Saturday, January 22, 2011

Northern CA Regional Yoga Asana Championships: WHOA NOW

Last week I was hanging around the studio when Steve23 said "are you going to the asana championships this weekend?" I confessed I hadn't even thought about it, and then a fellow yogi piped up "My roommate's going, she can give you a ride!"  Well, why not?  It would be a fun opportunity to see talented yogis in action, meet and mingle with members of the bikram community, and generally feel a bit better about myself than if I had, as originally planned, spent the weekend with Carolyn & Co. drinking myself into a stupor and looking for Australians (long story).  So Kelly picked me up bright and early on Saturday morning, and off we went!

But first, you're probably scoffing "yoga...competition?' Let's discuss...
There was a flurry of commentary on the Yoga Journal blog recently around the idea of yoga asana as an Olympic event (which is what, in part, Bikram is working towards with these competitions), mostly negative but some positive.  The following comment (alas, by an anonymous contributor) expresses my half-formed thoughts on the controversy better than I ever could:

what if you could enjoy the journey AND the destination? what if you could enjoy the journey even if you never reached the original destination? does it have to be either or? why can't it be both? I say, plenty will not be interested in competition, but some may be motivated by it. I've gone both ways.  The Olympics feature competitive skiing and snowboarding. I ski and snowboard, but I don't ever do those things as competition. the people who do those things competitively don't take away from my enjoying the journey. 

I think having yoga in the Olympics could open up the IDEA of yoga to so many people who might never have thought of yoga as something they could do. it might dispel some misconceptions about yoga. it might spread the word that yoga can do amazing things for the body mind and soul.
it might also lead to more yoga injuries, if those highly competitive types push themselves too far or too hard, but that is part of their own journey. that might be the lesson they need to teach themselves. who are we to say?

if someone wants to have a yoga competition, let them. it won't hurt you, unless you let it. Unless you are so tied up in ego that you think you will be somehow lesser if they are olympic gold material.
it's just a game-- ALL of it. even your precious and hallowed non competitiveness. it doesn't MEAN anything, except the meaning YOU give it.

why waste time denouncing when you can spend more time ENJOYING? :-)
namaste. (really!) and shanti too.

Curious to know more?  Here's a first-person account of participating; a brief article from the perspective of the little girls in this weekend's event; and an article from LA Yoga on Bikram's inaugural event in 2003.

But back to the business at hand...competition time!  It took place in the middle of nowhere, Stockton CA, in a medium sized comfy theatre where I could easily picture a suburban community theatre production of Guys and Dolls taking place.  The competition began with five little girls competing.  We arrived just as the last young competitor walked onstage (I get lost even when other people are driving).  She was a little chunky, but walked with confidence beyond her years, and threw herself into poses that would put me to shame.  Can you imagine starting yoga at 12 or 13?  It must be such a self-esteem boost!  Alas, the two skinny little girls were the victors, but it is what it is (speaking of which, have you seen my new favorite video?)

Then the adult competition began.  One of my teachers had described the competition thus: "There are five mandatory poses, and two Cirque du Soleil."  You must perform Dandayamana Janusirasana (Standing-Head-to-Knee); Dandayamana Dhanurasana (Standing Bow Pulling Pose); Dhanurasana (Bow Pose); Sasangasana (Rabbit Pose); and Pashcimottanasana (Stretching Pose).  Then you have two asanas of your choice, and these folks go ALL OUT.  Here are just a few examples:

Let's just'll be YEARS before I can get anywhere close to that craziness.

Much like most yoga situations, there were many more female competitors (35) than male (10).  There was a crowd of maybe 200 people watching by the end of the five-hour event, maintaining a collective hush during each pose.  We would all hold our breath in unison as a yogi's muscles shuddered, but held firm, or let it out with a sympathetic sigh when they lost their balance.  Really difficult poses were met with a smattering of delighted applause, much like a gymnastics or dance event.  In the middle of the event, Mary Jarvis, local Bikram Yoga celebrity, gave a rambling, funny and insightful talk (my favorite quote?  Talking about the benefits of yoga for your physical self, she said  "With yoga you can build a beautiful temple, but you still need to fill it with something.  You can have a gorgeous Standing Bow, but still be a jerk.")

After all the competitors had taken their turn onstage, last year's world champions Brandy and Kaspar took the stage.  This is when Cirque du Soleil really started.  The lights in the audience dimmed.  The spotlights came on.  The cheesy music began.  Brandy and Kaspar began a somewhat synchronized and choreographed routine that was absolutely stunning - despite the moment when they bumped heads and burst out laughing.  Photos!

Amazing, right?  After blowing our socks off, Brandy and Kaspar helped distribute the Olympic medal style ribbons to the winners (and of course, a participation medal for all!)  The first and second place male and female winners will start training like mad for the National championship in LA this March.  The male second place winner, who couldn't have been older than 18, had a Justin Bieber haircut and would add a little flick of his head, to shake his hair out of his eyes, at the end of each pose; he and his mom (who accompanied him to the afterparty) seemed flabbergasted by his win.

We too joined the afterparty for a bit for delicious food and wine (eating in the yoga room felt so wrong), and I got to talk with a lot of teachers and fellow students and even engage in a little Kaspar stalking with my new Mission Yoga friend.  Overall it was a delightful experience and introduction to the warm and wonderful Bikram community.

I'll be posted again soon with tales of my yoga adventures in Philadelphia (let's just say my biceps are STILL aching) but in the meantime, here's a little gift for my female fans:

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