For Lisa Pafe, Competition is About Showing Your Perfection



Now that USA Yoga associate board member Lisa Pafe’s two children are grown, she can focus on the best things in life: her husband, her two chihuahuas, and a steady yoga practice. Lisa says it’s all about #yogaeverydamnday, if not twice. This consistency in her practice is what has helped her earn success through her competition. When she’s not in the studio teaching or practicing—or inspiring other 50+ adult athletes—she works in the DC-metro area in business development.


When did you first start practicing yoga?


I started practicing yoga about 11-12 years ago. Before that I thought I wouldn’t like yoga. I was more into running and things like that. I thought “I can’t sit still for so long to do yoga.”


And what brought you into the studio for the first time?


I tried yoga while I was on vacation and realized I enjoyed it. When I got back home I started taking yoga. At first, I started practicing at a studio that was more of a regular Hatha/Vinyasa type studio. About eight years ago a Bikram-style studio opened here in Fairfax, Virginia, and I tried it out with a friend. My friend said, “Hmm, that was interesting. Maybe I’ll go some other time.” And I thought, “I loved it!”


I got really into doing the Bikram series, doing that non-stop every day. A couple of years ago they started offering hot Vinyasa and teacher training, so I took the training for the hot Vinyasa and started teaching that. I also took teacher training for Yin and some other Vinyasa variations.  I’m still teaching at that same studio and a couple other places around.


This past January I opened a studio in my house. It’s just a little home studio but I give private lessons and small classes there, mostly for people in the neighborhood.


What’s the mindset shift you saw going from being a student to being a teacher?


Becoming a teacher helped me understand more of the philosophy behind the yoga, which was really eye-opening. Becoming a teacher also helped me reach a greater state of calm and awareness at the same time. I got really into meditation and embracing the yogic lifestyle.


You started yoga well into your adult life. What has this brought to your teaching style?


I started yoga when I was in my forties and being now in my late fifties (I’m 57), I think I bring a lot of compassion and a lot of students really respond to that. They might be a little afraid coming into the studio that they won’t be good enough or won’t be able to keep up. But offering people options and just the space to grow, even if it’s just millimeter by millimeter, people really respond to that. But I love challenging people too. With Thomas Forbang, I co-lead our competition team at the studio and it’s really fun to prep our athletes for competition at the studio. So that’s been a great experience too.


You just anticipated my next question! You’re very well known for promoting USA Yoga among the 50+ competitors. How did you get involved with USA Yoga and begin competing yourself?


The year before I competed there weren’t super-regionals. It was local regions, like DC, Maryland, and Virginia. It was being hosted really close by, and I had never heard of yoga competition before. I went to watch the competition, and I saw the adult 50+ competitors. I thought, “Well I could do that.”


So, the next competition year started up and we had competition training at the studio. I took it, but I really had no idea what I was getting into. I had no idea. But I really enjoyed prepping with the team, practicing our routines, and the whole excitement of going to competition. I was shocked that I won Virginia and made it to Nationals the first year. It was really exhilarating. Then I just got kind of hooked on it and really enjoyed all the athletes I met.


It’s been a fantastic experience with athletes of all ages. And I really love encouraging the adult 50+ competitors because they think, “Well, how can I compete? I’m not as good as a super competitor who’s in their twenties or thirties, or even forties.” And then they realize, “Oh, I can compete. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about showing your perfection. What you can do with the body that you have at this point in time.”


Just realizing too that the whole atmosphere of competition is so supportive. And the whole atmosphere of when our team is training together is so supportive. Always encouraging each other, and we’re always happy for each other when we do well. Even if that means someone gets ranked higher than us, we’re happy that that person did so well.


Being a current competitor but also helping people who are up and coming, what’s something that’s been a key takeaway for you that you try to impart to your team or with the students that you’re working with?


Just that it’s not about how you compare to anyone else, it’s all about getting that sense of satisfaction that you’re doing the best that you can, and that you’re showing the world what you can do. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be the hardest poses of the best poses, but you’re going to be perfect for you. That’s what’s important.


Also, some of the people on our team felt very shy about competing. And just helping build their confidence that you can get up there. It’s a really good confidence-building experience to get up there and show what you can do, what you achieved. You didn’t just suddenly get up there with your routine. You worked really hard to get here. And so, it’s a wonderful feeling to show that to everyone.


That feeling of confidence on stage, is that something that you had in your first year competing or is it something you’ve found after doing it for a few years?


The first year I competed, it was all a blur. You don’t know what to expect, so it goes by in a blur. Thomas always teases me and says, “You have ice in your veins. You just get up there!” I think I was more nervous the second year than the first year. This competition year, I’m feeling really good and really happy with the progress I’ve been making. I felt really good at the Midwest regionals, and I was really happy. It was exciting that the three of us who got medals—Nahoko was first, I was second, and my teammate Yoko was third—we all know each other really well, so it just made us happy.


That support is really a testament to the team you practice with over at Farifax. Is there a pose from your routine that has taken you a long time to perfect to be able to bring it on stage?


My favorite pose that I do is upward stretching. Sometimes there’s a pose that you’re just naturally able to do well. It’s gotten better of course because I’ve been practicing it more. The one that’s been a problem child for me is my crow. The first year I competed, and I did crow at nationals, things went ok. The second year, both at regionals and at nationals I fell out of crow. So, it became my problem child. This year I’ve been working, working, working on the crow so I can hold it confidently. I’m not going to slip or fall out of it. That’s probably been the one that’s been my little problem, just getting that ability to hold it long enough.


Yes, crow gives  me a lot of pain as well! I’m in awe of anyone who’s able to get up on stage and do it. It’s one I can never hold. That’s just impressive in and of itself.


Yes. This year I’ve really learned that it’s the steady, everyday practice. Every day I do the 26 and 2 or a Vinyasa class, I make sure I do any of the poses I didn’t do in class, after class. Today I did the 26 and 2 and after class I worked on parts of my routine that aren’t covered in that class. That’s just my new approach.


That’s fantastic advice for competitors. Is there a pose you don’t currently do, but it’s your ideal to present to people in the future?


Well, I’m considering adding root pose to my routine for nationals. I didn’t do it the regionals. I might do it at nationals, so everyday I’ve been working on root pose, ankle flexibility, and hip flexibility so I can get into it better. That might be one that I try. And then eventually I would love to be able to do crow with straight arms. I can’t hold that confidently for competition yet, so I have to bend my arms. I’ve been playing with that a pose and playing with a related pose—firefly—because that is done with straight arms. I’m hoping that practice will help me get the crow a little straighter.


Very ambitious poses! I think it’s fantastic that you’re going for it. You’ve been competing for a few years now. When you’re working with a competitor who’s new to it or someone who’s doing it for her second or third year, what’s some advice that you give?


For new competitors, we really focus on making sure the routine covers everything, especially the optionals. They might not be doing their hardest pose. In other words, if you can’t really always hold standing head to knee, you don’t want to do it in competition. It’s doing the pose that’s the highest possible difficulty for them that they can do confidently and with steady success. That’s what we really work on. Sometimes new competitors think, “Oh, I’m going to do my hardest poses!” And you may not be able to do that in competition. Maybe in class but not on stage. So, it’s about taking a step back and saying something like, “Maybe I can’t hold crane for five seconds, so I should really do crow.”


I always tell them it’s the steady practice. Make sure you’re doing your yoga practice very regularly. I really am a firm believer in the 26 and 2 because that covers all the compulsory poses you’re going to do. So, doing that a few times a week and then filling in with vinyasa to build your upper body strength.


It’s really practice, practice, practice. Don’t think you’re only going to practice your routine every once in a while, and things will be fine. There’s all these little nuances. As you get more and more into competition, you understand all of the nuances, so you realize you’ve got to practice that routine steadily.


What you just said about practicing with that frequency and variety, is there anything you recommend to competitors out of yoga to vary their conditioning and improve their strength and focus?


A lot of what I’m talking about with the Bikram and Vinyasa classes is really the “Yang” side of things, so you should really do the “Yin” side of things too, like meditation and yin yoga, which is more meditative. Honestly, I don’t do much else. I know some competitors go to the gym and work with weights. I don’t really do that too much. I work with things like plank to build upper body strength. And I love the outdoors, so I like going for walks, or hikes, or practice yoga outside, which can be a nice experience.


I’m sure that helps your mindset to get out of your normal environment so when you’re on stage you can focus and have the same intensity. Overall, how would you say that yoga has enriched your life?


Practically every aspect of my life. Just the entire yoga community at my studio. Through USA Yoga I’ve met so many incredible people from all walks of life. I’ve made so many new friends and learned from so many people. It’s just been fantastic. And then really yoga has brought me so much patience and calm, and more of an acceptance of life and what it’s going to bring. I just feel like over the years my entire attitude has come to a state of calm. So really giving me a calm mind, an incredible group of friends, and keeping my body fit while I age. I really appreciate it because I see some of my friends who don’t do yoga or much other exercise, and I feel like my body is so much healthier because of all the work I do with yoga, and the breathing, and the meditation.


Is there anything you’d like to add that I haven’t asked you about?


Just one other thing I would mention for any athlete, but really important for adult 50+ athletes, is a healthy diet. That’s not to say you can never have a glass of wine or a piece of chocolate, but you’ve really got to practice a healthy diet because you can be doing your yoga everyday, but if you’re putting crappy food into your body you won’t have good results. You’ll feel a lot better and your practice will be better if you follow a healthy diet, whatever that means for you. I’m just a big believe in lots of organic veggies and fruits. That’s just a key to keeping healthy.



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