News Yoga competition met with resistance, then acceptance

Yoga competition met with resistance, then acceptance

By Claire Osborn
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Friday, December 02, 2005

Competitive yoga?

Rodolfo Gonzalez AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Mardy Chen of Austin on Thursday practiced the standing bow pulling pose, one of 14 postures she will have to complete within three minutes in the Texas Yoga Asana Championship.
Dozens of people will balance on one leg and contort their bodies Saturday to raise money for Hurricane Katrina victims. It's all part of the Texas Yoga Asana Championship, a concept that seems a bit counterintuitive to some people.

"The first thing I thought is, 'No, no, no. You're not supposed to do that,' " said Melanie Barnes Turner, who like other yoga instructors tells students not to compete with one another in class.

But when Barnes Turner thought more about it, she said, she reached a sort of peace with the idea: "As a former competitive diver...the motivation comes from deep within."

The director of the competition, Nora Jeanne Welsh, said there has been a tremendous amount of resistance in the yoga community to the idea of a competition, even though there have been yoga competitions for hundreds of years in India.

"Competition is simply a fact of life, and on a positive level, it's what drives us to be the best we can be," she said. The championship starts at 2 p.m. at the Helm Fine Arts Center at St. Stephen's Episcopal School, 2900 Bunny Run in far West Austin. Male and female winners, as well as two runners-up, will advance to the national championships in Los Angeles in February.

All proceeds from the $25 tickets will benefit the American Red Cross.

One of the contestants will be Mardy Chen, owner of Bikram Yoga Davenport at 3600 Capital of Texas Highway North. Chen, 30, is a former marathon runner who on Thursday practiced one of the seven poses she will do in three minutes at the competition: wrapping her legs around her arms, straightening all her limbs and balancing her weight on her hands.

Chen said her only competition Saturday will be herself.

"It's a positive celebration of the human form," she said.

Each competitor can score up to 100 points: 70 points for the poses and the rest for a combination of muscle definition and skin tone, poise, grace and charisma, Welsh said.

Sponsors of the competition, who spent about $15,000 to advertise the event, not only want to raise money for hurricane victims but also think practicing yoga can change the world, Welsh said.

"We would love to make it so that everyone in the world was doing yoga and finding their own inner peace," she said.

cosborn@statesman.com; 445-3871


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