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Yogis celebrate the 10th anniversary of the USA Yoga Asana Championship

Joseph Encinia
Joseph Encinia during the “Champion of Champions” demonstration. (All Photos: Lisa Elaine Held for Well+Good)

Although yogis were battling for medals this weekend as they stretched, balanced, and contorted on stage at the 2013 National Yoga Asana Championship, the mood at the Hudson Theatre in Times Square barely hinted at competition. Instead, it felt like a jubilant community celebration.

“We all train together and know each other and support each other,” said Talia Peretz, 25, a Yoga to the People instructor and Murray Hill resident who took first place in the New York Regional competition and fifth in the National Championship. “Most of all, it’s just inspiring to be among these people.”

Yoga asana championship
Rajasrhee Choudhury with Bikram NYC’s Donna Rubin and Jennifer Lobo and Bikram Yoga LES’s Tricia Donegan.

Plus, the yogis had even more to celebrate this year, as the competition marked the event’s 10th anniversary. Since its inception a decade ago, USA Yoga Federation founder and president Rajashree Choudhury (and wife of Bikram Choudhury) says that yoga asana has been picking up serious steam in its quest to be recognized as a true sport. Like, for instance, the group’s recent efforts to get yoga into the Olympics.

“Before, it was hard, because the competitive aspect of yoga wasn’t known to people in the West,” Choudhury explained. “But slowly, slowly, slowly, people’s understanding has changed.”

To highlight the anniversary, four past champs staged a “Champion of Champions” demo before the final awards ceremony on Sunday night, which, unlike during the concentrated, competitive performances, included lots of playful shouted encouragement, whistling, and even a few minutes of Gangnam Style (thankfully the song only, not a yogic dance interpretation).

Jared McCann
New York’s Jared McCann is awarded first place in the National competition, men’s division.

The weekend also included recognizing yogic leaders in New York: Dharma Mittra was given a sort of lifetime achievement award, and Alison West was honored for her hard work with Yoga for NY.

Of course, winners did emerge: New York’s own Jared McCann once again took home first prize in the men’s division, and Gianna Purcell, from Texas, won the women’s division. The top two yogis in all categories (men’s, women’s, youth girls, and youth boys) won trips to LA in June, where they’ll compete for the international title.

As for those who say competitive yoga is anathema to the ancient practice, Choudhury feels “competition actually brings out the best in people.” And she’s confident the sport will continue to grow and flourish. As the event came to a close, she finished her speech with a shout. “Please promote the sport of yoga asana!” —Lisa Elaine Held