Story by Lauren Prater | Photos by Laetitia Beraud and Lauren Prater | Video by Laura Mahaffy
EUGENE, Ore. - The dim and haphazardly decorated room fell silent as the gaze of the audience fixated on the stage in the front of the room.
One by one, men and women from Oregon and Washington walked onto the stage, bowed and began to contort their bodies as they named off the titles of their poses.
This was no ordinary competition.
The men and women were competing in the Regional USA Yoga Asana Championship in Eugene's Woodmen of the World Hall, otherwise known as the WOW Hall. The winners, two men and two women from Oregon and Washington, go on to the National USA Yoga Asana Championship in New York City. The winners from the National Championship go on to the International Championship.
The ultimate purpose of the event is to bring more attention to the practice of yoga. Some practitioners believe yoga should someday be an Olympic sport.
Each contestant had three minutes to complete the five required poses and two optional poses for the judges.
"The competition is contradictory to what you think of yoga," said Leslie Venti, a first-time competitor and yoga teacher from Salem. "It's about training, discipline and the courage to get in front of 200 people and display something you love so much."
The atmosphere was relaxed. Participants exchanged friendly handshakes and high fives, and they cheered enthusiastically when the judges announced the winners.
Jess Eldridge and Chloe Hallock, both from Oregon, won in the women's category. Eldridge won first place and Hallock won second.
Michael Salter and Ryan Robinson, also from Oregon, won in the men's category. Salter won first place and Robinson won second.
"I think we are all winners," said Karen Hammer, a first-time competitor from Bend. "It's about personal achievement and sharing what you have practiced. People are winning - the ones who are watching us."
Hammer's yoga instructor, Dana Bartus, couldn't participate due to an injury, but according to Hammer, she cried after each of her students walked off stage because she was so proud of them.
The announcer gave the audience some background information as participants took their turn on stage, barefoot and spandex-clad. Each person had a story.
One father of five said that doing yoga helps him maintain his spirit for his children.
Another competitor lost over 100 pounds doing yoga.
And another was told she might be paralyzed for life after a snowboarding injury. Now, she participates in yoga competitions.
At the end of the day, the four winners were among those saying that every one was a winner. This was no ordinary competition.