The REAL STORY Behind Competitive Yoga: Interview with World Champion, JOSEPH ENCINIA
Let me just start this article by saying Joseph is #yogagoals and #yogaprogress summed up into one awesome person. Keep reading and find out why...I guarantee you will be inspired!
#tbt to 5 years ago.... it was February 2012 and I was new to yoga (about 4 months in). My local hot yoga studio was hosting a workshop with someone named Joseph Encinia. I had no idea at the time who he was, nor did I realize this encounter would completely change my life.
I walked into the studio on that day -always arriving early to stretch out and get acclimated to the heat. So naturally, I was the first one there. I peered in to the hot room through the window in the door and there was a silhouette of what looked like a man; however, the way he moved seemed alien-esque. Only being familiar with the Bikram beginner series, I had never seen anything this. He was bending into shapes that I didn't think the human body possible of achieving. Not only that, but he was slowly pressing into everything with tremendous strength and control. From handstand, he began to place his feet on top of his head and at that moment, he looked up and caught my gaze. I was immediately embarrassed -like I had just witnessed a very personal ritual. Holding the position steady, he immediately shot me a huge smile with his very friendly and natural ear to ear grin -reminiscent of a young child. (check it out below)
Chances are, if you ever run into him he will be wearing this enormous grin as if he knows something you don't. It's a smile that lights up a room and he wears this look so frequently that you come to expect it as his resting face. What I mean is that he is the EXACT OPPOSITE of #restingbitchface but rather #restingyogiface. But with this smile, he does actually know something that many people don't, and that is the gift of yoga. Yoga is not just for the fit, naturally talented, or flexible people ; yoga is for EVERYONE. And, as I soon learned that day, he is the walking poster boy of what yoga can do to transform your health.
As I participated in this workshop, I was so inspired by Joseph's story, fun-loving attitude towards yoga, and laser focused determination that I began my journey into the competitive world of yoga. I can honestly credit this man with my participation in Yoga Competition and the confidence to seek out this organization that has become such a big part of my life.
So this is his story...Joseph wasn't healthy as a young boy. Diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at a young age (which affected the majority of the left side of his body), Joseph spent years in and out of the hospital trying to rehabilitate and strengthen his joints and muscles. After a major knee surgery, Joseph taught himself how to deal with the discomfort and move on. As a result, his physical activities were limited and he was consistently taking pain medication. Then, at the age of thirteen, quite unexpectedly, Joseph had a HEART ATTACK!!! I will let Joseph tell the rest of the story in his interview, but he completely changed his life around with the power of a solid practice and some good old fashioned dedication and determination.
Joseph went on to become a 3 time National Yoga Champion and in 2011 became the International Yoga Champion! He has since become the President of USA Yoga, the organization that hosts Yoga Competition for the United States and he is transforming the organization in the same way he transformed himself years ago.
Listen to this guy! He knows what he is talking about!
So without further ado, let's get started.
1. You considered yourself unhealthy in your youth. How so?
I was in and out of doctors' offices throughout my childhood. At the age of eight, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and started many rounds of medication. Then, at the age of eleven, I had my first major knee operation and suffered from stomach ulcers due to my arthritis medication. At only thirteen years old, I had a heart attack. Throughout my youth, I was overweight, out of shape, and depressed.
2. What motivated you to begin your yoga practice?
To be honest, I wasn't motivated to do yoga at all. I made a friend at a System of the Down concert and she introduced me to yoga by taking me to class the next day.
3. How did yoga change your health?
At first, it was a lifestyle change. I started to eat healthier, sleep better, and stay active. After about two years of practice, I was able to take myself off of five types of medication. I've lost over 50 pounds and can do things in my life that I never thought would be possible.
4. You went on to become the world champion of yoga. Describe your personal progression from sick youth to world champion.
I progressed from a sick youth to a world yoga champion with the help of my teachers. My teachers gave me the faith and strength that I needed to take control of my health. The process wasn't easy and because of that, I value it. The practice showed me anything can be done and completed when you set your intention to it.
5. What do you love most about competitive yoga?
What I love most about competitive yoga is that the only competition is between me and myself. In yoga sport, it's never one versus another intellectually or physically; It's always you versus yourself -the ego versus the true self and the body is the stage.
6. How has USA Yoga evolved over the last decade?
USA Yoga has evolved most in the level of participation it receives. It's been inspiring to see yogis enter USA Yoga championships while truly growing in their practice. USA Yoga has always held events where yogis are able to gather and share their practice and progress. Over the last decade, we have taken that from an airport ballroom to a national sports festival.
7. Is Bikram Yoga still affiliated with USA Yoga and how has the recent allegations against Bikram affected the community and organization?
USA yoga affiliates itself with all yoga communities regardless of the noise that may surround them. As a representative of USA yoga, we choose to not involve ourselves in the allegations or affairs of anyone who not a current member of our organization. With this understanding, we are not affected as an organization.
8. Describe your personal practice. Do you practice many styles of yoga or stick with one or a couple of styles? Do you practice at home? What are some exercises that you practice that has helped you the most?
My personal practice is simple. I practiced a beginners series 3 to 4 times a week and an advanced series 1 to 2 times a week. I regularly do 150 to 175 push-ups every other day and I also ride my bike throughout New York City when the weather is nice. As for meditation, most mornings I awake at 3:30 to 4 AM for about an hour to meditate.
9. Competitive yoga sometimes gets a bad reputation with people saying “there is no room for competition in yoga practice”. What is your response?
In the USA yoga competition format, it's always you versus yourself. Your individual performance in that given moment is what awards you the championship or not. We are not putting one Yogi against another or comparing them amongst each other. We are helping them to realize themselves. The first mention of a competition in a yoga practice came from the Bhagavad-Gita. In the Bhagavad-Gita, the main character Arjuna is contemplating his purpose in the middle of a Civil War battlefield. The Civil War serves as a metaphor for the two sides of ourselves, the ego and the true self. By understanding and coming to terms with his purpose, Arjuna was then able to overcome the battle within himself just like our yoga athletes do on stage.
10. What is the most inspiring thing you have witnessed from yoga competition?
Every moment of it is inspiring to me. I've witnessed the championships from the point of view of an athlete, coach, judge, promoter, organizer, board member, and president. What inspires me throughout it all is the positive work and hard earned effort to keep the movement alive.
11. What should someone do who is interested in yoga competition? How should they begin?
They could begin by taking part in USA Yoga's pre-qualifier level beginning in September 2017. Information to register can be found at www.usayoga.org
Watch Joseph's yoga demonstration at the 2012 Yoga Asana Championship.
Joseph has toured to over 200 schools nationwide in the U.S. and toured to over 20 + countries. He currently teaches yoga full time in NYC and gives Workshops/Retreats worldwide. In his spare time, Joseph enjoys spending time with his lovely wife, traveling, studying philosophy & astronomy and playing guitar. If you are interested in hosting an event with him you can visit his website www.jospehencinia.com.
There's a lot to learn from Joseph. He embodies a yogi in the true sense of the word. But the #1 take away from the #1 yogi, is that when all else fails, smile and try again (and again)!
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