Leslie Heywood: Professor, Yogi and Life-Long Competitor

I’ve seen Leslie Heywood compete in the USA Yoga 50+ Division and have marveled at her strength. But until recently, I never knew she is both an academic and a life-long competitive athlete.


Leslie, a Professor of English and Creative Writing at Binghamton University in upstate New York, is the author of four books of poetry and the acclaimed sports memoir Pretty Good for a Girl, as well as academic books in her field. She competed in track (middle to long distance running) in both high school and college. She began lifting weights at age 13, and competed as a power lifter for 20 years.


Power lifting left her very stiff. “I couldn’t even touch my knees, much less my toes,” Leslie says.


In 2001 she began practicing Ashtanga yoga every day. When her teacher moved away in 2004, she continued with self-practice, turning to marathons and CrossFit competitions in 2010. In 2013, Roxanne Janecki opened Bikram Yoga Binghamton, and Leslie decided to give it a try. The first few times, she felt like she couldn’t take the heat, but then “something clicked and I got completely addicted,” she says.


With Roxanne as her coach, Leslie competed in the 2015, 2016 and 2017 USA Yoga New York State regionals earning first place for her age group. In 2016, she placed 5th nationwide.


 “It was so much fun. It was more a group oriented activity rather than ‘I have to beat this person’,” she says. “I found community and could be a part of something.”


To keep her metabolism high, she practices intermittent fasting, never eating before noon and after 8 PM. Leslie follows a low carb, higher fat diet and drinks green juice. She practices yoga six days a week but still finds time for running and coaching CrossFit, with a special interest in working with Parkinson’s patients to help them gain and retain their mobility and mental focus. She also has two daughters, age 12, (a diver and gymnast) and 15, (a runner). They are very supportive, but they do not join her at the yoga studio as they don’t like the heat!


Leslie advises potential Adult 50+ competitors that “it isn’t intimidating in the slightest. Everyone is so nice and supports each other – its about building each other up rather than tearing each other down. You will feel comfortable!”


A life-long competitive athlete, she credits yoga competition with shifting her perspective about what competition is and can be. “It gives you a goal and something to strive for,” she says, “but it’s not a zero sum game like other competitions. It is more about expression and what you are able to do with ease rather than what you can produce as a high-performance machine.”


At age 53, Leslie is very self-motivated. She is working towards adding Lifting Tortoise to her 2018 competition routine. She excels at strength postures but still finds postures such as Standing Bow that emphasize flexibility to be difficult. To compensate, she is practicing her Standing Bow every day. In fact, Leslie she made a deal with herself to hold the pose each time she microwaves food.


Her goal for 2018 is to widen her range of postures. About the upcoming competition year, Leslie concludes: “It makes me feel better about myself rather than diminished no matter what happens.”

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