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Taylor Diepold: Moving from darkness to light.

Diagnosed with childhood depression, Taylor Diepold, the youngest of three girls, managed her moods through excelling in athletics, holding three varsity letters, and later through addiction and eating disorders. She went through her first rehab in High School, but continued a downward path of abuse culminating in heroin addiction.

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Challenge and Sweat

Bruce Merkle

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Staying with the Positive

Caty Cook is competing in the USA Yoga 2019 National Championship in the Adult 50+ Division.

There is much written about yoga competition, past and present, some controversial...

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Michele Vennard: Yoga is the Gateway to a Limitless Life

Michele Vennard won the Adult 50+ Women’s Division Gold Medal at the 2018 USA Yoga Nationals and went on to win the Gold Medal in the International competition held in Beijing, China. I caught up with this busy studio owner and yoga champion to congratulate her and ask about the future. She is excited to travel to yoga studios and share her knowledge and experience.  If interested, please email to Michele at [email protected].
1)    Tell us how you prepared for the competition - training both mental and physical, diet, strategy, etc.

I’m so honored to have won the Gold Medal for Women’s Adult 50+ division. Honestly, I was so honored to win the National Title that I did not think much of the International Title as I don’t travel much. But friend and yoga competitor, Lee Dickinson, told me that he would go with me if I wanted to go as he speaks Mandarin and he used to live in Beijing. From that offer, I looked into flights, which were not expensive to my surprise, and off I went, committing to this invitation! My practice has been an everyday practice for 12-15 years now, so my “training” was not much more than what I do everyday except for some additional homework on my spine after class. At BYSJ, we practice the advanced series on Sundays, so that time in those poses helped, along with our group as a team practicing routines each week. Someone asked me recently, how tired I must be now from training so hard for this win. Ironically, this year, I emphasized a lot more on relaxation as after so long your body progresses with relaxation as much as intensity. I love my practice so enhancing it with deeper savasanas was nice and beneficial too.

2)    Looking back on this experience, what did you enjoy most?

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Thomas Forbang: Still the Same Passionate Yogi!

Thomas Forbang won the Adult 50+ Men’s Division Gold Medal at the 2018 USA Yoga Nationals and went on to win the Gold Medal in the International competition held in Beijing, China. I caught up with this busy entrepreneur and yoga champion to congratulate him and ask about the future.

1) Congratulations on your first-place medal for Adult 50+ Men at the international competition in Beijing!  Tell us how you prepared for the competition - training both mental and physical, diet, strategy, etc.
Thank you! I practice and train pretty much all year long. However, 90 days before competitions, I intensify my training regimen with drills that target spine flexibility, shoulder thawing and hip opening. I also switch to a vegan diet around this time for detoxification reasons. These maintain my 1) Body Fat Ratio (BFR) at under 15%; 2) target weight of under 170 lbs; 3) Lean Muscle Mass (LMM) of above 40%; and 4) Body Mass Index (BMI) of around 25.

2) Looking back on this experience, what did you enjoy most?
The international community. The language and communication challenges. Different cultures and foods. I’ve been exposed to several cultures (speak, read and write three languages - English, French and Russian) but anytime you step out of your home country, you are a foreigner and are usually treated like one. This is always a fascinating and enjoyable experience that I think everyone should try.

3) What were the challenges of competing in a different time zone on the other side of the world?
Jet lag. I learned my lessons from the 2016 Worlds in Italy (6-hour difference) where I arrived the night before competition and wobbled severely onstage the next day. This time I arrived in Beijing (11-hour difference) a good 3 days before going onstage giving me enough time to acclimate.

4) What are your plans for the 2019 competition year? Having achieved both the U.S. and International gold medal - what's next? Do you have new goals?
Honestly, nothing has changed. I’m still the same passionate yogi who continues to practice/teach daily and compete yearly. In fact, I already submitted my video for the 2018-2019 Central/Southeast Regional Qualifiers.  If invited, I will be onstage in Arlington, Virginia in April 2019, and if I score high enough there and earn an invite to the Nationals, I will be onstage again at The State Games of America in Lynchburg, Virginia in August 2019.

As Chuck Knox once said: “Winning and losing are both very temporary things. Having done one or the other, you move ahead. Gloating over a victory or sulking over a loss is a good way to stand still.”

5) Now that you are the US and world champion, what inspires you to continue competing?
The sheer passion for the sport. In addition, sharing that stage with other competitors, bona fide yogis, and having my friends and family there as well, creates a unique moment that can never be replicated or duplicated unless during competition days and times.

Furthermore, I aspire one day to see yoga on the Olympic schedule.

6) What advice can you give to fellow Adult 50+ competitors?
I could not have said it any better than Jackie Joyner-Kersee: “Age is no barrier. It’s only a limitation you put on your mind.”

7) Any final thoughts?
I see myself practicing and competing in championships till eternity for two reasons:

1)    My wife and I like to travel. This is a perfect opportunity to travel now instead of waiting until after retirement. If you’re able to compete, you have a chance to win and get invited to the next level – and the varying host destinations keep it interesting.

2)    This is the more important reason: Since competitions are pretty much all year long, that gives me an extra incentive to remain fit, ready and healthy as I’m always in competitive mode.

Scott Marin: Excited to be on the USA Yoga Team

The Adult 50+ 2017 and 2018 champions are preparing to travel to Beijing, China to compete in the World Championship of Yoga Sports, December 1-2. This series of blog posts will explore their journey.

Scott Marin placed 4th for Adult 50+ Men in Grand Rapids, MI in 2017. Here’s a look at his journey to Beijing.

1) Why are you competing in Internationals? What drives you to make this journey?

I decided to compete in the 2018 internationals after receiving an invitation based on 2017 national results. I had competed in the 2016 internationals in Italy, and the thrill of training for and competing in another international competition was too much to ignore. I enjoy competition training as part of regular yoga practice.

2) How are you preparing for the International Competition? Include types of practice, diet, meditation, etc.

For preparation, I’ve increased my yoga practice at home and at the studio. At home, I concentrate on stretching tight areas and strengthening weak areas. At the studio, I do lots of beginner, intermediate, and advanced classes. I found that training is a delicate balance between improving postures, healing sore joints, and avoiding injury.

3) What are you most excited about?

I’m excited about being on the USA Yoga Team. The fellow yogis are great. I’m anxious to see old friends and meet new ones.

4) Will any friends/family travel with you? Who?

My wife, Karen, will travel with me as she has done for several past competitions.

5) How long have you been practicing?

I have been practicing yoga since 2005. Prior to that, I did distance running, which included several marathons. Around age 50, my knees and hips were chronically sore from the running. Yoga gave me a lot of relief.

6) What is your profession?

I’m a retired electrical engineer.

7) Where do you regularly practice/are you a yoga teacher (name the studio, including city and state)?

I regularly practice near Dallas, Texas at Bikram Yoga Richardson/Allen. In early 2018, I completed a 200-hour teacher training program based on Ashtanga flow yoga. I occasionally teach a Ghosh Flow (intermediate) class. I’ve also been leading competition practice sessions to encourage new people to get involved with yoga sport and to help past competitors prepare for their next competition.

Yoko Jackson: Grateful for Her Practice

The Adult 50+ 2017 and 2018 champions are preparing to travel to Beijing, China to compete in the World Championship of Yoga Sports, December 1-2. This series of blog posts will explore their journey.

Yoko Jackson won the Silver Medal for Adult 50+ Women in Madison, WI in 2018. Here’s a look at her journey to Beijing.

1) Why are you competing in Internationals? What drives you to make this journey?

Last year, I decided that it would be a good way to commemorate my 50th birthday by competing in the yoga competition. I had only been practicing Yoga for three years and thought that it would be a great way to assess my skills to better understand how to improve myself. I had never imagined that I would get the opportunity to compete in internationals.

2)  How are you preparing for the International Competition? Include types of practice, diet, meditation, etc.

On Mondays, I have my Ashtanga primary class, and Tuesdays are my Ashtanga Mysore class. From Wednesday to Saturday I continue my Ashtanga practice on my own. Also, on Wednesdays and Thursdays I practice hot yoga for 60 minutes and then 90 minutes Friday to Sunday.

3) What are you most excited about?

I’m very excited about learning more about the Chinese culture and competing with all the other incredible people at the international level.

4) Will any friends/family travel with you? Who?

No, I'll be traveling by myself, but my family and friends are always supporting me, and I know I will have their support.

5) How long have you been practicing?

I have been practicing hot yoga for three years.

6) What is your profession?

I take care of my 17 year old daughter and 22 year old son at home. I also take care of my adorable miniature schnauzer.

7) Where do you regularly practice/are you a yoga teacher (name the studio, including city and state)?

I practice at YogaWorks in Fairfax, VA and practice Ashtanga at Heart N Soul Yoga in Vienna, Va.

8) Any other info you want us to know.

Yoga has helped me recover and rehabilitate after a tennis injury four years ago. I have continued to better my health by trying all different types of yoga. I’m very grateful for being introduced to the practice, and I hope that all kinds of yoga are fully appreciated and understood by the yogis out there.

Mike Peck: Yoga is a Gift to Myself

Mike Peck, the USA Yoga Federation West Coast Regionals Adult 50+ Gold Medalist, began practicing yoga on a regular basis in 1977, using Richard Hittleman's Introduction to Yoga.  Just before his 59th birthday six years ago, he stopped by the local Hot Yoga studio in Scottsdale, Arizona as “a gift to myself.  I had been curious about hot yoga, stopped in, and have been going ever since,” he reminisced.

Mike practices at The Foundry Yoga in Paradise Valley and Old Town Scottsdale, Arizona, training with coach Heidi-Jo Klingman. Despite his very demanding full-time job as a burn surgeon, he prepares for competition in three ways: practicing the classic 90-minute class at least three times a week; taking advantage of other classes (Pilates, HIIT, barre, power yoga) to help build strength and endurance; and taking private lessons with teachers and working on the homework they give him.

Mike has been competing for three years. Why did he first get interested? “I did it the first time because I appreciated the challenge and also because I got a lot of encouragement from my teachers,” he explains. “I went to my first regional competition about three years ago.  I fell out of standing bow but found the preparation for the event really helped my focus and my practice.”

Other benefits of training? “Not only was I now more focused on the postures in my routine, but I was also conscious of more attention to form and detail on the rest of the 90-minute sequence,” he says.  “Plus, it's a great group of people who compete!”

To stay fit, he starts most days with a cup of hot water and lemon juice followed by a Jamba Juice large Greens and Ginger.  He eats a light salad for lunch, and “then I come home and eat whatever my wife puts on the table for dinner.” He has mostly eliminated caffeine and reduced his intake of starches.  He drinks 3 liters of water a day.

Other hobbies include hiking and skiing. Mike has worked at burn centers all over the country, including Seattle, Cincinnati, Miami, and Chapel Hill, and have been in Phoenix for the last 10 years. He and his wife have three adult children.

“My daughter practices Hot Yoga off and on,” Mike says.  “My youngest son (who is 27) came once.  Unfortunately, I neglected to prepare him for class, and he had a cheeseburger for lunch -- that didn't go so well!”  

His advice for yogis considering competition in the 50+ Division? “Try it--there is nothing to lose, and it's a great experience!”

April Penland

April Penland went from teaching high school Latin to teaching yoga. On stage April manages to find stillness and grace, attributes she’s acquired through a decade-long, consistent yoga practice. This consistent practice is what earned her first place in this year’s Midwest Regionals. We caught up with her as she traveled to Mexico, Austin, and back to Virginia to teach class and lead workshops.

How did you become involved in yoga?

My now husband brought me to my first Bikram yoga class when I was stressed out in college.

What year did you start teaching?

Officially 2016, though I led advanced classes, competition training, “homework” sessions, and workshops before that.

As a teacher, what’s advice you try to give to your students?

Try everything without any preconceived beliefs of can and can't, but accept wherever you are.  You're stronger than you think.  You can do anything with practice, time, and patience.  So do more yoga.  Also, remember you don't have to touch your head to your butt to get the therapeutic benefits of the posture. 

You also teach youth yogis, particularly for competition. Why do you think yoga is important for children and teens?

In my opinion yoga fosters a sense of optimism, teaches calm and patience, and is good for one’s physical (as well as emotional and spiritual) health.

How did you become involved with USA Yoga?  

About two months after taking my first advanced class, Garland Hume (my former coach, studio owner, teacher, and now-President of USA Yoga) said something to the effect of:  “Hey, we all do this competition thing.  It's so fun.  You should do it.” And I didn't know enough to consider any option other than, “ok.” I discovered she was right though, and I've done competition ever since.

Did you see a change in your mindset or approach going from teaching yoga to being a yoga competitor?

Hmmm, well I was a competitor first and then a teacher.  I've learned a lot though from being competition oriented about alignment and the kinds of corrections/suggestions that help people progress in both beginner and advanced postures.  One thing that I learned quickly when I first started teaching is that some people don't care about progressing in the postures (they just want to feel better), and in my opinion there is nothing wrong with that.  I'll happily share what I know but respect when students, barring doing something that will cause them to hurt themselves, decide not to listen (it's their class).

April, you’re known (at least on my Facebook feed) for your impressive handstands where you push up from a prone position. How did you start doing that? How long has it taken you to get to the point you’re at now?

I started with kicking up onto the wall and then eventually took it off and could do a banana back handstand in the middle of the room with a few attempts.  Then I found Adrian McCavitt, saw his handstands, and started going to every class he was teaching here in Richmond, Virginia, that I could—hand-balance and otherwise.  I was straddle pressing within six months, consistently within a year, pike pressing within a year though not consistent at all, and now I can do so pretty consistently. 

I taught myself a lot of the crazy shapes and lowering down to various poses (because once you know the technique you just apply it to the new stuff you want to work on).  He is an excellent teacher (I've learned and continue to learn so much), but as he says, your handstand progress is directly proportional to your lack of social life.  I consistently worked on it for a long time everyday over that period of time.  That's the road map.

How many years have you competed?

Since 2012 I believe, so 6.

From all your years of competing, what’s something you would offer as advice to new competitors and what would you offer as advice to people who have been doing it for a few years?

New Competitors:  I was lucky to have a coach who emphasized how wonderful and awesome it was just to get up and share your practice.  No matter what happens on that stage, you’re an inspiration to those who witness you.

Seasoned Competitors:  Don't take things too seriously.  I've run the whole gambit of placing (I've been first, second-to-last, and all over in between) and at the end of the day it doesn't really matter.  Just get up there and show what you've learned and have fun.  Also I'm of the mindset that I like to see people do well.  So if someone asks me about technique or how I trained something, and I can help them, I tell them.  Maybe this makes me a bad “competitor,” but I'm ok with that because first and foremost I'm a teacher.  Besides, if I ever win first internationally I want it to be because I had the best present moment on stage, not because I stifled someone else's growth.  

How often do you do the advanced, 84-posture series?

Twice a week.

Would you recommend that other competitors vary their practice?

Hmmm, depends.  I only did Bikram class for the first 8 years of my practice.  I found vinyasa because I found a teacher I liked and respected.  If something comes up organically that resonates with you and is beneficial, add it.  But don't ever lose your foundation, your “maintenance” practice.  It's most important.  I personally practice a lot and lots of different styles because I like to practice.

Is there any type of exercise outside of yoga that you would recommend to people who are competing?

Depends.  I do calisthenics and handbalance classes.  I'm considering adding ballet (never too old right) to help with lines, splits, and toe point.  Add what you want if it makes you feel good and is beneficial. 

How has yoga enriched your life, what has it brought to you?

I'm an introvert and it's really given me a community I can connect with.  It's helped me learn that I can do anything (seriously, anything).  It's helped me manage my anxiety.  It's led to me being a healthier person.  It's taught me to be kind to myself and to take care of myself.  It's lifted my mood.  It's offered me a career I find satisfying, rewarding, and fun.

Interview with Bel Carpenter

Bel Carpenter has been practicing yoga and meditation since he was a young child. After years of studying asana, pranayama, and meditation, Bel became a yoga instructor in 1996 and opened the first yoga studio in Aspen, Basalt and Glenwood Springs Colorado. He competed every year for the first 10 years of the USA Yoga competition, and International Ghosh Cup. He placed 3rd in the world in 2005 and 2010.

Tell me about yourself.
I have been teaching yoga, training teachers, and managing one to three yoga studios for 21 years. I have two amazing children, who are the pride and joy of my life. My daughter, Juliana, is 13, and my son, Soren, is 10 and. In 2013 I founded Vimana Yoga, which offers six distinct styles of yoga, from fast paced Vinyasa classes all the way to Yin Yoga, in an integrated system with my ex-wife, Emily. I currently operate White Horse Yoga in Carbondale Colorado, and lead Vimana Yoga Teacher Training intensive‘s around the United States and Canada.

How did you become involved in yoga?
Swami Satchidananda blessed me at my home when I was a few months old in Boulder, Colorado. I spent a few days at his workshops over the years when I was growing up. He had a special children’s program. I remember being a rowdy kid, sitting there and thinking, “What are all of these people doing, sitting here all day?” But when I met him personally as a seven-year-old, it changed me forever.

Were your parents involved in yoga?
They were a little involved in it, but my mom’s best friend who was my second mother was a chef for Swami Satchidananda. Growing up in the strong Buddhist and yogic community, Boulder Colorado I was surrounded by enlightening new age practices.

When did you start your physical practice?
When I was a child, we had a children’s yoga book that was called “Be a frog, a bird, or a tree.” I would stretch and do yoga with both of my parents; my dad more so than my mom because my mom worked so much as a family physician. I loved lotus pose. It was one of those things that I have always practiced. My dad used to take me to the sauna at the University of Colorado’s rec center and he taught me to stretch, and massage my legs.

What year did you start teaching?
Emily and I attended Bikram’s fourth teacher training in 1996 together, and started teaching right away after that with Radha Garcia.  She told us that it might be Bikram’s last training in the United States, so we had to go, and we did.

So, in 1996 you were training and then 2013 you begin your yoga brand; when did you open your first yoga studio?
We taught for six months at Radha’s studio in Boulder and then opened our first studio March 15, 1997 in Basalt, Colorado. Emily’s run the studio in Basalt, and I run White Horse Yoga in Carbondale, which opened on July 7, 2007.

Wow, a very auspicious date for that!
Yes, but the practice of yoga is bigger than numerology.

How did you become involved with USA Yoga?
It was at the advanced retreat in Maui, in 2003, when I first learned about the competition. Rajashree [Choudhury] asked if we would compete. That was the year that men and women had to compete against each other. Not a good idea to do with your partner! That year I went on with Esak [Garcia] as first and second from the state of Colorado.

Did you see a change in your mindset or approach going from teaching yoga to being a yoga competitor?
Absolutely. I had a steady practice, but it definitely motivated me to challenge my practice and see what I could do, and be more diligent about it. Whereas earlier, some days I would say, “Yeah, I could go for a hike, go climbing or skiing, or I could look on my practice.” When I started competing, more often than not I would choose to do yoga training.

How many years did you compete?
About ten years. I think I’ve done about 45 competitions, if you include all the regionals, semi-finals, and finals.

How are you affiliated with USA Yoga now?
Vimana Yoga has been a business sponsor The last several years, and I have done a few booth at nationals and the super-regionals promoting our teacher trainings and Vimana Yoga. I am excited after a few years off to compete again this year.

Have you considered judging or coaching given your vast knowledge of yoga?
I would, certainly, but it’s not my thing. If there were a big community of people interested in competing I could be a coach. But I would be too harsh of a judge. Everybody would get zeros! Ha,ha,ha! I’m just kidding. I like to be in the action.

From all your years of competing, what’s something you would offer as advice to new competitors and what would you offer as advice to people who have been doing it for a few years?
I think just to not take it too seriously. Have fun with it. Use it to motivate your practice and yourself without being too competitive about it.

Was there a year when that advice served you particularly well?
I always tried to keep it pretty light, and not be too serious about it. In 2008 my son was a month old when I went out for the competition. That year another competitor purposefully distracted me during my routine. I could not believe it. He was on deck right after me in the finals and he stood exactly where my focal point was but he was moving around while I was doing my routine. But, having a baby at home put it all in perspective. I thought, “I’m a dad. I have kids. If it’s not fun, then there’s no point in doing it.”

Speaking of your children, do they practice yoga?
Oh yeah. The heat is tough for them but they both came and did class two Sundays ago. I teach a stretch class which is a slower gentle flow with some Yin Yoga.

Would you ever want to see them get involved in teaching yoga or being competitors?
I could see them teaching for sure. We’ve already talked about it actually. My daughter is super into ballet so she dances 10 to 12 hours a week. The cross over is really prevalent, but she needs to work on her upper body and core strength, as well as maintaining alignment in her legs.

How often do you do the advanced, 84-posture series?
I practice advanced class a few times a year. I am just super into dynamic Vinyasa Flow, Vimana, and our Hot Stretch restorative classes.

Would you recommend that other competitors vary their practice?
Absolutely. You try to get to the top of the mountain from many different approaches. We tend to get so one-dimensional. I just saw so many injuries after 17 years of people practicing a constant repetition and not having room to explore and to feel their practice. I really learned a lot about how not to do yoga from that.

Is there any type of exercise outside of yoga that you would recommend to people who are competing?
I think walking and swimming are so important, that we move our body in those natural ways. It is so important and healthy to get out and walk every day. Swimming is really good for the hips and shoulders as well as decompressing and elongating the spine.

I also think weight training is really good too if you can focus on specific yoga movements. I offer a Yoga Sculpt teacher training which trains yoga teachers how to integrate high intensity interval training and light weights with yoga philosophy and movements. Using weight is really helpful to get stronger. We need it. My passion is really being outside rock climbing, hiking, camping, skiing, kayaking, or paddle boarding.

If I’m working on something in yoga, I want it to be something that will help my life in some way. I want it to be something that contributes to my mind, my passions, or my sleep. It shouldn’t just be, “Oh, I can do this cool pose!” You have to ask yourself, “How does that help my life, and make the world a better place make the world a better place.”

How has yoga enriched your life, what has it brought to you?
It’s really given me a sense of purpose; having a whole set of really powerful tools to share with people to help them to heal, and be happier and healthier. Having that sense of purpose and being able to be of service to people and the planet is number one. Through the competition I have made so many friends from around the world. Like-minded people who are into yoga, fitness, and health. It is exciting when young people get into the competition. It opens so many positive doors for them. We live in a harsh world right now; we need more tools and more practice creating peace, and overcoming fear.

Leslie Heywood: Professor, Yogi and Life-Long Competitor

I’ve seen Leslie Heywood compete in the USA Yoga 50+ Division and have marveled at her strength. But until recently, I never knew she is both an academic and a life-long competitive athlete.

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Special Message from our President

Would you help me change lives this year? As the new president of USA Yoga, I am spending my volunteer time and my personal giving to help people help themselves in a positive way that is accessible to anyone. With your gift this holiday season, you can change the track of a young life, or re-energize someone who has experienced physical or emotional trauma, sadness or poor health.

I know how a dedicated practice can change a life. I experienced renewed purpose and health when I dedicated myself to a regular practice.

But, there are barriers you can take away with your support. Last season, a promising young yogi from New England trained for months to participate in the regional championship.  Because he had difficultly with finances and lost his job, he had to withdraw.

You can give to a fund at USA Yoga that provides scholarships to get committed yogis with need to the championships. You could also provide support for most needed priorities that I will be working on in the year ahead.

Thank you for considering a gift of $50, $100, $125 or $250. Donate

I deeply appreciate your help.

 Warm regards,

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