Interview with Bel Carpenter

Bel Carpenter has been practicing yoga and meditation since he was a young child. After years of studying asana, pranayama, and meditation, Bel became a yoga instructor in 1996 and opened the first yoga studio in Aspen, Basalt and Glenwood Springs Colorado. He competed every year for the first 10 years of the USA Yoga competition, and International Ghosh Cup. He placed 3rd in the world in 2005 and 2010.


Tell me about yourself.
I have been teaching yoga, training teachers, and managing one to three yoga studios for 21 years. I have two amazing children, who are the pride and joy of my life. My daughter, Juliana, is 13, and my son, Soren, is 10 and. In 2013 I founded Vimana Yoga, which offers six distinct styles of yoga, from fast paced Vinyasa classes all the way to Yin Yoga, in an integrated system with my ex-wife, Emily. I currently operate White Horse Yoga in Carbondale Colorado, and lead Vimana Yoga Teacher Training intensive‘s around the United States and Canada.


How did you become involved in yoga?
Swami Satchidananda blessed me at my home when I was a few months old in Boulder, Colorado. I spent a few days at his workshops over the years when I was growing up. He had a special children’s program. I remember being a rowdy kid, sitting there and thinking, “What are all of these people doing, sitting here all day?” But when I met him personally as a seven-year-old, it changed me forever.


Were your parents involved in yoga?
They were a little involved in it, but my mom’s best friend who was my second mother was a chef for Swami Satchidananda. Growing up in the strong Buddhist and yogic community, Boulder Colorado I was surrounded by enlightening new age practices.


When did you start your physical practice?
When I was a child, we had a children’s yoga book that was called “Be a frog, a bird, or a tree.” I would stretch and do yoga with both of my parents; my dad more so than my mom because my mom worked so much as a family physician. I loved lotus pose. It was one of those things that I have always practiced. My dad used to take me to the sauna at the University of Colorado’s rec center and he taught me to stretch, and massage my legs.


What year did you start teaching?
Emily and I attended Bikram’s fourth teacher training in 1996 together, and started teaching right away after that with Radha Garcia.  She told us that it might be Bikram’s last training in the United States, so we had to go, and we did.


So, in 1996 you were training and then 2013 you begin your yoga brand; when did you open your first yoga studio?
We taught for six months at Radha’s studio in Boulder and then opened our first studio March 15, 1997 in Basalt, Colorado. Emily’s run the studio in Basalt, and I run White Horse Yoga in Carbondale, which opened on July 7, 2007.

Wow, a very auspicious date for that!
Yes, but the practice of yoga is bigger than numerology.


How did you become involved with USA Yoga?
It was at the advanced retreat in Maui, in 2003, when I first learned about the competition. Rajashree [Choudhury] asked if we would compete. That was the year that men and women had to compete against each other. Not a good idea to do with your partner! That year I went on with Esak [Garcia] as first and second from the state of Colorado.

Did you see a change in your mindset or approach going from teaching yoga to being a yoga competitor?
Absolutely. I had a steady practice, but it definitely motivated me to challenge my practice and see what I could do, and be more diligent about it. Whereas earlier, some days I would say, “Yeah, I could go for a hike, go climbing or skiing, or I could look on my practice.” When I started competing, more often than not I would choose to do yoga training.


How many years did you compete?
About ten years. I think I’ve done about 45 competitions, if you include all the regionals, semi-finals, and finals.

How are you affiliated with USA Yoga now?
Vimana Yoga has been a business sponsor The last several years, and I have done a few booth at nationals and the super-regionals promoting our teacher trainings and Vimana Yoga. I am excited after a few years off to compete again this year.


Have you considered judging or coaching given your vast knowledge of yoga?
I would, certainly, but it’s not my thing. If there were a big community of people interested in competing I could be a coach. But I would be too harsh of a judge. Everybody would get zeros! Ha,ha,ha! I’m just kidding. I like to be in the action.

From all your years of competing, what’s something you would offer as advice to new competitors and what would you offer as advice to people who have been doing it for a few years?
I think just to not take it too seriously. Have fun with it. Use it to motivate your practice and yourself without being too competitive about it.

Was there a year when that advice served you particularly well?
I always tried to keep it pretty light, and not be too serious about it. In 2008 my son was a month old when I went out for the competition. That year another competitor purposefully distracted me during my routine. I could not believe it. He was on deck right after me in the finals and he stood exactly where my focal point was but he was moving around while I was doing my routine. But, having a baby at home put it all in perspective. I thought, “I’m a dad. I have kids. If it’s not fun, then there’s no point in doing it.”

Speaking of your children, do they practice yoga?
Oh yeah. The heat is tough for them but they both came and did class two Sundays ago. I teach a stretch class which is a slower gentle flow with some Yin Yoga.

Would you ever want to see them get involved in teaching yoga or being competitors?
I could see them teaching for sure. We’ve already talked about it actually. My daughter is super into ballet so she dances 10 to 12 hours a week. The cross over is really prevalent, but she needs to work on her upper body and core strength, as well as maintaining alignment in her legs.


How often do you do the advanced, 84-posture series?
I practice advanced class a few times a year. I am just super into dynamic Vinyasa Flow, Vimana, and our Hot Stretch restorative classes.


Would you recommend that other competitors vary their practice?
Absolutely. You try to get to the top of the mountain from many different approaches. We tend to get so one-dimensional. I just saw so many injuries after 17 years of people practicing a constant repetition and not having room to explore and to feel their practice. I really learned a lot about how not to do yoga from that.

Is there any type of exercise outside of yoga that you would recommend to people who are competing?
I think walking and swimming are so important, that we move our body in those natural ways. It is so important and healthy to get out and walk every day. Swimming is really good for the hips and shoulders as well as decompressing and elongating the spine.

I also think weight training is really good too if you can focus on specific yoga movements. I offer a Yoga Sculpt teacher training which trains yoga teachers how to integrate high intensity interval training and light weights with yoga philosophy and movements. Using weight is really helpful to get stronger. We need it. My passion is really being outside rock climbing, hiking, camping, skiing, kayaking, or paddle boarding.


If I’m working on something in yoga, I want it to be something that will help my life in some way. I want it to be something that contributes to my mind, my passions, or my sleep. It shouldn’t just be, “Oh, I can do this cool pose!” You have to ask yourself, “How does that help my life, and make the world a better place make the world a better place.”


How has yoga enriched your life, what has it brought to you?
It’s really given me a sense of purpose; having a whole set of really powerful tools to share with people to help them to heal, and be happier and healthier. Having that sense of purpose and being able to be of service to people and the planet is number one. Through the competition I have made so many friends from around the world. Like-minded people who are into yoga, fitness, and health. It is exciting when young people get into the competition. It opens so many positive doors for them. We live in a harsh world right now; we need more tools and more practice creating peace, and overcoming fear.

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