Paul and I arrived in Los Angeles on the Thursday evening before the competition on Saturday, with plenty of time to take the 6:30 pm class at Headquarters. One great benefit of this type of event is getting to see your peers, your friends from all over the globe. I’ve taken Bikram yoga for 10 years now and was trained to teach at Headquarters. So, to walk in and see friends from Texas, Oregon, and Canada was terrific. Even the smell in the yoga room was a welcome past memory. When we hit tree pose, I was a bit dizzy and so overwhelmed, I think, by all the warm emotion. I actually had to sit down for a moment!

I met one of my closest friends at teacher training. She and I room together at these events and get a chance to catch up. She made it a point to come to this competition (she lives in Texas) just to give me support. We all stayed at the Westin Hotel near Los Angeles Airport where the competition was being held. What fun to have yogis running all over this pretty hotel.

A luncheon was held on Friday for about 200 total competitors, both national and international. Mary Jarvis, teacher extraordinaire in San Francisco and head coach for the competition provided inspiration. I don’t think it was meant to be a “keynote speech,” but Mary could motivate a bunch of Eskimos to buy ice. “The postures tell a story. When you train for this, you become beyond magnificent. Be in the moment up there on stage. You are not body. You are not mind. Override the hormonal response. You are the pose. This yoga is indefinable. It is grace, beauty in movement and doing so in relaxation.” These and other eloquent thoughts are what I held onto throughout my trip. Mary stated, “the spine is the tree of life.” I instantly felt proud and safe to do what I do everyday, both in teaching and practicing yoga, on stage for three powerful lingering minutes. Friday ended with a huge party for Bikram. We celebrate his 60th birthday every year in grand style in the ballroom with plenty of dancing that he so loves to do. Bikram was absolutely lovely and kind all weekend.

This year the event went high-tech with a live feed. Viewers could watch the competition live on the internet and chat to each other too. The men went first. Paul took the stage around 1:00 pm and ended with full camel. He developed enough strength and flexibility to do this pose just a few months ago. Many of you saw him do the pose at our Anniversary Party; a huge part of his success during the competition was based on doing full camel in front of us first.

Our very own Cynthia Wehr, Yoga Champion 2006, is somewhat of a celebrity at these events. She judged and also taught the morning of the competition. I took her class at 7:00 am and went on stage at 8 pm. The waiting was hard. On top of that, my spine did not feel as loose as I needed for a good full cobra. Full cobra was one of my optional poses and it requires a major lift in the upper body in order to grab your knees then place your feet in your face. (Sounds awful, however, it is totally beautiful when done right.)

While waiting, I took two long hot showers and kept the hotel room heated to 95 degrees and continued to stretch. I could feel my confidence waning. But, here is where the months and years of practice helped. Aren’t we taught to do the best we can with what we have today knowing the body is different everyday? Aren’t we taught to look in the mirror and accept and love the truth of who we are and drown out the sound of those nagging judgments that get in the way of seeing the beauty of who we are? Aren’t we taught to stay present and use our concentration skills to keep the mind in the brain focusing on the task at hand?

Rajashree is such an advocate for competitive yoga. It is now the sixth year of yoga competition and at this point, progress is being made with regards to making an Olympic event. I can hear her now state, “on stage you are given the chance to conquer your fears. It is a competition within yourself to control your emotions in action.” I have competed before. However, this was the year to own those statements. I walked on stage with gratitude. I had made up my mind that I was going to fully accept everything I had in me and not let my peace get rattled because my spine felt better yesterday than today. Competing is one way to thank Bikram for the life-affirming benefits those ten years of his yoga has given me.

One by one, I went through each posture: Standing Head to Knee; Standing Bow; Floor Bow; Rabbit; Stretching; Full Cobra and Crane. There is something special about being the center of attention for three quiet minutes. You are stripped of any type of self protection. Layer by layer you are revealed. Yet, it is a private moment – no one knows what you are really going through. The effects are life changing. Despite all the preparation, you come off stage knowing yourself far better than you did just three minutes ago. You see how much love you really have for yourself. Yes, I felt self-doubt but not so strongly as confidence and belief. We are asked to make choices all the time. Being on stage can be an uncomfortable risk. However, it can be a powerful springboard for personal growth.

Congratulations to our 60 Day Challengers! This Challenge netted not only the most participants but also the most that have finished all 60 consecutive days. I am convinced that, like the competition, the 60 Day Challenge becomes more powerful each time because of the mutual support in our studio. It is contagious and sees us through difficult times. Your belief in each other and in me encourages us all to reach for challenges that are far bigger than what we imagine ourselves ever accomplishing.

“Well I guess I’d like to share a couple of things that I feel like I get out of participating in the competition. First is the feeling of participation in inspiration. When I participate in the Gosh Cup I feel like a small part of a massive inspiration, which is what I view the Gosh Cup “competition” as, just a massive inspiration. Each year this event helps create a powerfully contagious surge of energy surrounding the practice of yoga and that is what sucks me into it every year. To be surrounded by people with a deep appreciation for the practice of hatha yoga. The effect that the competition has on my body and my practice is extraordinarily noticeable. It just elevates my practice, every year now for the last three it has completely transformed where I was as a yogi. The experience of putting yourself on stage in front of people to share your yoga is tremendously humbling and empowering all in the same moment. When competition time rolls around next year, I encourage absolutely everyone to get up and share where they are with the world. See you soon!” –Paul Knisley, BYSJ teacher, yoga competitor 2008