Yoga Immersion: My Experience Winning Nationals

“Yoga Immersion” is what I will call the four days spent on a journey to Madison, Wisconsin to participate in the USA Yoga 2018 National Championships. Once you enter into the Immersion, life’s priorities become: how you are getting to class, when and how are you going to eat in between performances, and whether you brought what you need to warm up and prep your hair and make up before it’s your time on stage.

Man, it was so cool to take four classes in the three days of the “show.” These so-called “competitor classes” had yoga athletes from around our country taking the 90-minute Bikram class, all taught by some of the most revered past champions in our yoga world: Garland Hume, Esak Garcia, Jeff Rengal, and Ky Ha. They all have lengthy resumes, so it was privilege to hear them teach “toes and heels on the line.” My yogi peers and I were on it at 7:30 am each day, setting the tone for a great day ahead!

Even though USA Yoga competition is in its 15th year, and while I have been a part of it for a long time, these last few years have stood out. It is now more organized and clear, with wider participant attendance. It’s great to see all disciplines of yoga come together and compete. It may seem wrong and perhaps a bit cruel, but allow me to shed insight into what yoga competition really means, and better yet, what it really does!

How Yoga Competition Works

For those of you who don’t know, yoga competitions have existed in India for decades. It’s nothing novel, so bringing them here to the West isn’t something new, and it offers a chance to widen yoga’s participation much like an Olympic presence makes a particular sport legit and accessible to more people. How great to push yoga into areas unknown and perhaps cultivate a practice that can bring health and peace to all students! I’m on board with that movement, and I still don’t know why everyone doesn’t have a practice of some kind, as yoga’s benefits extend far beyond anything else in terms of managing a 21st century, toxic, super-evolving lifestyle.

Crane Pose: An optional pose showing strength and flexibility worth a maximum 8 points in terms of difficulty

In the last 15 years, the Yoga Federation has compiled rules and regulations that follow proper guidelines for a sanctioned sport. Today, you are required to do six postures in three minutes, and four of those posture categories are compulsory: compression, back-bending, traction, and twisting. There are then two optional poses which need to show a combination of balance, strength, and flexibility. The rules allows for choice between several poses, and then additional flourishes that enhance the degree of difficulty (and point total) for each pose.

All of this is scored by a panel of judges and then tabulated following an algorithm assigned to each pose and added up to give a complete score. The one piece missing, however, is a newer rule added in the last few years that requires the athlete to hold the pose for five seconds! Less than that has deductions occurring so much, that if you don’t hold at least three seconds in the pose, it’s a complete zero! Ouch!

Spotlight on Self-Talk

Garland Hume, President of the USA Yoga Federation, taught Friday morning with great words. One was how wonderful it is for all of us to be here, 144 athletes from around the country to share in this event. She noted that competition like “one big yoga party with each having a 3-minute solo dance on stage.” It was laughable but right. I had the most fun with people who, like me, live in various parts of the country and do their yoga day in and day out, too.

Back to Garland. In the same class, she also pointed out that we need to feed our minds with positive thoughts, as the self-talk we give ourselves, if not monitored, can destroy the confidence we need on stage. I was so appreciative to hear these words, especially since I was last on stage Friday night after getting in at 2 am due to delayed flights!

My body and mind were tired and, despite the humidity in the mid-west, I had been freezing all day right up until I went on stage. The hotel air conditioning didn’t help, pushing me to my limit of tolerance. I could hear my self-talk drowning in pity and justification if things didn’t go right on stage, as after all I didn’t sleep much and my body just wouldn’t warm up. But, even as I “heard” these excuses and complaints rolling around in my mind, I laughed because I knew that it didn’t matter, no one cares, we all have stuff to deal with, and most of all, it’s part of the test to overcome the disillusionment that can sabotage a great performance!

Garland’s insights made me realize from the get-go that we hold a great exterior in loving each other and supporting one another, and made me feel genuinely grateful to be in this company. Her additional comment on self-talk was a reminder, too, that at that moment, for many of us, our private selves were dealing with anxiety, pressure, doubt– as well as a thirst to do well in front of everyone watching, live or online.

Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors can often be heard saying at postgame conferences, that “it’s all decided on the court.” When asked how he feels, he often responds to reporters with: “I just try to enjoy the moment.” Obviously, I’m not a world-class mega athlete like him, but his answers resonate with my experience last weekend.

It simply does not matter what thoughts you are having prior to the event. The stage is our ‘court’, so when your time is called, you dump the garbage thoughts and be in the moment, over which you have full power. If you carryover unnecessary mental trips, it will break your performance and you will watch it steal the moment from you. Stay in control of what you know after the hours of training, and watch the manifestation of something so satisfying that you’ll enjoy the moment.

Coming into Your Birthright Through Yoga

Sure, I could have held postures longer, I could have rounded my spine more, I could have stretched up my chest more or piked my legs better BUT the moment I started grabbing my foot with a nice tight grip, I felt my confidence and belief dispelling any anxiety and harnessing the adrenal power one step at a time. This isn’t magic or luck or an anomaly. It’s your RIGHT, what you deserve, and how you should live. It comes from the yoga room and the practice you get to do everyday, grooming you for a life that allows you to decide your actions on the court of life and in doing so enough times, begin to enjoy the ALL of it!

Our studio is really a school of continuing education as you grow INTO the being you are intended to be. My new favorite quote comes from Bikram’s guru, Bishnu Charan Ghosh, which says: “Yoga maintains youth long, body full of vitality and immune to diseases even at an old, old age.” It was said long ago, yet here it is now in modern times, revealing your yoga IQ that over time will override those looming dark spots that want to rob you of your well-being, enthusiasm, and faith – ingredients that are your birthright.

Taking 1st place in the women’s 50+ division is such an honor and it didn’t stop there! Prior to the event, I was asked to do a yoga demonstration on stage representing my age group. I was hesitant at first, as I really don’t do postures worthy of a “show.” but on a a plane ride back from Chicago, the idea hit me to do poses that fit my 20 year practice, paying homage to the person who got me here in the first place – my mom. Grief was the gateway to my yoga life after I lost my mom from Alzheimer’s. She was 54 and, in some beautiful coincidence of fate, it’s the same age I am today. I’ve listened to this beautiful Enya song forever so there it was, to do a mix of tribute and celebration!

Thank you for watching these two videos as they really take in all of you members. Who I am NOW is completely wrapped up in who I am with all of YOU day after day at BYSJ. Once the event finished, awards in hand and pictures taken, many of us went to this restaurant and literally took it over. It was a great showing of community as we just swelled up in each other’s company, full of relief and glee, no regard to who came in first, second, or third. Yoga is really a place – a place of oneness and a place of wholeness.

If there is one takeaway from my experience at Nationals, it’s this: take risks, not reckless ones but smart, relevant ones that are out of your comfort zone but maybe still in your wheelhouse. In doing so, vulnerability will certainly arise, causing you to harness a power within you that you didn’t know you had. It isn’t a competition as much as it is a confidence-builder that you’ll continue to tap into over and over, to keep you aggressive and courageous to take and make the most out of YOUR life.

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