Yoga Fest: Who'll be the top (downward facing) dog?


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Yoga Fest is back, but this time, yogis will be practicing the peaceful, meditative postures competitively.

USA Yoga has chosen the One Whirl Yoga Fest and Healthy Lifestyle Expo on Saturday at Point State Park as the host for the Pennsylvania/New Jersey Regional Asana Championship. Winners in all three divisions will advance to the national competition, previously held in New York City.

This is the second year for the daylong event sponsored by Whirl Publishing and UPMC Health Plan. The event drew 1,200 people last year and was declared Yoga Day by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. In addition to the competition, the number of yoga instructional classes have increased this year from 26 to 40, all taught by nine yoga ambassadors from local studios.

"The amount of people buying online comparing to last year is triple the amount," said Christine Tumpson, Whirl magazine editor-in-chief, adding that there are 36 more healthy lifestyle vendors this year, which include food trucks, wellness centers, nutrition experts and more.

Zeb Homison, who owns Bikram Yoga Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville, negotiated with USA Yoga to bring the competition to Pittsburgh. This is the second year that the regional competition is being held in Pittsburgh. In 2012, it was held by the Union Project.

Mr. Homison, who has been practicing yoga regularly for seven years, has placed second in the national competition three times and has been ranked as one of the top 10 yoga competitors in the world. In addition to competing at Point State Park, he will teach a back-bending workshop and Bikram yoga class.

He described the role of yoga postures as "just a vessel to control your body and mind," and when it comes to competing, "where you go from there is your own decision."

"[The competition is] really not like a yoga-off. It's not like people are trying to beat each other. It's really a community-building thing," Mr. Homison, 33, said. "Everybody supports each other."

Although the USA Yoga national competition is only 10 years old, competitive yoga is not something new. It's been around for centuries in India, he said.

The $35 registration fee for participants of all levels of ability covers all events for the day beginning with a 6 a.m. "boot camp" and ending with a musical celebration until 6 p.m. Five dollars will be donated to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank for each person who completed a 30-day yoga challenge that began June 27.

The day is full of not only yoga, but also pilates, zumba and yoga for children. The regional competition will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. One winner will be guaranteed to advance along with others selected from each division: adult men and women, senior men and women (over 55), and youth boys and girls (11-17). There are no qualifiers required to enter. The deadline to register for the competition was July 20.

Mr. Homison expects 25 to 30 competitors from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including 16 students from his own studio. The judges look for "very definite things" in each posture in a routine, such as "the strength, the balance, the flexibility, the ability to be still and demonstrate control of a posture -- which is surprisingly hard on stage," he said.

USA Yoga's head coach Mary Jarvis from San Francisco will be one of the judges for Yoga Fest along with Jessica Rask, a studio owner in Chicago and St. Louis, and Ainslie Faust, who is the organizer for USA Yoga from Los Angeles.

Each participant must complete five mandatory postures and pick two of his or her own in three minutes. The postures can be as simple as a shoulder stand, in which people lie on their backs and raise their legs, holding the back up with their hands.

To register or for a schedule of events, go to www.whirlmagazine.com/yogafest.

health

Marina Weis: 412-263-1889 or mweis@post-gazette


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