that competition is not about ego. Rather, it is about trusting yourself.

Would my competition routine be perfect? No, but it would be perfect for me. At age 55, I was preparing to show the world what I could do, with the body and mind and spirit of a senior yogi. As I readied my routine for the regional competition in February 2016, I found a new sense of calm and acceptance (along with a few pre-event jitters). I couldn’t wait to take the stage!

Yoga and Competition

Two words that are rarely used in the same sentence are competition and yoga. My name is Michael Fine and last February I competed (or as I prefer to say demonstrated and shared my love of yoga) in the 2016 Midwest Regional Asana Championships, which I am proud to say was hosted by my home yoga school and sanctuary, Bikram Yoga North Shore, in Glenview, a suburb of Chicago. As a diehard yogi with a six year almost daily practice, my reasons for entering the Regional Championships were likely different than most of the other participants. You see, I entered the championships not with the goal of winning, but rather with the sole objective of inspiring and changing the minds of all of those people who believed that they couldn’t practice yoga for reasons many of you have likely heard time and time again: “I am too old, too fat, too inflexible, too sick, allergic to heat, blah, blah, blah.” My ultimate hope was that once inspired, these people would be empowered to do what the human body, mind and spirit were designed to do; that is, to heal!

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Interview with Scott Marin

An Interview with Scott Marin, USA Yoga Senior Men’s Champion 2015 & 2016

 

  • What got you started practicing yoga?  About 15 years ago and before I started doing yoga, I developed pretty sore knees and hips from decades of running. My wife, Karen, had been doing yoga at a fitness center, and she invited me to attend a class. I found hatha yoga to be a great fitness program, and my joints improved. 

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Joseph visits the Arnold

USA Yoga Board President, Joseph Encinia visits The Arnold

Joseph Encinia, our intrepid board president, visited Columbus, Ohio earlier this month. Joseph took a whirlwind tour to look over the venue for our first East Coast Super Regional, and to promote the upcoming event. His visit included several workshops at local studios and a television interview. Joseph also met with the organizers of the Arnold Sports Games and wowed them with his Nali technique. We are so excited about our collaboration with this prestigious international event. I would like to thank Jayn and Craig Mayton, our Arnold co-organizers for introducing USA Yoga to The Arnold Sports Games.