Amid the less than tranquil hubbub of Missoula's Southgate Mall last Saturday afternoon, nine Montanans focused on winning an invitation to the United States Yoga Asana Championship. The national competition—yes, yoga is a competitive sport—is scheduled for next February in Los Angeles, Calif.
"It was fantastic," says Lora Gustafson of the second annual Montana Yoga Asana Championship, in which she placed second, securing a spot in the national competition.
The mall's JC Penney Plaza may have been an odd venue, but it was by design, Gustafson explains.
"It exposes a bunch of people to yoga who have no idea what it is, who haven't seen it before," she says. "It's a wonderful way for people to become more aware."
Three professional judges were flown in from around the country to score the competitors on their form, depth and grace. Missoula's Casey Rossetto won the women's competition, while Bozeman's Chris Bunting won the men's. The top two finishers will compete in Los Angeles.
"The community of yogis and yoginis is very inspiring to be around," says Rossetto, "and that caliber of competition will be immense compared to what was experienced at Southgate Mall."
Asked to explain the competitive nature of yoga, Rossetto says it's about competing against yourself.
"People always ask, 'A yoga competition—isn't that contradictory?' she says. "When you decide to compete, you compete with yourself to be a better person than you already are, and to raise your level of commitment to yourself and to your practice and to something you believe in."
The United States Yoga Federation organized Saturday's event. The group has hopes of including yoga in the 2016 Olympics and part of that goal, Gustafson explains, is to make yoga more popular among children worldwide. For her, the best part of Saturday's competition was when a young boy took notice.
"There was a little boy who watched one of the competitors," she says. "He saw her, he ran by, he ran back and watched her with his mouth open, and then immediately got on the floor and tried one of the yoga postures on the floor in the mall. And that to me was the highlight of the day. Because that's the whole point."