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April Penland

April Penland went from teaching high school Latin to teaching yoga. On stage April manages to find stillness and grace, attributes she’s acquired through a decade-long, consistent yoga practice. This consistent practice is what earned her first place in this year’s Midwest Regionals. We caught up with her as she traveled to Mexico, Austin, and back to Virginia to teach class and lead workshops.



How did you become involved in yoga?

My now husband brought me to my first Bikram yoga class when I was stressed out in college.

What year did you start teaching?

Officially 2016, though I led advanced classes, competition training, “homework” sessions, and workshops before that.

As a teacher, what’s advice you try to give to your students?

Try everything without any preconceived beliefs of can and can't, but accept wherever you are.  You're stronger than you think.  You can do anything with practice, time, and patience.  So do more yoga.  Also, remember you don't have to touch your head to your butt to get the therapeutic benefits of the posture. 

You also teach youth yogis, particularly for competition. Why do you think yoga is important for children and teens?

In my opinion yoga fosters a sense of optimism, teaches calm and patience, and is good for one’s physical (as well as emotional and spiritual) health.

How did you become involved with USA Yoga?  

About two months after taking my first advanced class, Garland Hume (my former coach, studio owner, teacher, and now-President of USA Yoga) said something to the effect of:  “Hey, we all do this competition thing.  It's so fun.  You should do it.” And I didn't know enough to consider any option other than, “ok.” I discovered she was right though, and I've done competition ever since.

Did you see a change in your mindset or approach going from teaching yoga to being a yoga competitor?

Hmmm, well I was a competitor first and then a teacher.  I've learned a lot though from being competition oriented about alignment and the kinds of corrections/suggestions that help people progress in both beginner and advanced postures.  One thing that I learned quickly when I first started teaching is that some people don't care about progressing in the postures (they just want to feel better), and in my opinion there is nothing wrong with that.  I'll happily share what I know but respect when students, barring doing something that will cause them to hurt themselves, decide not to listen (it's their class).

April, you’re known (at least on my Facebook feed) for your impressive handstands where you push up from a prone position. How did you start doing that? How long has it taken you to get to the point you’re at now?

I started with kicking up onto the wall and then eventually took it off and could do a banana back handstand in the middle of the room with a few attempts.  Then I found Adrian McCavitt, saw his handstands, and started going to every class he was teaching here in Richmond, Virginia, that I could—hand-balance and otherwise.  I was straddle pressing within six months, consistently within a year, pike pressing within a year though not consistent at all, and now I can do so pretty consistently. 

I taught myself a lot of the crazy shapes and lowering down to various poses (because once you know the technique you just apply it to the new stuff you want to work on).  He is an excellent teacher (I've learned and continue to learn so much), but as he says, your handstand progress is directly proportional to your lack of social life.  I consistently worked on it for a long time everyday over that period of time.  That's the road map.

How many years have you competed?

Since 2012 I believe, so 6.

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?

New Competitors:  I was lucky to have a coach who emphasized how wonderful and awesome it was just to get up and share your practice.  No matter what happens on that stage, you’re an inspiration to those who witness you.

Seasoned Competitors:  Don't take things too seriously.  I've run the whole gambit of placing (I've been first, second-to-last, and all over in between) and at the end of the day it doesn't really matter.  Just get up there and show what you've learned and have fun.  Also I'm of the mindset that I like to see people do well.  So if someone asks me about technique or how I trained something, and I can help them, I tell them.  Maybe this makes me a bad “competitor,” but I'm ok with that because first and foremost I'm a teacher.  Besides, if I ever win first internationally I want it to be because I had the best present moment on stage, not because I stifled someone else's growth.  

How often do you do the advanced, 84-posture series?

Twice a week.

Would you recommend that other competitors vary their practice?

Hmmm, depends.  I only did Bikram class for the first 8 years of my practice.  I found vinyasa because I found a teacher I liked and respected.  If something comes up organically that resonates with you and is beneficial, add it.  But don't ever lose your foundation, your “maintenance” practice.  It's most important.  I personally practice a lot and lots of different styles because I like to practice.

Is there any type of exercise outside of yoga that you would recommend to people who are competing?

Depends.  I do calisthenics and handbalance classes.  I'm considering adding ballet (never too old right) to help with lines, splits, and toe point.  Add what you want if it makes you feel good and is beneficial. 

How has yoga enriched your life, what has it brought to you?

I'm an introvert and it's really given me a community I can connect with.  It's helped me learn that I can do anything (seriously, anything).  It's helped me manage my anxiety.  It's led to me being a healthier person.  It's taught me to be kind to myself and to take care of myself.  It's lifted my mood.  It's offered me a career I find satisfying, rewarding, and fun.

Jamieson Greene: Youth Champion

Jamieson (Jamie) Greene, USA Yoga’s 2017 Youth Champion, took home the gold in her first year competing. It’s an impressive showing given the fact that her first competition was in November 2016.
 
Jamie began practicing yoga as an alternative to the traditional team sports that she had been playing for school. She found that she had a natural passion for yoga, and competition seemed like a good outlet for her to continue to improve her practice and share her love of yoga with a wider community.
 
The close-knit yoga community, for Jamie, is what makes yoga sport unique from other athletics. As she explains, “Unlike other sports, everyone [in the yoga community] is very supportive of each other, and while they work to do their personal best, they also want their competition to do their best.”
 
Jamie says that she felt relaxed and calm on stage because she was relieved that, after a buildup of stress and practice, her three minutes to perform had arrived. She does, however, admit that she stays focused on avoiding falling out of her final pose during her routine while she’s on stage.
 
After Jamie competed at regionals, she wanted to try to incorporate Dancer Pose into her Nationals routine. Although she found the pose challenging, particularly in avoiding hyperextending her leg and maintain her balance, she continued to devote practice time to the pose, eventually mastering it for her routine.

While Nationals have concluded, Jamie is excited to continue her daily practice and looks forward to competing next year. She also aspires to become a yoga instructor within the next year, bringing her passion for yoga to an even wider community.

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