Thursday, February 11, 2010

Yoga Competition?!

Yoga competitions!!  What's up with that?!

I'm heading down to LA tonight for the weekend of the national and international Yoga Asana Championships.  Woo hoo!  Good times.

When people first hear the words "yoga" and "competition" in the same breath, the typical response falls somewhere in the spectrum between a puzzled "Wait.... what?" and an aggressive "What the fuck?!"  Now, I could go over all the talking points for why yoga championships are a fine idea (like the fact that they've been doing them in India for centuries or the fact that it's a yoga asana competition, not a yoga competition), but first I just want to share my personal competition experiences.

The first time I competed was in the New England regionals in October 2007, at the request and encouragement of my studio owners.  I was still pretty new to the world of Bikram yoga, and I had never heard of a "yoga competition" before, but I was interested in trying something new and learning a little more about yoga, so I said, "Sure, why not?"  So I started training, with a group of other students and teachers, and I learned how a yoga competition works.

It goes like this: each participant has exactly 3 minutes (no longer) to demonstrate a routine of 7 postures on stage.  The first 5 postures, the compulsories, are taken from the beginning Bikram class and are the same for everyone: standing head to knee, standing bow pulling, bow, rabbit, and stretching.  The last two postures, the "optionals," are where you get to strut your stuff a little bit and demonstrate something that you are especially good at.  Those postures are usually chosen from the advanced series.  The goal is to demonstrate strength, flexibility, and balance.  Each of the postures is scored out of 10 points based on form and technique.  There's also a subjective score for "grace."

I had a lot of fun training, because all us students started working together after class to help each other improve in the postures.  We started sharing tips and trick and stories, and it was the first time I started being really social at yoga.  (Of course now I am Miss Social Butterfly, but in the beginning I didn't talk to anyone!!)  I learned a ton about the postures, and I gained so much confidence.  Before I started training, I really never wanted anyone to watch my postures.  After a couple months, I was totally comfortable going up to any teacher after class and asking them to watch my routine and give me feedback.

One of the most important things about yoga for me has always been the lack of judgement.  Yoga class was the first place in a very long time where I was able to just see myself instead of constantly judging.  So this idea of getting up on stage to be judged was unsettling, at best!  I went up to one of my coaches after a class in September, all teary for some reason, and told her that I didn't like the thought of going to stage to have everyone judge me.  She said that I shouldn't think of it like that; I should just think of it as "show and tell."  It was a chance for me to go in front of my teachers and peers and show them what I'd been working on, nothing more.  I liked the idea of "show and tell."  I decided that my goal for the performance would be to demonstrate everything that I had learned in the past months, so that other people could see how wonderful my teachers were.

I was scared shitless before I got up on stage, but once I was up there I had SO.  MUCH.  FUN.  Time went in slow motion.  It was a crazy extended adrenaline rush.  I held all my postures and I was so proud of myself, because I'd made my teachers proud and I'd done something that I didn't think I could do.  The whole team went out for a celebratory dinner that night, and I was the happiest I'd been in a long time.

I competed again a year later, in November 2008, in the southern California regionals.  I had just moved cross country a few months earlier.  This time, I didn't have a team of coaches and teachers and friends.  It was just me!  I did it to challenge myself, because I didn't especially feel like doing it, but I knew it would help me to grow as a yogi.  I practiced my routine on my own and got feedback when I could.

My postures definitely improved through training, but that year was all about the social networking!  If you're new in town and you want plug into the local community, showing up on stage at the competition is a pretty good way to do it!  The best part of competing that year was spending time backstage with other local yogis and getting to know all these cool people.  Competitions are just like these big old yoga conventions.  They are the least competitive things ever.  We all hang out backstage and help each other with our routines.  We watch each other from the wings and hold our breath, wanting to see everyone else do their best.  Everyone winces when someone wobbles and cheers when someone does well.  Some of the people who I met at that event are now among my best yogi-friends in Los Angeles, so it was totally worthwhile!

As far as the actual performance that year, I was totally relaxed backstage, giving last minute tips and cracking dirty jokes, and then I was scared shitless when I got up on stage!  It was very dark, and Emmy was in the middle of the judges' table - yikes!  I wobbled pretty badly coming out of standing head to knee and was sure it was all over.  But as soon as that happened, I thought to myself, "Whoops, well that's that, oh well, too bad!"  I put a big smile on my face, relaxed completely, and finished the routine very cheerfully.  (My friend in the audience said that I was the only one who smiled, like, at all.)  Whaddaya know - I got third place.  Didn't qualify me for nationals (that's first and second place winners only), but it was something to write home about.

I didn't get to compete this year, so that's the extent of my personal experience on the yoga stage!  (I'm really gonna have to do it again next year, though, or certain people will kill me.)

Since my experiences have been so positive, I always encourage people to get involved in their local events.  They're inspiring to watch, they bring the community together, and it's empowering to be a part of them.  "Competition" gets a bad rap, but it's not inherently a bad thing.  When good people compete with each other - not against, but with - without malice or pettiness, everyone improves from it.  Bikram likes to point out that competition is the foundation of democracy, and I think he's got a point.  Without competition, you have either a monopoly or a caste system, right?!  Everything in life is competition, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Let's compete with each other to see who can raise the most money for Haiti, and we'll see if anyone's worse off at the end of the day.

I'll be in LA all weekend for the national and international championships, and it promises to be a fun time!  (Yoga family reunion!!)  Maybe I'll see some of you there!  For those of you staying at home, the events will both be streaming live online.  You can watch on Friday at USA Yoga and on Saturday and Sunday at Yoga Cup.  The schedule of events is here.  Enjoy!!


bikramyogachick said...

Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I was asked by a teacher last summer if I would compete in the fall. I said "no way are you kidding! I can't even touch my forehead to my knee in standing head to knee!" She said "we'll get you there. We want to get some of the regulars involved and show some variety". I chickened out and didn't do it but it would have pushed me to grow as a yogi for sure and perhaps encouraged other "older/not skinny" people that were watching to go try out Bikram yoga. Sort of like, heck if that chick is up there maybe I could do this too!
I don't have to tell you to have fun this weekend. I know you will. **big hugs from Vegas**

tracik said...

Oh! The competition is this weekend? I forgot, I'm so out of touch since my injuries (grrrr). C. Bopp will be there. Enjoy this weekend!

Duffy Pratt said...

I was going to compete, but then they said I couldn't do Savasana as one of my two optionals...

I think the competitions as they now exist are just fine. But something in the back of my mind keeps reminding me of what Bikram has said about yogis and contortionists. If they ever did get asanas into the Olympics, I'm afraid the contortionists would win out.

Elisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elisa said...

Thanks for sharing your competition story. I love that you were the only one that smiled. I am NOT surprised. You have a way of smiling through your writing--what a warm heart you must have.

*argggghhhh, first time I deleted a comment. And all 'cause of a stupid grammar thing! Next time I will let it slide ;-)

Unknown said...

Neato! I love the competitions. I hope some day to have the strength to hold my poses long enough to think about competing! Have fun this weekend.

hannahjustbreathe said...

Ohh, I know you will be in all your yoga glory this weekend. Wish I could have been there, too. Have such fun, and can't wait to hear all about it!

Rebecca said...

Three folks from my studio are there competing! Emily, Ann Marie and Zach. I so wish I had made arrangements to go see them. I'll try watching from work, but it's not letting me load the site. Darn!!!!

nf said...

thanks for posting this blog - it was really interesting and provided just the insights i was looking for!

nina (stephanie's friend)

KatieO said...

I want to see pictures! J, we had talked about this once and I so appreciated your explaining to me how "competition" and "yoga" easily coexist. Not the same as the little kids doing competitive tap dancing, the stuff that made me gag!!!
Even I know what Savasana is. Funny!
My smiling yoga girl...

cirita said...

hey, I am going to the Yoga Cup on Sunday. I'll be there with my studio's owner, Wendy Harp, and some fellow yoginis. Hopefully we get to meet you. This is my first championship. I am pretty excited. I can't work!!!

Anonymous said...

Juliana, I just discovered this web site and think is genius! I was hoping to find a place for people that love this yoga. I really liked this entry on your blog. Your description of the first time you went onstage described my experience completely and completely unexpectedly I got third place as well. I think you know I wrote a blog documenting my training leading to LA on Chat with you soon. Guillermo.

DodgerRoger said...

dancingj -

It was nice meeting you on friday (I sat on your right at the women's championships). I was kinda out of it cause I was blown away by how amazing the women were. I'd never seen the women's competition before and it's on a whole other level from them mens (maybe 2 or 3 levels). I didn't know you placed third last year! Anyways, I love the blog and your writing! Keep it up! It helps feed my yoga obsession and fills the time in between classes...

thedancingj said...

Roger and Cira - It was so great to meet you guys!!

Roger - REGIONALLY, I placed third REGIONALLY... hehehe... the regionals are not quite as intense as the stuff that you saw!

Guillermo - I saw your blog and was so bummed that you couldn't make it out this year! Silly snow. Now you have plenty of time to get ready for next year, I guess... :)

Nina - Thanks! Now GO TO CLASS!! ;-)

Rebecca - Yeah Ann Marie!! Ann Marie is a Massachusetts girl, we used to practice together all the time! Did you see how well she did?! She got SECOND in the U.S. She was AMAZING!!

Michelle - As I remember, you didn't chicken out, you got sick and went to the freaking hospital. Next year you have to do it!!

traci - CBopp made it a day late but still got to do his routine - yay. He looked great.

Duffy - I still say that I'd pay 20 bucks to anyone who'd do savasana as an optional. Or wind removing.

Elisa - Aww, thanks.

Ariella + Hannah - Tell me what you want to hear about!! ;-)

Mom - Oh yea, pictures... I cut my hair!!