Interview with 2011 First Place National Yoga Asana Champions

Yoga fans all over the world watched in awe on Sunday March 6th as the top 10 men, women, and youth competed for an opportunity to be on stage at the 2011 International Asana Championship. They demonstrated the physical aspects of Hatha Yoga: technique, grace, form, balance, strength, and flexibility. They also demonstrated the non-physical aspects of Hatha Yoga: faith, concentration, self-control, determination, and patience. In three minutes, they showed us their own personal yoga stories and a sliver of their souls. We wanted to know more about these competitors, so we interviewed the first place male and female, Joseph Encinia and Afton Carraway, to find out exactly what a Yoga Champion is made of.
Joseph Encinia
How did you select your Optional Postures?
Joseph: The optional postures I demonstrated this year at the 2011 National Yoga Asana Championship were Scorpion pose and Peacock pose. I selected these postures because I feel they demonstrate presently who I am. When I was younger my Rheumatologist and Orthopedic Surgeon told me by the time I was in my mid twenties, I wouldn’t be able to do much physical activity because of my Rheumatoid Arthritis. I wanted to prove to myself with these postures that I would be able to go beyond the usual and do something exceptional.
I’ve been doing the Scorpion pose since my first competition and have done it in every variation (from Locust, Tiger, & Handstand). I love this posture because stamping my feet to my head symbolizes the removal of emotions such as pride, anger, hatred, jealousy, intolerance, & malice – which are more deadly to the mind than the poison a Scorpion carries. Through the practice of Yoga, I strive to obtain a mind free of these emotions.
I chose to do Peacock pose because it shows so much strength and balance, both mentally and physically. The appearance of a weightless body defeating gravity on two hands is something I could only dream of when I once struggled with my weight. With this posture I wanted to demonstrate to everyone who stuggles with weight issues that with determined effort, the body will even appear to overcome gravity.
This year I chose to flow my optional postures from Stretching pose to Handstand to Peacock pose, then to push up from Locust-Scorpion to Handstand-Scorpion, because I want to encourage the evolution of this Championship artistically and technically.

What drives your motivation for the Championships?
Joseph: My motivation for the championships is driven by my thirst to be the best I can be in this life. Coming from an adolescent that was full of medical problems, I have been given a second chance in this life with Yoga, and after my healing I vowed not to waste it. The Championship is not 100% about winning or losing for me anymore after 6 years of competing. It’s about showing myself and humanity that with determination, self-control, patience, concentration, and faith, any broken down junk mind/body can be changed to do amazing things!

What message would you like to share with young aspiring athletes and Yoga champions?
Joseph: To all young aspiring athletes and yoga champions, I want to share with you the most important thing I learned about competition. Competition drives us to be the best we can be, but to be a champion requires the submission to results and outcome. A champion in yoga or any athletic sport is the one who has learned to control the fluctuations of the mind while doing what you do best when for a reward or recognition. As said in the greatest text of Yoga, the Bhagavad Gita, “Be Steadfast in Yoga, O Arjun. Perform your duty without attachment, remaining equal to success or failure. Such equanimity is called yoga.”

Afton Carraway
How did you select your Optional Postures?
Afton: I have no idea. Mary Jarvis always talks about how optional postures tell a story about your personality – if that is the case I think my optional postures this year showed both my sense of humor and my determination. I just started trying One-Arm Peacock about a year ago, initially as a joke. It’s funny how you think some things in yoga are impossible but time and time again you are proved wrong in your practice. I thought it would be funny to try One-Arm in advanced class one day for the sheer entertainment of my fellow yogis. I figured I’d play it up like a circus trick – you know, real dare-devil like and near impossible. When I attempted and didn’t fall on my face I thought, “Wait a minute, I could actually do this,” and progressed from there. Scorpion Tiger has always been a feat for me and has taken me a yoga lifetime to accomplish. I can’t tell you how many face-plants and endless frustration occurred in the trials and tribulations of that posture. When I finally got it and performed it on stage for the first time last year, it really gave me a sense of strength and empowerment.

What drives your motivation for the Championships?
Afton: Goals. It’s always something to look forward to. It’s a reason to do your best every day and see where your best can take you. And it’s not necessarily the goal of first place, second place, third place that keeps me going, but rather the sense of accomplishment in a posture you get when you finally can go through it without pain or fear. Or really honing a posture like Standing Head To Knee to understand it in its fundamental sense, which is what you have to do when you are demonstrating any posture on stage. I also really like the camaraderie that competition brings to competitors and spectators alike. For me, the Championship every year was a place for me to go to expand my mind again, to be inspired. I think its amazing to have a forum like this for yogis to congregate so they can celebrate the beauty and power of yoga. I learn so much every year about the endless capabilities of the human mind and body during competition.

What message would you like to share with young aspiring athletes and Yoga champions?
Afton: Have fun. You wouldn’t have embarked on your adventure if you didn’t have a good time doing it at one point in time. Of course, training isn’t all laughs and sunshine – there is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that come along with breaking through boundaries and exploring new territory. But as long as the sense of accomplishment and good feelings outweigh the tough days, then you are on the right track. Do it because you love it and not because you feel like you have to.