Yoga competition demands mental toughness
By Angela Bender For The Sun August 13, 2011 5:26PM
Cindy Qi of Naperville performs in the youth competition of the Illinois Yoga championships at the Wentz Concert Hall at North Central College on Saturday. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 24, 2011 12:26AM
More than a hundred people, many of who could contort their bodies in unbelievable positions, converged on North Central College Saturday for the 2011 Illinois Yoga Asana Championships. Men, women and children yogis from all over the Chicagoland area competed in adult and youth divisions with the hopes of placing first or second and becoming eligible to compete at the USA Yoga National Championship.
All styles of yoga were welcome at the competition, which included eight men, thirty women and eight youth vying for titles in their categories. Individuals were required to demonstrate seven postures over three minutes and were judged on strength, flexibility, expression, completion, control, grace, poise and the more ambiguous, “heart of the yogi”. Diedre Rose from Medinah was one woman competing in the event. This was her second competition.
“It builds a lot of confidence to go up there,” said Rose, “You black out (everything). It’s a lot of mental strength.”
Judges included names well known in yoga throughout both the country and the world, including Rajashree Choudhury, India’s five time inter-school youth yoga champion.
In addition to the competition, the day started with a Tibetan bowl meditation, had sponsors featuring yoga products, live music between competitions and also featured Bollywood dance performances from Naperville-based Taal Fusion. The dance troupe featured 12 girls, ranging in age from 9 to 16, who performed contemporary interpretative dance based on the art of yoga. Many of the girls in the group had previously taken yoga classes, including All Saints Academy eighth-grader Emily Klesel who said that she appreciated yoga for the strengthening it gave her, which also helps in her dance.
Choudhury also spoke to attendees regarding the importance of yoga as a sport, which is how it is regarded in India. There, the government encourages children to practice yoga as a way to adopt a healthy lifestyle into adulthood. Many who are involved in yoga would also like to see yoga as a competition at the Olympics.
“The Olympics have everything to do with yoga,” said Nikki Tam, 2011 Illinois Yoga Asana Championships coordinator and also a yoga instructor at Bikram Yoga Naperville, “That one single moment — it’s body, mind and soul.”
To accomplish that goal, many who teach yoga would like to see more children take it up. By building up the youth division at competitions such as this one, they hope the interest and numbers will increase the chance of yoga becoming an Olympic event.
“The goal is to get children more involved in yoga which hopefully will make for a healthier future,” said Tam, “We see it as a healthy, non-aggressive sport. Without the youth division there is no validity in the sport.”
In previous years, the event has been held primarily at outdoor venues, like Navy Pier, in Chicago. This year’s organizers, which include hosting studio Bikram Yoga Naperville, were hoping that by bringing the championships to Wentz Hall it would add the feel of competition and sport to it.
“Anybody who doesn’t believe it’s a sport should come take a yoga class,” said yoga instructor Robyn Riconosciuto, who attended the championships to support some of her students who were competing, “There’s balance, grace and athleticism. I think they deserve recognition for the strength they have.”