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Mai Toomey: Honored, Excited and Motivated!

The Adult 50+ 2017 and 2018 champions are preparing to travel to Beijing, China to compete in the World Championship of Yoga Sports, December 1-2. This series of blog posts will explore their journey.

Mai Toomey won the Bronze Medal for Adult 50+ Women in Madison, WI. Here’s a look at her journey to Beijing.

1) Why are you competing in Internationals? What drives you to make this journey?

I started yoga as one of my hobbies. By joining yoga competitions, I feel more connected and committed with my practice. It was great every time I had an opportunity to see my yoga fellows in such a positive and healthy environment. This year, for the first time, I joined them in the National Yoga Championship. Unexpectedly, I placed 3rd in our 50+ Women Adult Division which advanced me to the International Yoga Championship in Beijing in December. I feel honored, excited and motivated. Yoga definitely enhances my quality of life.

2)  How are you preparing for the International Competition? Include types of practice, diet, meditation, etc.

Finding time to practice is very challenging. I have a very busy and intense full-time job, and I often feel drained at the end of the workday. However, I am always looking forward to free time I have for my practice. It seems funny but very often I practice my postures when I am cooking dinner; then on weekends, I go to a yoga studio to practice. In terms of diet, I eat a daily balanced meal of everything: carb, protein and vegetables. I eat a lot of carbs though. I like fresh-baked bread; I can’t help it. Then I burn calories by my yoga practice!

3) What are you most excited about?

I am extremely excited and looking forward to seeing our USA team and all athletes from different countries. Just thinking of watching their live performances and cheering them on makes me feel very emotional. I am very honored and proud to be a part of the event.

4) Will any friends/family travel with you? Who?

My husband and my daughter will go with me.

5) How long have you been practicing?

Four years.

6) What is your profession?

I am a Medical Coding Compliance Auditor. It is a very stressful job; that’s why I need yoga!

7) Where do you regularly practice/are you a yoga teacher (name the studio, including city and state)?

I practice at Baltimore Hot Yoga and Wellness in Parkville, Maryland.

8) Any other info you want us to know.

Warm regards to all yoga athletes and enjoy your yoga journey!

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.

Wayne Campbell: Men’s 50+ Champion

Two months before Wayne Campbell’s first yoga competition, the 2014-2015 Texas Yoga Asana Championship, he found himself inspired by the five yoga athletes taking the same 84 Advanced Yoga Series Class as him. Seeing their energy, focus, and ambition made him want to compete that year. His fast training paid off when he advanced to the 2014-2015 USA National Yoga Asana Championship that same year.
 
After a few years of competition, Wayne continues to compete to train his body every day and progress further into more advanced yoga poses.
 
This daily practice, however, is something Wayne had to pause in the weeks leading up to the 2017 USA National Yoga Championship. Five weeks before nationals, Wayne strained his Rhomboid muscle, which made it difficult to perform one of his competition poses: Finger Stand. Wayne focused on healing, and paused his yoga practice and training to have chiropractic massages three times a week, and acupuncture and cupping every other week.
 
Additionally, Wayne decided to change Finger Stand Pose for another advanced pose: One Legged Peacock Pose.  
 
Through yoga competition, Wayne has learned the importance of stillness and slow breathing, which helps calm his nervous system, quiets his mind, and keeps his adrenaline low. This stillness is behind Wayne’s perspective on the seconds leading up to taking the stage at Nationals: he considers them calm and beautiful moments.
 
After Internationals, Wayne plans to continue to fine tune his training and prepare for the next year’s Yoga Champion season. He also plans to continue to spend time at home with his girlfriend, Moji, and their Jack Russell Terrier, Max.

Catherine McCauley: Women’s 50+ Champion

Catherine McCauley began practicing yoga in 2005 as an alternative to running.  Before long, yoga became part of her. For the past 12 years, her yoga studio in north Texas, run by Stacey Stier Herndon, has been a welcoming community and a haven of support.
 
Catherine started competing in 2008 as a way to dive deeper into the details of the postures. Almost a decade later, competition continues to offer this deeper focus.
 
However, Catherine admits that her own mind is a challenge to overcome through competition. In order to stay focused, she keeps a three-step mantra. First, she focuses on being present. As she explains “I only have this moment; I choose to be here, and I am excited to share her love.” Second, she stays grateful for her body, its abilities, and for her life. Finally, she tries to feel, know, and trust the love of the universe as present at all times.   
 
Through competition, Catherine has been pleasantly surprised to experience what she considers very sincere love, support, and encouragement from her fellow competitors. As she says, “[Competition] really is a beautiful experience and their love and support is such a great example to me, it helps to calm me, realizing it is not about ‘winning,’ it’s about sharing the experience, encouraging others, and doing your best, whatever that is, today.
 
Additionally, through competition Catherine has also learned how much her mind and thinking can impact her performance. It’s a lesson that carries through to other aspects of her personal life. Cautions against coming “from a place of ego,” which can make one fearful and negative. Instead, she promotes coming “from a place of love,” to allow that pure love to shine through.

Kabir’s Kids Yoga

Kabir’s Kids Yoga

By Kabir Samlal



My personal yoga story starts at the age of five when I had my first yoga lesson in Singapore together with other children. I remember how surprised I was that my body could do so many things, and how enjoyable it was.

The teacher let me “fly” in the bow pose and I tried a hand stand. When we moved to India, we did yoga in school, and yoga became something normal to me, something that was part of life. Whenever I was upset or tensed, I took a deep breath. If I wanted to stretch my body, I did so through yoga exercise. Yoga teaches you to understand your body better, and I soon became more aware of my body. For example, it helped me how to avoid injuries for my soccer practice. Also, as a child, I was able to focus and concentrate. Was that on the account of yoga? Who knows, but it definitely contributed to it.

Back in Holland I joined my mom in practicing yoga and quickly got into the International yoga competition. Practicing for competition and championships was great fun, and I got to experience great adventures. Especially championships were highly motivating because it was a continuous challenge, and you were working very hard towards a specific goal. I made friends with people from all over the world, many of whom I am still in touch with.

However, there were no other children, I was the only one. That was something I would like to have seen differently. Other kids were always curious about my yoga and asked many questions. That gave me the idea to write on kids yoga. It had to be in book format with many illustrations or drawings to make it accessible for young children. I made up a story that was composed of the yoga poses that were my favorites when I was young. With my younger brothers and some of their friends, I tried it on them, and came up with a self-developed flow.

In 2014 we moved to the US where yoga is much more present than in Holland; yoga is a real business in the US. You can find a yoga studio on every corner of the street, at least, in the major cities. But also here, you will rarely find children who actively practice yoga. I started teaching yoga to kids, and used my own developed flow, which I named “Kabir’s kids yoga”. Meanwhile, I was also certified to teach yoga. I was only fourteen when I got certified which is very young for a yoga teacher. But at the same time, I did notice that children enjoyed having me as their teacher, exactly for the reason that I was a child myself.
Meanwhile, I worked with a graphic illustrator who made drawings from photos of my yoga poses. We worked closely together because I was eager to have the drawings capture what I felt and what I experienced when practicing those specific yoga poses. It was a lot of work consuming much time. At the end, the drawings were restyled to make them more presentable and smooth. I got in touch with a design agency who helped me with the design of the book. I had a clear image of how I wanted the end product to look like. The agency was just on the edge of getting freaked out by my stubbornness (….), but I was very firm on the details. The words and pictures should convey a very specific feeling to the reader with every single pose.

Then, in the summer of 2016 –after almost two years- the final version of the book was there! I gave the very first copy to Dev Kapil in Singapore where I got my teacher certification, and he also wrote the foreword. My yoga book has been published in Asia first and was well received. It also received a nice review from the Singapore yoga journal. In the US, there was also some demand for my book. I did a book presentation and the book is now available at various yoga studios. I hope that the book will inspire parents to try out the yoga flow together with their kids, or the other way round. I am now a member of the Youth Committee for USA Yoga with the goal to promote yoga for children. Hopefully, my book will contribute in achieving that goal!

One can practice the poses and exercise yoga together with their children by following the flow in the book, thereby inspiring your kids to attend yoga classes. Children cannot go to yoga class on their own, it is the parents who should value yoga and give it priority. From my own experience I can say that I can recall very little from the many times my parents were watching my soccer games from the side line, but I remember vividly when they joined me on the mat to practice yoga!

For more info on Kabir and his Kids Yoga, pls visit www.kabirsyoga.com

Eddie Hall: Adult Men’s Champion

Eddie Hall, the 2017 Adult Men’s Champion for USA Yoga, is the co-founder of Farmhouse Health & Fitness. The name for his business comes from the 127-year old farmhouse that he works on when he’s not in the yoga studio.
 
Caring for such an old structure requires patience—patience that Eddie has learned through his yoga practice. For Eddie, who has been competing since November 2009, practicing patience through yoga is an important way to avoid injury—he will not force himself into a posture if he doesn’t feel ready for it.
 
This patience became integral to Eddie’s progression from regionals through nationals this year. Eddie had not attempted Full Spine Twist at regionals in March due to a minor knee injury. He took some time off of yoga in order to heal and then slowly and therapeutically re-introduced the pose into his routine.
 
His almost nine years of competition have not only given Eddie the motivation to continually improve his practice but have also given him the right techniques to stay calm. As he gets ready to take the stage, he focuses on his breathing, trying to smile, relax, and enjoy every second of his time on stage.
 
After representing the United States in the Adult Men’s Division at the International Yoga Sports Championship, Eddie looks forward to continuing to learn more about becoming a better yoga teacher, coach, and practitioner.

Lauren Kaye: Being Herself


Lauren Kaye started competing in January 2012, just a few months after she finished her yoga teacher training. Because she came from a ballet background, she was eager to get back on stage, and her friend and mentor Juliana Olmstead, encouraged her to share her practice and passion through competition.

Lauren has come a long way in the past five years alone. As she says, "I was leaving a life behind where I weighed over 250 pounds and struggled with mobility from ACL reconstruction on my right knee.  I proved to myself and the world that you could heal yourself in many ways through yoga!" In her first year, Lauren was proud to place third in Maryland, and this year she took first place for Maryland during the Super Regional held at the Arnold Sports Festival.  

Over the last five years, Lauren has continued to compete because of the community of yogis as well as the fact that training for competition holds her accountable to her yoga practice. Finally, Lauren competes to encourage others to share their yoga practice.

As she explains, "I get up there not only because it gives me great joy, but also because it gives me great purpose!  When I'm told that I inspire others, perhaps to share their art (as my mom says) or love their bodies no matter how different they may be, it drives me to push myself.  To show that they too can be capable of anything they put their everything into!"

Lauren has put her everything into one pose in particular: locust pose. When Lauren first began to practice, she would frequently skip this posture because she found it difficult. Over time, however, Lauren began to realize the importance of the posture: "I started bringing more weight on to my shoulders and pressing my upper body down and all of the sudden one day, my legs were light as a feather!" With perseverance, she was able to kick up all the way and to go over on her own, followed by locust scorpion and full wheel.  

In her five years of competing, the best advice that Lauren has gotten came from her friend, 2007 International Champion Cynthia Wehr: Just be you up there. As Lauren explains, "It may have been something that seemed like a simple answer to her at the time, but it made a big impact on me.  It was like she was giving me permission to be truly myself and that I was enough.  Like letting the best of you shine is really all it took to become a champion!"

Although nationals are over, Lauren is looking forward to meeting up with many of her fellow competitors at an event she is founding, The Great Yogi Campout (www.greatyogicampout.com), October 6-8. You can follow Lauren on facebook: www.facebook.com/lauren.s.kaye

 

Interview with Scott Marin

An Interview with Scott Marin, USA Yoga Senior Men’s Champion 2015 & 2016

 

  • What got you started practicing yoga?  About 15 years ago and before I started doing yoga, I developed pretty sore knees and hips from decades of running. My wife, Karen, had been doing yoga at a fitness center, and she invited me to attend a class. I found hatha yoga to be a great fitness program, and my joints improved. 

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