Monday, February 22, 2010

Practice, practice, practice! (Comp. Report Part 3)

This is the last championship follow-up post, and then I'm moving on to other things!

A few people have been asking about how someone becomes a yoga champion.  How much of that skill comes from hard work vs. natural ability?  How do people chose their "optional" postures?  How do they train?

I can answer all of the above with two words: "It depends."

The choice of optional postures really depends on the competitor's experience level.  If you're a student who is new to competition, you can pretty much depend on your teachers to suggest a few optional postures for you.  They know your practice, they know your strengths, and they know which postures will show you off the best!  If you're more experienced - you've done the advanced series for a while, you've been around the block a couple times - then you'll already have an idea of which postures work well on your body (though you can always ask a coach for advice).

It's good practice to work on more than 2 optional postures - maybe 4 or 5 of them.  You can choose 2 postures that you're already good at, along with 2 other postures that are challenging but possibly achievable.  When the competition comes closer, you make your final decision.  This year, people could (and did) change their optionals at the last minute.  Word from the judge's clinic (thanks Libby!!) says that in the future, competitors will be required to commit to 2 optional postures before they go on stage.

The training for competition can be as simple as going to a couple advanced classes for coaching and spending an extra 10 minutes after class to run through the routine... or it can be as extensive as going to a 2-week long championship training retreat and spending hours a day on extra practice.  It really depends on the individual - their level, their goals, their time commitment, etc.  There are some teachers - Mary Jarvis, Esak Garcia - who really specialize in preparing yogis for competition and who teach lots of extra exercises, such as backbends down the wall and other "homework."  I don't know too much about it, having never participated in one of these workshops (yet!), but a lot of medalists have been involved in these trainings and these techniques clearly produce results!  On the other hand, many competitors do very well by sticking to their basic 26 and 2 plus advanced classes and feedback.

What about "hard work" vs "natural ability"?  I'll tell you one thing right now: NO ONE is winning championships based on "natural ability" alone.  It's true that there are some people who are naturally very flexible or very strong, but the championship judges are specifically looking for a balance of strength and flexibility that can only be achieved through really hard work.  I've seen some champions who had incredible natural range of motion, but those people worked for years and years to gain the elements of strength, technique, and control that are necessary to harness that flexibility and produce a truly excellent yoga demonstration.

I also want to mention Joseph Encinia (hi Joseph!), who has been the U.S. gold medalist and international silver medalist for the last two years.  Besides being an all-around sweet guy, Joseph is a true Bikram yoga success story.  He was very unhealthy as a child - he was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and had a heart attack at age 13 - and came to Bikram yoga totally out of shape and overweight.  And then he just practiced.  Class after class after class.  Now his postures are some of the best in the world and he's in great health.  It can be done!!  Practice, and all is coming.

You can watch his routine, along with all the other top routines, at the Yoga Cup website.  I'm so glad that they've updated the page with all these great videos!  I could watch them over and over...

After all this inspiring competition talk, I need to mention one thing.  Competition training is great and amazing, but it is not the most important part of our yoga.  The most important thing is health.  Always. I talked to a friend over the weekend who owns one of the newer Massachusetts studios.  Her studio has been open for a couple years and has not produced any yoga champions yet.  Maybe it never will.  But my friend doesn't really care.  That's because her students are all getting healthier, sometimes to a miraculous extent.  She has a 73 year old student who "couldn't kneel on her own knees" when she started coming to the studio.  Now this lady comes to class every day, has no problem kneeling on her knees (or doing the rest of the postures), and is recruiting all her friends.  It's hard to imagine a greater reward than that!


hannahjustbreathe said...

Great summaries, J. I particularly like that, after all this talk of competition, you remind us that this yoga isn't about competing or standing atop a stage, but rather about health. I think I particularly like that because that's exactly what I've received from my practice. Health, both mental and physical!

Big G said...

Great data, especially for me, for obvious reasons! I've already been given a bunch of "homework" from some of my teachers with a lot of competition experience. Remember, this year's women's international champ is from Vegas:) And yes, I never lose sight of the health benefits. I was a wreck before I started and now I want to compete? Almost unthinkable, but that's how far I've come.

Lady J said...

Thanks for all the info, J!
I think you've satisfied and peaked people's interests.

I also just wanted to introduce myself as another Juliana. I now know three Julianas who practice yoga! This is the first time in my life I've encountered people with very similar interests that share my name! It makes an especially fun class when the teacher uses "Juliana" and my fellow class mate and I both react.

I love all the info you post here, I've found it very helpful and useful through my practice.

thedancingj said...

Thanks!! I definitely wanted to make a point of bringing this little arc back to the main focus. We already all know why we practice (and my answer's not the same as your answer), but it never hurts to remember!

Lady J - AWESOME! Hi Juliana! I love our name. It's not common at all. The last other "Juliana" I met was the 4-year-old daughter of a couple of yoga champions. At the studio in Boston, I was the only Juliana for a long time, and then one day the owner came up to me and said, "hey, we had a girl in class yesterday whose name was Juliana Juliana!" I was like, "what?!" And then later I signed into a class and there she was: Juliana Juliana. The teacher called ME "normal Juliana." Ok, kinda rambling, but funny story! I'm glad you're enjoying my writing!!

Amber said...

Thanks for the wonderful competition report, love the summaries, especially this last one. It has really given me more of a perspective on where I stand with competing this coming year. As well, I love that you incorporate the importance of health, not just about competing, it isn't the end all to be all. You have to remember why you started this yoga, kudos to you my dear for this report:)

KatieO said...

Juliana, I am glad you love your name. It was chosen with great care. I do have a question that feels pretty obvious to me, but maybe isn't. How come you weren't competing?

thedancingj said...

Thanks, Amber!

Yes, Mom, good job with the name. :-) As for why I didn't compete this year... the regional qualifiers for California were in early November. If you think about the general state of my life last fall, you might be able to come up with a few reasons why I didn't feel prepared for this year's competition! I'll be back in it next time for sure.

lz said...

Thank you for all of your thoughts regarding the competition; you present them in such a clear and helpful manner. And thank you for the reminder that ultimately, yoga isn't about the most visually appealing postures; rather, health is most important. Your anecdote about the new Massachusetts studio is so inspiring!

bikramyogachick said...

That's a lovely story at the end J! That's what this yoga is all about. So inspiring!
Also~ I didn't know about Josephs background. That's just mind blowing to think about the progess to get from being so unhealthy to where he is today. Give me hope for myself to continue down a healthy path and change some lingering bad habits....