For those who are not familiar with this event, the regional yoga championships are held every year all around the country as qualifiers for the national USA Yoga event. The national event is the qualifier for the international event, and the international champions get the privilege of acting as yoga ambassadors for the year - touring yoga studios, visiting schools, giving demonstrations, teaching classes, and so on.
The mission behind USA Yoga is to bring the spirit of healthy competition to the United States, inspire yogis to improve their practice, and inspire more folks to take up yoga. I think Joseph Enicinia (last year's champion) explains this mission beautifully. He says that yoga sport will not "change" the yoga and make it more competitive - instead, the goal is to change sports into something more yogic. I love this. Instead of all the little girls wanting to be ballerinas and all the little boys wanting to be football stars, we're inspiring a generation of kids who want to grow up and be yogis!
The New England Event is being held at the Natick Mall, which I think is fricking brilliant, doing it in the middle of the mall. It makes the event more of a legit demonstration. Instead of a bunch of yogis sitting around in a closed room critiquing each other's leg position in standing head to knee, we're going to have a bunch of yogis getting up on stage and demonstrating their postures to people who are barely even aware of yoga. People will just be wandering around kids, going into Macy's to buy gloves or whatever, and then will be like, "Oh, Susie, what's that? Let's go see what they're doing!" Genius.
The organizers put it very nicely this year:
The more people who practice yoga the healthier our nation will be. We can reduce the rates of heart disease, diabetes, childhood and adult obesity, depression and so much more. By holding these friendly “competitions” or demonstrations in public places like malls, we can reach people who normally might not be aware of yoga and the many health benefits it offers. Those who are aware can be re-inspired to stay involved and to stay healthy.
There are some who feel competition seems contradictory to the philosophy of yoga. However, it is important to note that this is not battle to win a medal but instead a personal display for each athlete of what they have accomplished through their yoga practice. Many have come from places of injury or despair and put themselves back together with their yoga. To get up on stage and balance without wavering, to show how they have transformed body and mind is an act of self-realization and of personal fulfillment. This ability to maintain one’s peace in the midst of a challenge epitomizes the philosophy of yoga and is a shining moment in the life of the yogi. It is a beautiful thing to witness.So that's all going down next Sunday, January 27th, at the Natick Mall, starting at 12:30pm. And it's free! So if you're in the area, you should come check it out! We'll be on the first floor near Macy's.
Logistically, the event is pretty straightforward. Each competitor has three minutes (maximum) to demonstrate his or her routine. The routine is made up of 7 postures. The first 5 postures are compulsory for everyone: standing head to knee pose, standing bow pulling pose, bow pose, rabbit pose, and stretching pose. The final 2 postures are the "optionals," which are the contestant's choice. These can be any 2 postures for the beginning or advanced classes - ideally postures which together demonstrate a combination of strength, flexibility, and balance. Each posture is scored out of a maximum of 10 points, with deductions for technical errors or incompleteness. (There is always room for improvement!) There is also a 10 point allocation for "grace," which includes breathing, composure, and stillness.
I've competed off and on since 2007, and my first competition was actually in New England, when I was practicing at Bikram Yoga Boston. That was the year that got me hooked on Bikram yoga! Since then, I've been all over the place and competed for various states. This year will be my return to the New England competition, and I'm psyched about it. No offense to the wonderful yogis anywhere else, but this is where I got started and these are my hometown peeps. It's gonna feel so good to be up on the New England stage again, for my brief 3 minutes of fame!
This has already been my favorite (and busiest) year of competition prep, because I've had the chance to coach a whole group of first-time competitors at the studio here in Rhode Island. Last year, there was only one person competing for Rhode Island. (She won. She's amazing, actually.) This year, we have seven competitors registered, just from our studio. Rhode Island is stepping it up! So I've been working with all these lovely and talented students on the weekends, plus a couple of folks who have been coming to work with us from Massachusetts. It's been so inspiring. With one exception (the amazing Dale K. who appeared from out of the mists to show us her stunning routine), none of these yogis have competed before. Our first meeting was like Competition 101 - this is the routine, these are the postures. Everyone was so nervous to get started. When we practiced this afternoon, we just flew through the routines at the end and everybody looked so good! Still some nerves, which is normal - but I'm so proud of all my students (and fellow teachers) for stepping up to the plate and doing this big scary thing. They are seriously bonding as a group, they are all getting more confident in their practice, and they are going to inspire so many people!
I've also been working with a group of kids on Sunday afternoons. They are all "pre-competitive," too young for the youth division (which is ages 11-17). Instead, they are going to give a little demonstration as a group, with music and everything. I've got two girls and two boys. They've been practicing very seriously. One of the girls, Emma, asked if she could take notes. She spells scorpion like this: "sqorpion." She and Athena can both do a killer scorpion in locust. It's been such a hoot. They're gonna steal the show, I can see it already.
It's kind of magical how everything is starting to come together. Even if my students forget the names of all their postures and fall off the stage, I'm still going to be proud of them. (Actually I have promised Mo that we'll bring her some cue cards for "standing separate leg stretching pose" in case she forgets the words.) I'm so excited to show the community what we've all been working on down here.
I think my own routine is coming along pretty well. I've been running through it every day. The coaching I've been doing really helps, because it makes me focus on all the little details. When it comes to doing it on stage... only time will tell! People always like to say that you're only competing against yourself, and this year I finally understand 100% what that means. If I miss one of my postures, it'll be because of my own tricky subconscious.The only person I need to watch out for is me! But I think this will be a good year. It will be so much fun to do the routine in front of all my friends, teachers, and students.
I'm still not sure which day I'm more excited for: January 27th, when this all goes down, or January 28th, when I will get to sleep in! It's coming soon. I will have to post an update at the end of the month and let you all know how it goes...