Competitive Yoga? Former Champion Explains Why It’s a Must-Watch

Competitive yoga might sound like something of an oxymoron, but former world champion Joseph Encinia explains that it all comes down to one person’s ability to be their best, in the moment.

“It’s you against yourself,” he said. “It’s your true self versus the side of yourself that harbors doubt and fear.”

Encinia compares it to watching gymnastics in slow motion or a slowed-down Cirque du Soleil performance. One person takes the stage at a time, performing six postures in three minutes. They’re judged on the technical merits of the postures they choose, length of hold and steadiness and judges are also looking to see strength, balance and flexibility.

Part of the inspiring nature of the event is the everyday people who take part, Encinia said. His own yoga journey changed his life. After being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of eight, his medication caused a heart attack at 13. After not being very physically active as a teen, he discovered yoga as a young adult and started competing in 2005.

“For me, yoga was about health and healing my body,” he said.

After two years of regular practice, Encinia said he was able to stop taking his medication and he went on to earn the U.S. Championship title in 2009, 2010 and 2011. He also became a world champion in the sport in 2011, before joining the board of U.S. Yoga. He currently serves as board president.

The environment at a yoga competition is camaraderie-filled, Encinia said. It’s not like a face-off, but rather a demonstration with everyday people who’ve taken up a yoga practice to either heal or express themselves. He recommends taking in the competition as a spectator.

“I find it to be super inspiring,” he said. “I feel people are inspired afterward because you see normal people.”

Watch past competitors on USA Yoga’s YouTube channel and visit to learn more about how the competition works.

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Photos courtesy of USA Yoga

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