Champions Present and Past

Emily Avery, 2017 and 2018 18-49 Women's Gold Medal

Emily took her first yoga class seven years ago, when she was just 16. Though her practice was initially motivated by a way to balance her classical ballet training, it quickly became much more than cross training. She fell in love with the physical and mental challenge and the ways it allowed her to grow -- athletically, artistically, academically, and otherwise.  

She began competing in 2012 in the youth girls division, where she placed first nationally in 2013. Now in the adult women's division, she continues to compete in the hopes of sparking excitement in youth students like her former self and inspiring them to take on the practice of yoga and gain its benefits. She is grateful that the yoga championships have provided a forum for this, and she is continually inspired by the incredible community of practitioners, teachers, coaches and friends who make these championships possible.

Glenn Brown, 2018 Adult Men's Gold Medal

Glenn Brown moved with his family to New Albany, Indiana when he was 6 years old, and it is still his home. As the last of 6 kids he attributes sibling rivalry to the beginning of his competitive edge. He began practicing yoga as a 17 year old as a complementary practice for meditation & kung fu. Finding his way through depression in high school he shifted his focus from swimming & wrestling to art, music, kung fu, yoga, and meditation. He decided then he wanted to work toward being a teacher of kung fu & yoga, and an artist & author. His search for a school, teacher, and work was difficult, but full of great life lessons. He finally met his Kung fu teacher, Sifu Keith Dwan of the Red Dragon School of Martial Arts, while Keith was visiting Louisville from England with his school for a Martial arts tournament. Glenn expressed his interest in form over fighting, and was invited to a Hsing-i Kung Fu, Qigong, and Acupressure training, which he attended in England in 2001.

 In the spring of 2002 he went to his first Bikram Yoga class at Bikram Yoga Indiana where he met the woman who would become his wife, Ayanna. She was the only teacher at the time, and the co owner. She believed in his potential, and the studio sponsored him to go to Bikram Yoga teacher training the same year in the Fall. Glenn has taught at Bikram Yoga Indiana from 2002 to the present. He fell in love with yoga because of its similarities to kung fu & qigong, and its amazing diversity of postures & styles.

 The day of his Teacher Training graduation he & Ayanna were invited to be competitors in a mock yoga championship at a judging & coaching clinic. That experience lit the competitive fire for Glenn again, and he has competed every year except for one, taking a year off to focus on coaching, and is the 14 time Indiana men’s Regional Yoga Champion. He also continues his work as an artist & author, and self published his first book of poetry & art “ Four in the Fire “ in 2007. More work is coming soon.

After 8 years of teaching primarily Bikram Yoga he started teaching more private lessons based on his private practice. His kung fu teacher had encouraged him to continue developing his home practice so he could lead a personalized warm up & warm down for Kung fu students. Over the years this developed into his own method of qigong & yoga blended together. In 2010 Glenn founded Lionflow Progressive Yoga & Arts LLC , and has focused the past 8 years on practicing, teaching, and training teachers in Lionflow Yoga.

 He feels Lionflow Yoga benefited his championship routine by teaching him to express where he is in the moment without heat, extra time in the pose, or intense breathing for body heat. The style focuses on calm intentional motion, breathing, and short holds in stillness. Learning to accept where you are today, and to have a conversation with your body instead of an argument. Also learning to grow by grains of sand as opposed to straining for progress right now. He still loves hot yoga for its intensity & cleansing, but can see the purpose of each style on his journey.

It has been a long journey to this national victory, and it indeed took a village for this to happen. Glenn looks forward to competing, coaching, judging, and helping USA Yoga continue this tradition for the generations to come, and to seeing his son have an opportunity to take part in the future. He also wants to express the deepest gratitude to his wife Ayanna Brown for supporting believing in him always, through every up & down. Also to his son, Rumi, for challenging him in ways he didn't know he could be challenged, his parents & siblings for the family love that is so valuable & enriching, and to the communities of Bikram Yoga Indiana, Array Yoga, USA Yoga, and New Albany & Louisville's rich art & yoga cultures. “ It is an offer to be part of this community, and a life goal to offer it my best. “


Michele Vennard, 2018 USA Yoga, 50+ Women's Gold Medal Winner


Michele Vennard started practicing yoga in August 1998. She took the Bikram's Teacher Training, in Fall of 2001. She opened Bikram Yoga San Jose, in January 2003. In January 2008 she hosted the USA Yoga California Regional. She also hosted it in 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. She competed in Regional in 2007, 2008, 2014, 2017, and 2018. And advanced to Nationals in 2007, 2008, 2017, and 2018. 

“Yoga Immersion” is what she calls the four days spent on the journey to Madison, Wisconsin to participate in the USA Yoga 2018 National Championships. Once you enter into the Immersion, life’s priorities become: how you are getting to class, when and how are you going to eat in between performances, and whether you brought what you need to warm up and prep your hair and make up before it’s your time on stage.

Taking 1st place in the women’s 50+ division was such an honor and it didn’t stop there! Prior to the event, she was asked to do a yoga demonstration on stage representing the 50+ age group. She was hesitant at first, as she really doesn’t do postures worthy of a “show.” but on a a plane ride back from Chicago, the idea hit her to do poses that fit her 20 year practice, paying homage to the person who got her there in the first place – her mom. Grief was the gateway to her yoga life after she lost her mom from Alzheimer’s. She was 54 and, in some beautiful coincidence of fate, it’s the same age Michele is today. She listened to the beautiful Enya song she used in her demonstration for forever so there it was, to do a mix of tribute and celebration!

If there is one takeaway from her experience at Nationals, it’s this: take risks, not reckless ones but smart, relevant ones that are out of your comfort zone but maybe still in your wheelhouse. In doing so, vulnerability will certainly arise, causing you to harness a power within you that you didn’t know you had. It isn’t a competition as much as it is a confidence-builder that you’ll continue to tap into over and over, to keep you aggressive and courageous to take and make the most out of YOUR life.

Thomas Forbang, 2018 National 50+ Men's Division Gold Medal Winner

I stepped my feet for the first time ever in any yoga room on Sunday, January 12, 2012 and guess what - never left since. Totally fell in love with every aspect of it particularly with Hatha. Outside the fact, that it momentarily cleared up my trilogy of death (high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and high blood sugar), I am a new person after every single yoga practice session.

Check this out - three years down the road after my initial experience with yoga, the idea of a yoga competition was floated by me. I tried it and was hooked. Never left the stage since. Married for 28 years with 5 kids, needless to say, yoga continues to give me the tool and ammunition to remain calm, centered and focused as well as the zest to continue taking good care of me so I can better serve my family, my community, my country and the world at large.

Who knew, that, that kid who was born and humbly bred in the small nation of Cameroon would be a champion 53 years later.  The more reason why growing up humble is truly humbling.

Practicing yoga has become a daily ritual - a lifestyle (I must aver), a panacea (I should add) and it will remain my sincere wish that everyone exploits it. Yoga works!!

Avalon Jade Theisen, 2018 12-17 Female Youth Gold Medal

From Tampa, Florida, Avalon Jade Theisen's interest in yoga, as well as her passions for community service and academics, started as a young child. Throughout the years, as her academics and the non-profit organization she founded took precedence, yoga drifted to the background. As a young teenager, Avalon Jade started practicing mindfulness, and she realized she needed to add a physical component to restore balance to her busy schedule. She renewed her daily yoga practice, and at age 15, entered a yoga teacher training, while also starting competitive yoga in the female youth division. At age 16, she became a registered yoga teacher and later that year, won the national bronze medal for yoga asana.

This renewed sense of mindful movement brought much needed balance, while challenging her to learn new skills and stay fit. In addition to yoga, her plant-based lifestyle, continued service, and meditation practice help her lead a fulfilling, balanced life. These aspects also align with her ethical ideals of sustainability, animal welfare, workers’ rights, and her own health. Yoga fits well into her lifestyle of kindness and compassion, towards herself, other living beings, and our shared Earth. She is thankful USA Yoga competitions have also allowed her to connect with like-minded individuals and witness some truly amazing feats of perseverance and willpower.

"Preparing to compete at the USA Yoga 2018 National Championship took perseverance and complete dedication, a beautiful way to challenge myself while staying fit and centered. Demonstrating my routine to the best of my ability and placing first was a personal victory which brought me so much joy."

Avalon Jade is a rising junior at the University of South Florida Honors College, with plans to teach cultural and peace studies as an educator. She is currently developing a yoga series that will help students learn not only mindful movement, but awareness and appreciation of religious diversity.

Ryugen Schmoker, 2018 12-17 Male Youth Gold Medal

Bio coming soon.

Nica Thomas, 2018 7-11 Female Youth Gold Medal

Nica began practicing yoga and gymnastics at the age of 3. She loved trying new things that made her feel powerful. Being a natural competitor, she entered her first yoga competition at 8 and soon became the first 7-11 Youth Girls Female Champion. Nica loved meeting all the yogis, making friends and cheering them on. She is always nervous before a competition and takes "a deep breath and I try to let it go. Once I make it through half moon, I feel very calm and enjoy myself."

Taiga Schmoker, 2018 7-11 Male Youth Gold Medal

Past Champions