The Texas Asana Championships: An Inside View

Today, I want to introduce you to my Yoga Buddy Martha. Martha and I met at the 2013 Women’s Retreat in Austin, Texas. Recently, Martha competed in her first yoga asana championship in Dallas, Texas! I asked Martha if she could share her experiences, and I am so happy she did. Please enjoy.

My first Bikram yoga class was in October of 2006. I wasn’t a typical first timer-I loved it from the beginning. Due to distance I wasn’t a regular practitioner- I’d go a month here and there. Maybe a couple times a week for a year. Then a studio opened by my house about three years ago. I’ve been going about six times a week for three years now. I love it- it’s part of my life now. Keep in mind I’m a normal person that actually was quite inflexible pre-yoga (was never able to touch my toes).

This year I decided I was ready for a competition. Last year I attended the Texas Regional after the Women’s Retreat (with Leigh).  I nervously told myself that the next competition I would go for it.  I’ve been mentally getting ready for the competition since that summer. We started formally training in our studio about six weeks before the competition. I was already regularly attending advanced class so training was really picking postures and running the routine that was an added part of my practice. I would take beginner class then stick around working on competition stuff for about 30 minutes each day. The first week or two I was SO SORE! My body finally got into the groove and I got a few massages along the way. I did the math and the 107 days leading up to the competition I took 107 classes. Whoops- accidental 107 day challenge!

Pigeon Pose

Pigeon Pose

One of the more shocking things about the whole competition thing was the reactions I got from people when I told them that there was a yoga competition and that I was participating. “Yoga competition, that’s an oxymoron!” was the gist of most reactions. I got so tired of justifying the competition and my participation I started calling it a yoga recital. I told people I was getting on a stage and that I was going to do yoga in front of an audience to show my appreciation for the sport. That statement is true- I wasn’t doing it to win. Why were other people so worried about what I was choosing to do anyway?

In Texas the regionals are big. I think the total number of competitors this year was 73. This means the competition was all day. On the day of the competition there was a Bikram class offered for competitors in the morning (7:45 am to be exact).  You don’t know me, but I HATE taking class early in the morning! It was a crammed class of maybe 80 people.  It was a sweat-fest! We were all dying. I love me a sweaty class normally, but on competition day- not really.

I took class, ran to the hotel, took a shower then hauled to the competition location. We all had to be dressed and ready to go for the beginning of the competition. All 73 of us paraded onto the stage for a picture at the beginning of the competition (awkward!). Then we had to wait until it was our turn on stage- youth, seniors, men, and then finally women.  Not only do women go last, but it’s alphabetical and my last name starts with a T. I was 68th to go on out of 73 total competitors. I took class at 7:45 am and then didn’t compete until 5:30 pm! That’s a long time to be physically and mentally yoga-ready!

Most of the day I spent in a hallway hanging out and stretching with fellow competitors since watching the competition stressed me out too much.  The hanging out part was fun, but the mental stress was intense! I would warm up, hang out, and then warm up again.  While in the hallway my husband, friends, and parents came in! They all traveled over 3 hours out of town to cheer me on for 3 minutes!! I saw my friends had signs with them. SIGNS WITH MY NAME AND FACE ON THEM! My first reaction was panic but then I felt pretty freaking cool! I had fans…. with SIGNS! Later on I realized along with the signs they made SHIRTS with my face on them (don’t worry, they photo shopped my face to make it perfect- I can always rely on my friends to make me look good). I definitely won the award for best fans that day!

I want a Martha shirt.

I want a Martha shirt.

The last 30 minutes before show time was intense! Part of that time I was in child’s pose just listening to music trying to calm my nerves. The other part was trying to warm my body up in a cool hallway. When it was time to go I felt like I was on autopilot (thanks to my coach for training!). I walked on stage, bowed, did my thing, and walked off stage. It was like I wasn’t controlling myself, the only think in my head was to breathe and to slow my pounding heart. I bowed at the end of my routine and looked out at everyone cheering me on, my parents, my husband, my friends, my yoga teachers, strangers, everyone in the room was cheering for me! That was the most amazing feeling.  It made all of the blood, sweat, and tears completely worth it.

I got on a stage in a leotard and showed everyone my practice. You don’t know me, but I’m not an attention seeker. For example, on my wedding day walking down the aisle while people stare me was SUPER SCARY. Yoga in a leotard was a whole new level. Evidently I seemed completely calm and cool on stage. I even fooled my friends and family- they thought I wasn’t nervous at all. I attribute my cool exterior to teaching high school kids every day.  In the end I met my goal of not falling out of any postures. There are obviously things I’d like to do better but really- I’m happy with that happened.

The scores, the postures, the ranking don’t matter. It’s all about sharing our practice with the world! That’s the part of yoga competition that people don’t understand- by getting on that stage we ALL win!

 

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It’s Getting Official: The Postures

*Who’s getting snacks? Congrats to Lori B. Email me at mybikramyogalife@gmail.com so I can get you squared away. Enjoy!*

Awhile back, I posted about new competition rules. Well, since then, the rules have gotten even more specific, and a whole new document has come out from the International Yoga Sports Federation. What I want to do today is take a look at the new guidelines surrounding the postures and creating your routine.

First, you can see the full rules about postures and routines here. This is a pretty significant document. If you’re planning on competing you will want to read it. I’ll draw out some highlight though.

Required Postures

Previously, there were five required postures done in the following order: (a) SH2K, (b) Standing Bow, (c) Bow, (d) Rabbit, and (e) Stretching. Then you did your two optionals. All of the required postures were originally worth a maximum of 10 points.

Now there are four required postures, you get to pick which ones you do, and they vary in point value. The four required postures fall under the four categories of: (a) forward compressions, (b) backward bends, (c) stretching, and (d) twist. The original five postures from the previous competition model are still represented in these four categories should you wish to select them.

It works like this….You start with a category, let’s say forward compression. You can pick from three postures:

  • Rabbit – worth 6 points
  • SH2K – now a maximum of 7 points instead of 10
  • Full Tortoise – 8 points
You mean triangle isn't an option? Oh darn.

You mean triangle isn’t an option? Oh darn.

Rabbit is considered to be a level one posture in the compression group. SH2K would be a level two, and Full Tortoise a level three.  You would select from one of these three postures, and that would be the first posture you did in your routine. You would then chose a posture from each of the remaining three categories (which, as a reminder, you can find in this document).

There are a few additional rules when it comes to selecting your required postures. They include:

  • at least one of your postures must demonstrate balance. This means you must do at least one of the following: Standing Bow, Dancer, Upward Stretching, Standing Splits, Wide Angle Twist, or Full Twist (I don’t even know how to do those last two).
  • at least one posture has to be a level two or three. your postures can’t all be from level one. Rest easy here. Standing Bow is a level two. You can probably pull that off. AND it demonstrates balance. Bonus! We just conquered these two rules with one posture.

And here’s one more interesting rule that’s different – no more announcing postures. There are some exceptions (outlined in the rules) but in general that’s not going to be happening anymore.

Optional Postures

There is a separate document outlining rules for selecting and executing optional postures. You will, as before, select two optionals to do at the end after the required postures have been completed. However, you must select off the list I linked to in this section.

You will see that there are some great features about the optionals documents. First, they tell you how to execute the posture. Although for some postures I still couldn’t so much as visualize how I would get in or out of it. In cases where you can choose between a right or left side (for example, leg behind head), they tell you how to execute it for the right side. But you could perform it on your left.

They also tell you deductions you can expect to receive that are specific to your selected posture, the minimum expression, how you can

I can hold mountain for exactly one second.

I can hold mountain for exactly one second but only with my eyes closed.

demonstrate extra skill for extra points, and any accepted flourishes. There are also pictures of every posture being executed.

For the postures I did last year (lifting lotus and upward stretching), I found the level of detail provided by the document to be very helpful.

There are also some newly added optional postures that you might be interested in (flag pose; handstand lotus scorpion). I can’t do any of these, but I found it fascinating to look at the pictures and read how to perform them.

Thoughts

This is a much needed document. If you look at the main page, you will see that there are far more documents and pieces of information than what I have discussed here today. We needed a set of documents that clearly articulated the rules and explained the postures in a precise, detailed manner. The only thing I would add would be a video of each posture being performed.

I am sure this document will need tweaking – nothing is perfect – but it is an incredible step forward in the right direction.

Additionally, I want to add how much I appreciate the amount of choice now provided in the required postures. I think this will open competition up to more people. I think there are plenty of people who would be perfectly happy performing at a regional level, but who are not interested in going beyond that (I am one of those). I know some people are put off by having to do SH2K. Either they can’t, or it’s not their strong suit. The options within the required postures has the potential to truly allow for greater participation.

What do you think?

New Competition Rules

Recently, I received an email explaining the new rules for regional and national level competitions. Have y’all heard? There are new rules at the regional and national levels, and there are differences at each level. I just want to talk about the changes for regionals.  I am assuming most of us are not going on to compete at a national level. However, even if you don’t compete I think you might find the changes to the rules at the regional level to be very interesting.

First, let’s review the old rules. Under the old rules, each competitor had three minutes to do seven postures. Postures had to occur in the following order:

Good 'ole SH2K

My head is nowhere near my knee

1. Standing Head to Knee

2. Standing Bow

3. Floor Bow

4. Rabbit

5. Stretching

6. Optional

7. Optional

Postures 1-5 were worth a maximum of 10 points each. How much your optional could be worth depended on what you selected.

Here are the new rules for regionals

You still have to do seven postures in three minutes. However, you now have a range of options for the postures that you do.

1. Balancing Forward Bend: Balancing Stick (6.0), Crow (7.0) and Standing Forehead to Knee (8.0)
2. Balancing Back Bend: Split Arm (8.0), Standing Bow (8.0) and Dancer (8.0)
3. Spine Flexibility Option (Seated): Spine Twist (6.0), Bow (7.0) and Rabbit (7.0)
4. Stretching/Traction: Standing Separate Leg Stretching (6.0), Stretching (7.0) and Upward Stretching (7.0)
5. Optional
6. Optional
7. Optional

You’ll notice that the point values have changed for some of these postures. Where SH2K used to be worth 10 points it is now worth a maximum of 8. USA Yoga will eventually have all of this up on their site.

Reactions

The email I received from USA Yoga noted:

It is our mission to provide a safe and challenging format for all levels of competitor – beginning, intermediate and advanced. We understand that a format that will encourage a first time competitor to compete may not be the same format that will challenge an advanced competitor…The Regional Format is designed to give beginning and intermediate competitors more opportunity to select postures that are appropriate for their skill level – while also demonstrating mastery of asanas that are fundamental to any practice level. The format consists of four categories of postures with a choice of 3 postures in each category, plus 3 optional postures. As before, the optional postures must be chosen to cover the skills of strength, balance and flexibility.

My reaction to this was positive. I see the changes providing competitors (and audience members) with some great benefits including:
1. Pick what makes sense for you. I love that there are now a range of postures to select. For the first posture, anyone (I think) could do balancing stick. I’m not saying you could do it 100% perfect, but that’s not what this is about. You could get up there and do balancing stick. If you can’t do SH2K, so what? You can still demonstrate your practice on a level that makes sense for you.
2. Less stress. Because you get to select what makes sense for you, and where you are in your practice, I see regionals as far more enjoyable now. You can get up there and do what is right and good for you and not be concerned about pushing yourself in ways that don’t make sense for your body yet.
3. More participants. I can see more people wanting to participate and believing they can participate. I could understand how the previous rules limited who could participate. However, these new rules really focus on simply sharing your practice in a very reasonable way. I think they also recognize that not all of us – maybe even most of us – who compete at regionals are interested in competing at nationals. I know I’m not interested in being a national level competitor. Regionals just got a whole lot more fun.
Regionals just got more fun

Regionals just got more fun

4. Speaking of fun….I bet these new rules will be more enjoyed by the audience. I can geek out and get into watching 50 people do 50 versions of SH2K, standing bow, and so on. But I have to think that most of the audience gets a bit bored with this. These new rules mean that most every routine is different to some extent. I think it could increase attendance.
What Would Your Routine Be?
If I had to craft a routine today, it would look like this:
1. Balancing Stick (my back is still recovering so no SH2K)
2. Standing Bow
3. Spine Twist
4. Upward Stretching
5. Lifting Lotus
I have no idea what I would do for six and seven. I’d really have to think on that. Having an extra optional plus moving my old option (upward stretching) into one of the required postures is a bit tricky. But I also don’t feel the need to pick off the list of advanced postures. I’ve been told I have a nice tree pose. That could be a good one to end with.
What would you pick?
One Year Ago Today on MBYL
Two Years Ago Today on MBYL

Bikram’s Last Advanced Seminar

Bikram recently made this announcement on his website where he explains:

My Advanced Seminar scheduled for Phuket, Thailand on June 22, 2014 will be the last openly public Advanced Seminar I will be doing.  There will also be no more Bishnu Ghosh Yoga Championship after this year’s International Finals in London in May, or relationship with Bikram Yoga and any Yoga Championships for now.

He has a number of reasons for this statement including hearing about injuries people incur from advanced, that advanced class , “is more often than not dangerous (and unnecessary) for the great majority of people in this world,” and,  that it ” becomes a practice of ego, elitism, sense of false superiority, vanity — all false and fake values.”

Practicing SH2K for regionals.

Practicing SH2K for regionals.

He notes that the advanced class has its place, but that it’s really not for everyone as compared to the beginning series which is intended for everyone. He doesn’t get as specific about competition as he does about the advances series although I think if you read between the lines he is also saying that there needs to be less focus on competition (my own interpretation).

As far as what this means for future competitions, I don’t know. The regionals/nationals were sponsored by USA Yoga. USA Yoga is not technically affiliated with Bikram Yoga. USA Yoga is billed as being open to anyone regardless of what yoga tradition you practice. Of course, the five required postures are straight out of Bikram Yoga, but I’m just laying out the facts here.

So…what do y’all think about this? Do you think regional/national competitions will continue on through USA Yoga? I could find nothing on their website that responded to Bikram’s statement – which makes sense given that they are not technically Bikram affiliated. So it seems like these competitions will continue in some manner.

What do you think about Bikram’s statements regarding the advanced series?

Retro Throwback: Creepy Crawly Spiders

On Sundays, please enjoy the Retro Throwback where I share my favorite posts from some time ago.

Last Sunday, I stayed after the beginning class with a handful of other people to prep for November’s competition. I don’t remember exactly how we go on the subject of doing Spider, but we did. I think I said it was one of the poses I selected for last year’s competition.

If you are unfamilair with Spider, it goes like this:

First, sit in lotus. Ideally, it should be a loose lotus. I like to just get in lotus and then wiggle my legs loose a bit. Second, flip onto your belly. Third, puit your hands in prayer behind your back, smile, and then push up. That’s the gist.

I did Spider last year because I seriously had few options. Spider was easy for me, and it took off a lot of pressure about selecting an advanced posture. Because I think Spider is easy, I assume it’s easy for most everyone. Not true.

During our training, one of the competitors noted that Spider was difficult. When I said I didn’t think it was, she responded by trying to demonstrate Spider for me. I don’t know which posture she was trying to do, but it was very difficult and most definitely not Spider.

I said, “That’s not Spider. This is Spider,” and proceeded to set myself up in lotus. I hadn’t even gotten on my stomach and she was telling me how she couldn’t do Spider because she cannot do ANY posture that requires her to sit in lotus. Apparently sitting in lotus is very difficult for her.

I was stunned that lotus was so hard for her and that Spider would be so difficult. She has a near perfect standing split that I am in awe of. I guess I assumed that anyone who could do such an awesome standing split could easily do a Spider. I was wrong.

Again, I am reminded that the things that come easy for me are the things I take for granted. I forget that something I think is so simple (Spider) could look so amazing and beautiful to someone else. What isn’t a big deal for me is a huge deal for someone else.

I say this also because it’s a reminder about how to think about competition. We forget how amazing and beautiful we look when we are doing our yoga for others. We forget how inspiring we can be in showing our work. And, for me, it is a reminder to not diminish what I do. So what if Spider comes relatively easy for me? That doesn’t make it any less important or something I should not be proud of. I should enjoy that posture and be pleased with how I do it.

Retro Throwback: I Fell, and That’s a Wonderful Thing

On Sundays, please enjoy the Retro Throwback where I share my favorite posts from some time ago.

Well another year of competition has come and gone. And I have to say, the hardest parts about competing for me have been: (a) accepting/forgiving myself and (b) learning to accept compliments. Going into Sunday’s competition, the most important thing to me (if you asked me) was to do standing head to knee and standing bow. If I could just accomplish those two postures, without falling out, I had decided I would be happy with myself no matter what the rest of the routine looked like.

But the universe had other plans for me as it always does when it comes to yoga.

Before going on stage, I learned that I was not nearly as nervous as I had been the year before. Last year, I honestly contemplated running out of the building rather than getting up on stage. Getting up on stage last year was absolutely terrifying, and my performance reflected my inner feelings of terror.

This year, I was a bit nervous, but it seemed to be at a level that I would imagine is pretty normal amongst competitors. Before I went on stage, I kicked out twice in head to knee. I didn’t do the full posture. I just kicked out to test my balance. I was a little wobbly from nerves, but I thought I could keep it under control.

I felt pretty good when I walked out on stage. I took my bow and started in. I grabbed my left foot and kicked out confidently. I got this, I thought.

Yeah – I thought.

The problem was that my right leg was shaking from nerves. I couldn’t will it to stop or even back off a bit. Without the support of my right leg I couldn’t get my head to my knee.

I fell out.

No big deal. Try again. Always try again.

I don’t even think I kicked out the second time. My right leg was a gigantic, shaking mess. I was disappointed in myself.

Moving On

After falling out of SH2K twice, I had no other choice than to move on into standing bow. Looking back, I realize I handled everything well from this point on. Falling out of SH2K can shake you up. If you let it set the tone for your whole routine, you are sunk. You literally have to forgive yourself on the spot and move on. The only think falling out did that I could never recover from was my sense of timing. I didn’t go over time, but I was never sure where I was on the yoga space-time continuum. I recognized I had lost my sense of timing and just did my best to move as slow and as steady as possible. That was all I could do.

The Remaining Postures

I’ll get pictures and video at some point, but for now we’ll just have to rely on my memory of how the rest of the routine went.

Standing Bow: My right leg was still shaking in standing bow, but I refused to fall out. I managed to hold it. I think it looked ok.

Bow and Rabbit: I did them. I think I did them well for me. I held them. No major issues.

Stretching: I was stunned when I bent forward in stretching and my elbows touched the floor. I have tight hamstrings, and my elbows never touch the floor. I never get my head to my feet. I still didn’t get my head to my feet, but I did celebrate how far down my elbows went.

Upward Stretching & Lifting Lotus: Upward stretching was good. I did this posture last year and was only able to lock my knees out about two weeks before competition. But last year, I was so nervous I dropped my legs going into it and had to try again. This year, I balanced and held it for about a seven count. I came down with control. I cannot smash my face into my legs, but I can lock out my knees and hold that sucker forever.

My lifting lotus was not so great. I did it again but didn’t get much of anywhere. I’m not that bothered by it.

Learning Acceptance

By this morning, I realized I had problems with accepting myself and accepting compliments from others about my routine. Whenever someone congratulated me, I wanted to point out how I fell out of SH2K. Like that fall should diminish the rest of my work. It doesn’t. I am working on saying, “Thank you,” whenever someone says something nice to me about my performance and not pointing out all my shortcomings. In my mind, my routine was only worth anything if I could nail the first two postures. That’s just silly. And the universe knew I was being silly. And so I got what I got, and now I have to work with the outcome.

I am thankful now for falling out of SH2K. I am thankful for what I am learning about myself because I fell out of SH2K. If I had nailed it, I might not have listened to the things I needed to learn about myself.

I fell. I fell in front of 100+ people. I fell in front of myself. And I wish I didn’t, but I’m glad that I did.

 

Retro Throwback: The End of the Line

On Sundays, please enjoy the Retro Throwback where I share my favorite posts from some time ago.

I was having a bad day on Tuesday. First, I was still exhausted from Sunday’s competition. What is it about competition that is so draining? It must be the emotional/mental aspect of it because physcially it is not that taxing. Taking one 90 minute Bikram class and doing my routine one time over the course of a day is not physically demanding. On Monday, I was tired but hauled myself into a 9:00 am class as it was my only chance to do so. Then I went to work and taught an evening class putting me home around 8:00 pm. On Tuesday, I got up at 6:30am to drive back into Chapel Hill and teach a 9:00 class.

Oh how I just wanted to sleep. I must have slept on my neck wrong too because when I woke up on Monday there was a kink in it. On Tuesday morning it was just worse.

I was still not feeling positive about my performance on Sunday. A friend had video of it, but I was not in the mood to watch it Sunday evening. Then, Tuesday afternoon, I logged on to our FB group for my studio’s competitors and saw news I did not need.

Our studio owner had been given the ranking of each participant and had posted them. She didn’t have the scores. The ranking was enough for me. There were 20 females who competed. Anyone want to take a guess where I ranked? Anyone?

18.

My heart sank. Now, I know the whole point of competition is (at least for me) all about self-improvement. But I was having a bad day. I was drained on every level. I didn’t need to know that I probably didn’t rank that much higher than last year (note: I never asked where I placed last year. I didn’t want that running around in my head).

I went to class that afternoon and about had a mini-break down during savassanah. As I lay there I thought:

What business do I actually have being up there on that stage doing these postures? I’m no better off this year than I was last year. Seriosuly – 18th place???? Out of 20???? That is totally horrible. I didn’t think I did that bad. God, I did worse than I even knew. I have almost zero ability to realize what my actual performance looks like. Why do I even think getting on that stage is a good idea? Coming in at the end like that is soooo embarrassing. I should think about quitting.

Real thoughts people. Real thoughts.

So that evening I sucked it up and asked to look at the video my friend took. I didn’t get a copy of it for myself. It’s not the best quality for sharing. I’ll share the official one – which I assume will be of high quality – when I get it.

As I watched that video I realized something – 18th place is not what it seems. And do you know why?

18th place is based on total number of points scored. I didn’t do SH2K which means I lost 10 points outright. I did my lifting lotus twice which, in retrospect, was not the best decision. It’s only worth 6 points. I did it once, was not happy with it, and attempted it again. When you do a second attempt at a posture you can only get half the points. So I was down almost 16 points to start with.

But do you know what I saw when I looked at everything from standing bow through the end? I saw so much improvement over last year! I saw that my floor bow, while still in somewhat of a man-bow state, was getting better. I saw that I got down in standing bow. Of course I saw things to work on, but I also understood that being in 18th place was nothing to throw a fit about. It was not a reason to pack it in. I was so much calmer this year than last. I moved between postures so much better and slower.

I got it. Ok. I’m ranking down near the end of the line, but it’s really not a bad place to be.

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