Wednesday, March 21, 2012

NYC National Yoga Competition: I'm so glad I did it. It was a fantastic experience. I'm excited for next year!

So if you don't have time to read this absurdly long post (and watch the various videos I've sprinkled throughout) I can sum my NYC nationals experience up in a few sentences: "I'm so glad I did it. It was a fantastic experience. I'm excited for next year." Sounds good, right? You'll notice that I don't add "and I did AWESOME!" BUT...I'm so glad I went. It was a fantastic experience. I'm excited for next year...

Have you seen this bizarrely adorable video of Kristin Bell describing her first real-life encounter with a sloth? It is BIZARRELY adorable, I love it. I'll wait while you watch.

Oh, and once you watch that, you also have to watch this:

Okay, so the reason I share this video is because during the weekend I felt a little like Kristin Bell - in that, I was very rarely between a 3 and a 7 on the emotional scale. And, I am not ashamed to admit, often crying.  Observe...

Thursday March 2nd
I arrived a day early so I could hang out with a few NYC buddies, starting with friend-I've-known-the-longest Erin and her son Connor in Queens.

Cutest kid ever? You be the judge.

After a lovely afternoon with the two of them, I snuck in a little catch-up time with oft-blogged about yoga buddy Daisy at Buttercup, and old Philly friend Christine at Eataly, before hurrying off to Bikram Yoga Grand Central for a 6:30pm class.

Emotional Scale: Solid 5. Hooray for friends!  Hooray for being in NYC and not teaching for four whole days!

There I met with two fellow Spring 2011 trainees, Kelly and Aaron. It was so lovely to see their happy smiling faces! The teacher, Heather, happened to be the timekeeper for our PA regionals way back when, and she was perfectly fine with me doing my now much-beloved 3rd sets.

The room was hot hot hot - but I was delighted to discover that, in my effort to move as far back and to the right as possible so as not to be distracting with my extra stuff, I had snagged the prime spot - right next to the one and only window! 

Heather was a FANTASTIC teacher - warm, friendly, engaged, firm without being aggro about it. I've already stolen (err, adopted) some of the details of how she handled latecomers and talking students.

When we got to Standing Bow, she asked me and a NYC competitor in the front row to come up and demonstrate for the class. "You're doing it in front of hundreds of people this weekend, might as well do it now," she said. My instinct was to say "but I'm not that good!" but she was right, so I made my way to the front. 

Where I felt pretty good! Where I actually held it for a long time and felt solid! She pointed out the stuff I was doing right, and said "and now she's just going to kick like hell every day until the other knee is locked out" and I thought "damn straight! I AM going to lock out the other knee someday!"

This is going to sound ridiculous, dear readership, but for the first time in that room, I thought "I'm actually pretty good at this yoga stuff," not "I'm pretty good for Cleveland," or "I'm pretty good for my age/size/length of practice," but pretty good, full stop!

Emotional Scale: 6. Feeling the yoga badassery.

Friday, March 3rd
After delicious sushi and a lovely evening on Kelly's couch in her gorgeous little loft apartment, I caught the subway to Brooklyn to take Aaron's 10am class. As I was anxiously checking my watch (the subway takes FOREVER) who should get onto my subway car but Yukari, another friend from training, also on her way to Aaron's class!

 Yukari and Mike celebrating our last class of training

The Brooklyn studio was exactly what you'd picture a Brooklyn Bikram studio to be...oddly shaped, a little dark, a little smelly, with quirky pink paper umbrellas over the light fixtures. I was really delighted by Aaron's class - slow, meditative, deliberate without being monotonous. I had been so terrified of NYC studios' rumored heat, but so far, so good! Yukari, Johannes (another Spring training fella) and I went to a juice bar around the corner for some green juice and hopped back on the subway downtown. 

Emotional Scale: 7. Feelin' good, yoga-ed up, sippin' on my green juice, familiar faces and personalities from training are warming my little yoga heart... 

Yogi Food...

At the competitor lunch at Heartland Brewery, I find my table of PA competitors (although Zeb is nowhere to be found...turns out the water filtration system he was carting back to NYC for a friend was a little suspicious to air security personnel, so he missed his flight...those devious yogis) and also find out I am about an hour late...oops! Green juice was worth it. 

Especially since the lunch was oddly unsuited to yoga competitors...salads with chicken and rich dressing, fried fish, fried calamari - Leigh Ann and I decided to go for the fried salmon, despite the fact that it was doubtless drenched in flour and egg and fried in butter. A little won't kill us, right? 

...Not Yogi Food. 

We decide to make our way to a 4pm class at Bikram Yoga Flatiron. Where they charge $5 just to rent a mat.  Where we ALMOST DIE. 

I haven't wanted to escape a hot room so badly since training. Good god, it was hot. Melt your face off hot. Sweat streaming down your elbows in pranayama breathing (i.e. the first five minutes) hot. 

And of course, being Bikram Yoga Pittsburgh devotees, none of us (including the four competitors, and three BY Pittsburgh students who came all the way to NYC to cheer us on - how awesome is that?!) brought any water in with us.

So when "party time" came along and everyone else scrabbled around for water and towels and so forth, we stood motionless, lined up in the back row like so many members of the water police. I think it baffled our instructor, who proceeded to mention water, or encourage the drinking of water, or suggest a water break, a good ten or fifteen times through the hour and a half class...

I was relieved to discover after class that it wasn't just me who had died. Fueled by showers, then snacks and smoothies, we regrouped at the hotel to train together one last time. 

The boys had a 6am pre-competition class the next morning, so Leigh Ann and I peaced out by 10pm, got into our PJs...and then it came. The text from Zeb that said Mary Jarvis was gathering some students to go over routines and we could join if we like. So back on went the yoga clothes, and I made my way down to the warm up room... 

...where I stayed till almost 3am. Yes, she is just that inspiring. I felt a bit like an eager puppy padding along after the big dogs (after all, these people locked out both knees in Standing Bow YEARS ago), but when I did my routine for Mary around 2am, she said "So much has changed. So much." And my heart grew three sizes that day.

Emotional Scale: oh, 11. Mary said she was happy! With ME! She gave me a hug!

Saturday, March 4th
I don't know how Zeb and the boys managed to get up for that 6am class, but after a deep sleep full of strange dreams, munching on rice cakes and peanut butter, and determining that Leigh Ann should definitely still wear her white leotard despite the bridal effect, while I should borrow her teal colored one instead of my potentially too-tight blue one, Leigh Ann and I hopped on the subway to head back to the Flatiron studio for our pre-competition class. 

We arrived 45 minutes early, since we were determined to be as close to the window as humanly possible. But thankfully, the class was everything we'd want in a pre-competition class. It was maybe only 1/3 competitors, so the vibe was more relaxed, and the window stayed open a crack the ENTIRE CLASS (the teacher walked over at the first savasana and whispered "do you want me to close the window?" and Leigh Ann answered, as fervently as I felt, "No.  I LOVE the window").

The teacher was gentle, friendly, encouraging, just perfect. We even got to chit chat with her afterwards - she and Leigh Ann had similar yoga interests.  I did some full camels afterwards and felt great. 

After class the sun was shining and I felt wonderful - grateful for the yoga, for Leigh Ann, for Mary, for the whole experience. We went back to the smoothie place round the corner for more green juice. My best buddy from training called all the way from Ireland to wish me luck. I told him about the Mary Jarvis all nighter and said with all sincerity that I didn't even care how I did onstage - because Mary thought I'd improved. How things change...

Emotional Scale: 9. I got a juice and I feel awesome and I'm in NYC and yoga life is good.

After that, lots of waiting, and warming up. We waited in the warm up room for two hours...we waited in the backstage warm up area for half an hour or so...I waited backstage for ten minutes...and then, there I was, walking onstage. "REPRESENTING OHIO, DANIELLE HOFFMAN...."

Allow me to walk you through what went on in my head during these three minutes (and what goes through my head watching these three minutes):

:05 oh my god I take it back. I care. I care how I do. But it'll be fine. Here we go.

:13 deep breath #1.

:18 deep breath #2 (seriously? you couldn't do that any subtler?)

:30 Is my leg parallel? I think its parallel (its not parallel.)

:40 I'm shaking so bad but I don't think they can see it. (they can see it.)

:43 I think my head's a little low but if I try harder I might fall out. This is good enough (its not good Zeb says, its forehead to knee, not forehead to shin.)

:46 aaaaaah n
ot gonna fall out! (didn't fall out. phew. competition goal accomplished.) 

1:07 this feels pretty solid. okeydoke. (two heels not in one line. visible shaking and breathing. Ah well, still good.)

1:19 (storytime aside...back at Mission Yoga in SF, during class once or twice Juicy walked over and physically held down my toes during first part of awkward, as my toes and fingers get so fidgety when I'm trying really hard. Watch my toes and fingers in this otherwise solid bow pose. WHOA I had no idea)

1:50 this feels pretty solid. okeydoke. (I was so close to perpendicular. SO CLOSE! As Maggie, or any BY Pgh teacher really, would say, "One more hips forward!")

2:15 oh my goodness I'm still shaking, but I don't think they can tell (I can't get over the visible shaking and breathing here and everywhere.  Maybe it was the lights?)

2:33 there are my ankles clear as day. I'm gonna do this! I'm gonna grab my ankles smoothly and do a super duper awesome full camel onstage despite having learned it two weeks ago YEAH BABY!

2:37 where are my ankles? WHERE DID THEY GO?! (tip for yoga my hips here. See how they sink backwards as I go to grab my ankles? Thus the ankles are no longer there? Just as important as regular camel. HIPS FORWARD. Damn.) 

2:42 well, I gotta do SOMETHING. Maybe I'll grab my toes. I saw Alabama do that this afternoon in pre-competition class. Her backbend wasn't as good as mine but maybe this'll work.

2:49 oh. I guess if I grab my toes I don't get my elbows on the floor. WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THIS POSTURE IT WAS FINE IN THE WARM UP ROOM.

3:00 Well damn. If I royally screwed up camel I'm going to do the BEST GUILLOTINE EVER. 

3:19 Locked the knees yeah baby. (I now see how I'm so determined to lock my knees the whole posture starts to tip forward. Whatever, locked the knees, YEAH BABY.)

Back behind the stage I felt completely overwhelmed. Mary (who is backstage offering encouragement to every competitor, like the best stage mom ever) gave me the encouraging feedback of "well, for next year, it'll be easier to open the shoulders than it would be to deepen that backbend" and then, like a five-year-old after her first piano recital, I burst into tears. I walked into the hotel lobby and my whole BY Pgh team is there hugging me but I'll still crying, saying "I'm not sad, just overwhelmed" which is true.

Emotional Scale: Like Kristen Bell, not between a 3 and a 7, that's for sure...

I honestly felt (mostly) fine about it until I went up to the balcony to join Myra and Vince, and learned my score...I was in last place. LAST PLACE. Behind the women who fell out of standing bow. Behind the women who did Pigeon as an optional.  Behind Alabama. I genuinely didn't think I'd care about my score...until I was dead last.

So, of course, back on go the waterworks.  Congratulatory facebook posts and texts start to seem so false to when you say to that five-year-old once they get offstage "that was so GREAT, honey!" even though they forgot all the notes and they had a booger on their face the whole time.

Emotional Scale: 2. Cutest kid ever Connor knows how I feel...

We spent the rest of the day watching the rest of the female routines, looking through the vendors in the lobby, and gradually (for me) realizing that I was being a little childish, that the fact that I was there at all was incredible.

Tom (the amazing videographer who made videos like the following, to whom I am very grateful), Myra, Vince, Leigh Ann, and I headed off to a local pizza joint where I chowed down on calamari and pizza. Afterwards, I walked over to a nearby wine bar to grab a few drinks with Johannes and Kelly and their friends and siblings, where I got pleasantly, medium-level drunk. 

Emotional Scale:  5.  A little abashed, full of cheese and bread and wine.

We all have our weird drunk habits. Mine have ALWAYS been food-based. Back in my early 20s it was grilled cheese.  I vividly remember sitting at the bar at Little Pete's back in the day at 3am while someone was pouring out his heart to me and I was thinking something along the lines of "Grilled cheese will be ordered. Grilled cheese has been ordered.  Grilled cheese is being made. Grilled cheese will be here any moment. Where is it where is it where is it HERE IS MY GRILLED CHEESE HOORAY!"

Anyway, I have matured from those days in that I very rarely get drunk, and when I do, cookies and cheese curls are my drunk food of choice. Less effort.  So as I walked back to the hotel, I passed by a food cart and thought "I can eat sugar now!" and gleefully bought a packet of Nutter Butters, which I ate as I walked.

Did you know there's a restaurant in Cleveland that is ALL grilled cheese?

And then, despite being drunk and hungry and eager for sugar, they tasted terrible! So sweet! So sugary! I tossed them. Apparently training did more to my eating habits than I realized.

I was also astonished when I got back after 2am and Leigh Ann was only just getting ready for bed. Apparently she had her own Mary-full evening! Speaking of Leigh Ann, her routine was absolutely gorgeous, despite a slight 
Standing Splits stumble, which she was a little more grownup about it than me (i.e., no public meltdown in the balcony).

Sunday March 5th 
Less to say about this day...we were able to sleep in a bit, watch every one of the 20 finalists, and cheer for Zeb's 100% winning routine. During lunch break a group of us decided on Chipotle for lunch, but it took us a while to get going, then we went the wrong way, then we couldn't find fast forward an hour later to us eating burritos as we frantically ran along NYC streets and dodged Time Square tourists to get back in time...

One of my favorite routines was Joseph Carey from Florida - when this guy walked onstage, his size and power was a stark contrast to all the reedy little yogis that preceded him. And then he busted out an EPIC standing bow (wish I could find a video for you). It was really, really inspiring.

As luck would have it, I ran into him in the elevator as I went to get my suitcase and prepare to leave. I told him how wonderful I thought his routine was. He asked how mine went, and I gave him my new rote answer: "I didn't do well, but I'm so glad I went. It was a fantastic experience. I'm excited for next year." and he said "that's exactly what I said last year." So THAT'S a good sign!

Emotional Scale:  6.  It is starting to be true...I AM really excited for next year!  I have a whole year to train!  There's nowhere to go but up!

Erin had generously offered to drive me to the airport, and was going to pick me up at 4:30pm. At 4:15pm, the finalists had all been gathered onstage for twenty or thirty minutes but Rajashree was STILL talking and thanking people and I was getting desperate. I wanted to see Zeb win! But time was a-ticking! 

And at 4:30pm exactly, Zeb was announced...silver medalist! He's going on to internationals! I cheered and whooped and hollered, then grabbed my suitcase and ran out of the hotel to meet Erin, who pulled up five minutes later.

In the car, little Connor had caught croup, so since Thursday, active eager mischievous Connor had been replaced by passive, sleepy sick Connor. Poor little guy! Both Erin and I had had eventful weekends, in very different ways.

Erin also gave me a MASSIVE cookie. I can't remember the name of the bakery, but apparently it is known to produce some of the best chocolate chip cookies in NYC. It was huge and moist and still warm from the oven. I gratefully munched for a little while and tucked the rest in my bag for later. 

At the airport, I ran into
Esak Garcia, who I knew by reputation only - the first international yoga champ - and who was also waiting to fly back home. As I chatted with him, another yoga fella approached, wearing a shirt that matched mine, with the USA Yoga logo on the front and the word "CHAMPION" in big letters on the back, which was, let's face it, worth the trip to NYC alone (he was from somewhere in the midwest...see, this is why I shouldn't wait two weeks to blog).

I had decided I just couldn't handle the sugar rush that was eating the rest of my cookie, but I couldn't WASTE I offered it to Esak. "You're right," he said, "sugar is really bad for the yoga." And after a pause and a smile, he said "but I'll eat it," and split it with the midwesterner.

Seemed fitting to end my NYC yoga trip with feeding Esak Garcia sugar.

Emotional Scale:  5.  Back to a normal emotional state.  Ready to fly back and sleep for a week.  

Or fitting to end my post entirely with the following video. Yoga dudes are AWESOME.

Whew!  That's all folks.  Thanks for listening! Stay tuned...


  1. You = incredible! Watched the videos - LOVE. The Kristen Bell thing is hilarious. You were awesome! I'm so proud of you. Sushi date soon??

  2. Your routine was beautiful! I held my breath the whole time. I'm so in awe of everyone who has the courage to compete.

    Also, I did a workshop with Joseph Encinia earlier in the year and he said he came dead last in his regional championships the first year he entered. So since you made it to nationals, you've already done better than him :)

  3. I thought your routine was pretty darn impressive! Hope you are well.
    Jen Williams

  4. Danielle you are the most awesome blog writer. I so enjoyed this journey with you!MYRA

  5. Danielle you did awesome! I had to work and missed your spot but watched the last hour. I read that the stream was boring so I paired it with Phillip Glass soundtracks and it was amazing that suspensful.
    That sloth bit is priceless! You go girl!

  6. Congratulations! Very inspiring routine, it does take so much courage to compete &you did it, at Nationals!! Love the sugar ambush on fellow yogis too :-)