Images from the 2013 Yoga Asana Championships at the historic Hudson Theatre in New York City. Courtesy photos.

Just after the Winter Games in Sochi come to a close, there’s another Olympics headed to downtown San Antonio. Instead of thick blankets of snow, competitors will be barefoot and standing on sticky mats.

This is the chance for San Antonians to view the strongest and most flexible bodies as The USA Yoga Federation (USA Yoga) hosts its National USA Yoga Asana Championship here for the first time.

USA yoga logo

USA Yoga’s 11th annual national competition takes place March 14-16, 2014 at the Aztec Theatre. More than 150 yogi champions from across the country will travel to downtown San Antonio to showcase their backbends, twists, forward folds and arm balances.

Representing 36 states, the participants, who advance from one of 21 U.S. regional competitions compete for the title of adult male, adult female, senior and youth national champion.

For the past ten years, USA Yoga has honored some of the most disciplined, skilled and dedicated yoga practitioners in the United States. Now, the championships are center stage in San Antonio, with admission priced at just $10-$20. While it’s the first time for such an event to take place in San Antonio, yoga competitions are not new.

Born in Kolkata, India in 1965, USA Yoga Founder,  Rajashree Choudhury started her yoga training at the urging of her parents at age four.
Born in Kolkata, India in 1965, USA Yoga Founder, Rajashree Choudhury started her yoga training at the urging of her parents at age four.

Yoga Asana (posture) competitions originated in India hundreds of years ago, and are still being conducted there today. The founder of USA Yoga began competing in her native India when she was a young child. She was a five-time winner of the All-India Yoga Championship from 1979 to 1983.

“Watching our asana competitors is like watching a ballet…or a gold medal winning gymnast,” said USA Yoga Founder Rajashree Choudhury.

The 11th National USA Yoga Asana Championship puts a select group of yogis, of all ages, in the spotlight for others to view the beauty of their practices.

“Currently, more than 20 million people in the U.S. practice some form of hatha yoga, and the national competitions allow us to share some of the most beautiful poses with the world,” adds Choudhury.

It’s breathtaking what a well trained body — and mind — can do, regardless of the age, sex or body type or even health or physical limitations. The National USA Yoga Asana Championship is proof of that.

After a number of childhood injuries and hours on her feet as a hair stylist, Gianna Purcell was left with achy joints and horrible lower back pain. Under a client’s recommendation, Gianna tried yoga. The results were obvious and almost immediate. Her back pain disappeared completely after her first month, and within the year she was off anti-depressants and ADHD medication. Now, Purcell is the 2012 Texas Regional Asana Champion and the current female top contender in the National USA Yoga Asana Championship.

San Antonians will have a rare opportunity to watch Gianna’s graceful moves along with the strongest and most flexible yogis who are dedicated to their practice.

With dedication and a positive attitude, even the most difficult of poses can be mastered, or at least seem a little less threatening or far fetched.

Ultimately, yoga is a path to enlightenment, better health or emotional well being.  Regardless of the whether one can put their foot behind their head or not.

“Along with the stunning asana practices are heart warming stories that chronicle the transformation many experience as dedicated yoga practitioners,” adds Choudhury.

Last year’s male winner was a perfect example of how yoga can be life changing.

Two-time national champion and international champion Jared McCann got a degree from UT and moved to New York City. Courtesy photo.
Two-time national champion and international champion Jared McCann got a degree from UT and moved to New York City. Courtesy photo.

Growing up in Dallas and Hawaii, fitness and meditation was the last thing on Jared McCaan’s mind.  He was a party boy and indulged in far too many illegal drugs. He got a degree from UT and moved to New York City. At the age of 26 he tried yoga and turned his life around. Now, just seven years later, he’s a two-time national champion and international champion. He doesn’t believe in one-size-fits-all yoga, but believes in listening to your inner self and spirit. Of course he’s given up the drugs and the alcohol, as his body and mind have different cravings now. Mainly his asanas, meditation and healthy food.

“Yoga is a tool to assist in our human evolution,” says Jared McCann who took the international championship title in London just a few years after he began his yoga journey.  “Through yoga I have strengthened my mind body connection to create a peaceful and joyous life.”

Other competitors have similar stories. One was wheelchair bound. Another a drug addict. The “warrior” poses that they master go far beyond the physical.

Shane Thornton thought he’d never live to be past 30. A former wrestler, he lived one day at a time, drinking heavily, and fighting off the mat. Until he was encouraged to step into a yoga studio. He stopped drinking, and turned his life around. Today, he teaches Bikram yoga in San Antonio.

“The moment I met Shane I could see how much he loved the yoga,” says Lisa Ingle-Stevens, owner of The Union, who ultimately recruited him to work at her three Alamo City studios. “I judged him at the Arizona yoga championships and was impressed with his stillness, focus and strength on that stage.  For being relatively new to the practice he got up on that stage and you could see how much that moment and the practice meant to him and that it had changed his life. We love having him as part of our family and he is our champion.”

YouTube video

“Little by little, I watched myself transform into a completely new person,” says Thornton. “I can’t stop coming back. Now, I can do things with my body that I never even imagined in my past life.”

Representative of the unification of several different yoga communities, USA Yoga is a non-profit organization formed for the purpose of developing and promoting Yoga Asana as a sport. USA Yoga encourages a strong bond between practitioners of its varying disciplines. USA Yoga hopes to become the national governing body for the sport of Yoga Asana with the goal of joining with similar organizations in other countries, joining  The International Yoga Sports Federation (IYSF) and to qualify as an Olympic sport.

For more information visit on Facebook and Twitter @usayoga.

*Featured/slideshow images from the 2013

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Deborah Charnes, of The Namaste Counsel, is a certified yoga teacher with advanced training in Ayurveda and yoga therapy. A San Antonio resident since 1998, she also owns The Write Counsel providing marketing...