Local yoga instructor competes nationally

For some, the words “yoga” and “competition” might not go together. Their combination might even seem confusing. However, for Ann Chrapkiewicz, local yoga instructor and owner of Lansing’s Bikram Yoga, this year’s National Yoga Asanda Championship is a chance to spread awareness about the sport she holds close to her heart.

“I got into yoga with a co-worker when I lived in Ann Arbor in 2003,” said Chrapkiewicz. “I felt so good after my first class I kept going back.” Ever since, Chrapkiewicz said yoga has helped her with more than just her flexibility and posture. She cites her practice as a remedy for her anxiety, stress and an eating disorder she had been battling.

“I just kept going back because if I didn’t go I didn’t feel good,” said Chrapkiewicz.

After a year of exploring yoga’s medicinal qualities, Chrapkiewicz took a trip to California to participate in an immersive training. Upon her return, she opened her own studio, Bikram Yoga.

Soon after, Chrapkiewicz discovered competitive yoga.

“I did two demonstrations at the state level in 2009 and 2010,” said Chrapkiewicz. “It was really a communal feeling and supportive.”

This year, Chrapkiewicz will compete in the National Yoga Asanda Championship held at DeVos Place Convention Center Aug. 4 to 6. She hopes to not only compete, but to spread the practice of yoga.

“India has had a national yoga federation since the ‘70s,” said Chrapkiewicz. “They’re going on their 42nd national championship, so it’s not an American thing that we made up.”

This year’s championship will see over 12,000 athletes from over 48 sports compete for a chance to place at a national level.

The rules governing competitive yoga aren’t nearly as flexible as the athletes. Chrapkiewicz will have three minutes to perform six postures. The first four are limited to a list of 12 poses that include a posture with a forward bend, one with a backward bend, a twist and another that focuses on a stretch.

“They’re definitely trying to make you demonstrate a more comprehensive nature than just being a super bendy pretzel,” said Chrapkiewicz.

For the next two postures, athletes have more freedom, picking from a list of about 50 poses to highlight personal strengths.

While many are familiar with yoga, the nuances of the practice are often lost in competition, said Chrapkiewicz.

“What we call traditional yoga is much bigger than postures,” she said. “Demonstrating the postures themselves is really only one of the ways you can demonstrate the yoga process,” and for Chrapkiewicz, the unseen elements of yoga are most important.

With an M.A. in medical anthropology at Michigan State University, an M.A. in Asian studies at the University of Michigan and a B.A. in literature and media studies at Duke University, Chrapkiewicz not only exercises her body, but also her mind.

“When I started practicing yoga, it was the summer before I started my first master’s degree,” said Chrapkiewicz. “I found my ability to concentrate in class was so different than anything I had done before.”

In a field where many candidates compete for a small number of tenured positions, academia can be a stressful work environment.

Chrapkiewicz said yoga helps to release stress in the mind through the body.

While Chrapkiewicz sets her mind to competing this month at the National Yoga Asanda Championship, her real goal doesn’t include accolades or medals.

“A mindful athlete of any sport isn’t trying to be better than anybody else, they are just focused on being in the moment with their skills,” said Chrapkiewicz. “That can be a very spiritual thing because everything else falls away and you are just so completely in the moment, it can be everything that yoga is.”

In demonstrating yoga’s true nature, its healing powers and balance-encouraging techniques, Chrapkiewicz seeks to give the gift of a lifetime endeavor to all those who attend.

“Once you know if yoga works for you, you have something that cannot be taken away,” she said.