Local yoga teacher Cathy Huntrods envisions Manitoba as a hotbed of yoga talent and she's building her dream by hosting the province's first annual Hatha Yoga Asana Championship.
The regional competition -- happening April 29 at Park Theatre Café -- will serve as a qualifier for the Western Canadian Hatha Yoga Championship in May. That will determine who goes to the prestigious international championship in Los Angeles June 9.
The competition is open to all Manitoba yoga enthusiasts. Participants are required to contort their bodies during a three-minute routine consisting of five mandatory poses and two advanced ones chosen by each competitor.
Huntrods, who owns Bikram Yoga Winnipeg, says she hopes the event will be an "awakening" for Winnipeggers to the world of yoga. She says the city has lagged behind the West Coast by two decades in its yoga savvy.
The mother of two admits that many Winnipeg yoga studio owners she contacted about her event were skeptical about pairing yoga with competition and opted not to participate in promoting the event.
"If it helps you to have a stage and it inspires you to do more, be more, that stage is a good thing," she says.
Huntrods often refers to the yoga competitions she's attended as demonstrations.
"But it's more like a group of souls offering the story of their bodies up in prayer," she says.
Huntrods was a fitness instructor and marathon runner before she delved into yoga six years ago.
"My body was getting very stiff and very sore. I knew that if I want to keep moving and age the way I want to age, I've got to change something," says Huntrods, who took up hot yoga which is performed at in room heated to approximately 40C.
Experts say performing yoga at that temperature increases flexibility and makes achieving yoga poses easier.
"I did not like it," says Huntrods, who eventually opened up her own hot yoga studio five years ago. "But my body liked it. My body responded like nothing else."
Her inspiration to start a regional yoga championship in Winnipeg?
It was the world yoga championships in Los Angeles where she has volunteered since 2008.
"I'm just totally inspired by what they are doing. My practice improves just by watching (the competitors)," says Huntrods, who is particularly motivated by meeting Joseph Encina, the 2011 International yoga champion.
Encina was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis as a kid and had limited flexibility as well as painful joint inflammation. An overweight child, he also suffered a heart attack. As a teen he discovered yoga and it changed his life.
"As a studio owner, you hear all time the excuses," says Huntrods. "Whatever it is: 'I've got an ingrown toenail. I stubbed my toe. The rain is too wet. The sun is not bright enough.'
"To see someone (like Encina) take the stage and have that kind of composure, it's beautiful."
At the worlds, she also met Vancouverite Brad Colwell, the head of the Canadian Yoga Federation, who called her earlier this year and encouraged her to start a regional yoga championship in Winnipeg.
Colwell, who has judged the world yoga championships, will be a judge in the upcoming competition in Winnipeg.
"You're looking for that person who goes on that stage who shows absolute control, flexibility and depth," says Colwell, who is on a mission to spread yoga from the West Coast to the rest of the country.
He admits this competition will be a learning experience for everyone involved.
"It's fairly fresh," says Colwell. "People are still learning how to do it. There will be a lot more amateurs than there will be professionals this year. But that won't take too long for it to turn the corner."
He says watching the world yoga competition is awe-inspiring and he would like to see more Canadians from all regions represented at the prestigious event.
His favourite element of the world championship is the "Cirque de soleil style craziness" that competitors display.
"It usually happens when those two advanced postures come out at the end," says Colwell, noting he will be looking for three male adults, three female adults and three youths to represent Manitoba in the western regional competition happening May 19 in Calgary.
Sarah Sarsfield, a student at Huntrods' Osborne Village studio, hopes to become the adult female champ for Winnipeg.
The massage therapist and former dancer has entered the local competition and been practising her yoga routine just about every day since January.
"It's really exciting to be training for something," says Sarsfield. "It's bringing back memories of dancing -- but in all the good ways. It's really more about celebrating."
The Elmwood resident says hot yoga has helped her not just with her body, but with her everyday life.
"If you can get through a class there, even if you have to lie down for half the class, you can get through anything. It's like it teaches you how breathe and how to be comfortable with discomfort," she says.
"It sounds almost cliché, but then you actually do see sort of more beauty in the world."
The Manitoba Hatha Yoga Championship is happening April 29 at Park Theatre Café, 698 Osborne St., from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. For more information, log onto the Canadian Yoga Federation site at www.canyoga.ca/competitions.php
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