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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


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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.

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.

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.


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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