Emily Avery, 2017 - 2019, 2021 18-49 Women's Gold Medal
Emily took her first yoga class seven years ago, when she was just 16. Though her practice was initially motivated by a way to balance her classical ballet training, it quickly became much more than cross training. She fell in love with the physical and mental challenge and the ways it allowed her to grow -- athletically, artistically, academically, and otherwise.
Spencer Larson, 2021 18-49 Men's Gold Medal
My yoga practice began on 8/08/08, but in a way the journey started much earlier in the form of different sports such as; basketball, baseball, skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, biking, mountaineering and golf which all eventually lead me to yoga. The concentration, focus, and competitiveness with myself through sports would directly translate into my yoga practice later on in my life. When I began practicing asana, pranayama and meditation I markedly noticed increased strength, balance, energy, flexibility, focus, endurance, and an otherworldly level of concentration and vibration, which translated directly to improved performance in these sports as well as in the life.
I became a Certified Teacher of Bikram Yoga in the Spring of 2013. I wanted to share all of the benefits that I was receiving through practice with my students, and also help support them in their own practice through my personal experience.
The First time I got on Stage in the Yoga Asana Championships was 2009. The personal challenge appealed to the athlete in me, while I also wanted to give back to Yoga for all that it had given me. I’ve been on stage yearly basically ever since, consistently winning in my state, region, First Place Nationally and placing 5th in the World in 2021. It’s a three minute journey of the self, through the self to the self. I’m still challenged, motivated, and energized by being on stage; it’s comparable to the adrenaline rush I receive while snowboarding minus the critical impact and risk of falling. Although I do still snowboard, I’ve mostly traded out front-side 360’s and backside 180’s for handstand lotus’s and full spine twists with calm connected breath in stillness.
Having been an extreme gravity athlete turned yoga student, yoga teacher, and athlete of yoga sport, I have discovered that there is more to Yoga Sport than meets the eye. Yes, a regular Yoga Practice will stimulate deep healing of significant injuries; Yes, Yoga Practices have improved not only my performance in sports, but also my clarity, concentration, and connection to my breath. But the two most profound lessons I’ve learned over the course of being on stage more than a dozen times are: First, the aspect of me showing up for myself. The Greater Challenge in all this is to Continue to Practice, continue to strive and believe in myself for myself, and through myself for others. Second and the ultimate realization of my journey is this: I believe that through breath mastery, one can connect to the Divine Aspect within; when I am in that place, I can connect with you as well. I’ve learned this exquisite lesson throughout my life, in the form of my love of sports, my love of nature, and my love of yoga. This is my message to you, as I stand on the stage. In this way I am in service. I’m an infinite ripple of love in the ocean of cosmic consciousness.
It’s an honor to be the 2021 USA Yoga National Champion.
Keri Palasz, 2021 50+ Women's Gold Medal
Keri started practicing the 26&2 series in 2014 as a complement to long distance running. She was drawn to this style of yoga practice due to the methodical, sequential delivery of precise instructions in a space held in silence. She enjoyed learning to hold and hone focus while moving with intention through the asanas in the traditional 90-minute 26&2 sequence, taught at 105° F with 40% humidity. This remains her favorite class, and for her it remains a challenge.
In 2018 Keri joined USA Yoga. She competed for the first time in 2019 and was impressed to experience the spirit of healthy competition USA Yoga cultivated. Yoga athletes on the national stage were supporting, inspiring, and believing in each other. Potential was contagious, and the competition was a catalyst that propelled Keri to begin a quest for the answer to a question she held: How precise could her practice become?
Keri continues on this quest. She practices with intention and trains with USA Yoga Coach Kim Tang, a yogi renowned for her focus on postures that are correct, strong, and deep, and who also happens to be a long-distance runner.
Tim Mizerak, 2021 50+ Men's Gold Medal
Tim Mizerak is a master of clean, charismatic, and consistent athletic performance, which he perfected both for himself, as a figure skater for 25 years (10 as a competitor), and for others, as a skating coach for 25 years. Mizerak became a practitioner of hot yoga in 2013. He first competed in the asana championships in 2020 at age 53, and he currently holds the 2021 USA National Gold Medal for Men 50+ and the 2021 IYSF International Silver Medal for Masters (Men). Mizerak has been married for 33 years and has 2 grown children.
Purannan Balakrishnan, 2019, 2021 12-17 Boy's Gold Medal Winner
Dustin Valenta, 2019 18-49 Men's Gold Medal
Dustin Valenta completed Bikram's Teacher Training in Thailand in the Spring of 2015, where he was named Valedictorian. He has over 500 additional hours certification in Hatha/Vinyasa training. He has been traveling and teaching all over the world for the past four years. But the only honest answer to the question of how long he has been teaching/practicing yoga is "not long enough". It's one of the many things that keeps him in love with and passionate about what he does--the revelations are constant and unending. He credits his yoga practice with saving his life after a nearly fatal bike accident in 2013, and teaches from a place of love, compassion, and emphasis on alignment, breath, and curiosity.
Doctors didn't think I would survive, let alone walk again.
He knows for a fact that if he had not been practicing asana regularly before the accident (he was, in fact, on his way home from class when it happened), he would not be alive today. Doctors have credited his survival, in large part, to the flexibility and resilience in his spine. And he knows also, that had he not returned to regular practice as soon as possible afterwards, he would not have recovered anywhere close to the place he is.
Wayne Campbell, 2019 & 2017 50+ Men's Gold Medal WinnerWayne Campbell’s first Yoga Competition was the 2014-2015 Texas Yoga Asana Championship, at age 49 in the Men's Division, in which he advanced to the 2014-2015 USA National Yoga Asana Championship.
The first year he competed because he was inspired by the energy, focus, and ambition of the five yoga athletes in the 84 Advance Yoga Series Class that he took two months before his first Yoga Competition. He wanted to be among this group of yoga athletes who were all training for the 2014-2015 Texas Yoga Asana Championship.
Nowadays, he competes to train, prepare, and apply his body everyday through stretches, yoga, and exercises to progress into more advanced yoga poses.
As he took the stage for the 2019 USA National Yoga Finals, his mind was clear, quiet, focused, and still. He was "in the moment" and in "the zone”. It was a beautiful experience and moment.
Standing Bow Pulling Pose was the yoga pose he had been fine tuning and was most challenged by leading up to the 2019 USA National Yoga Championship. After the 2018 USA National Yoga Championship Wayne’s goal was to spent the next 12 months tweaking and fine tuning each pose in his yoga routine to maximize the most points possible for each pose. He had his personal best score during the 2019 USA National Yoga Championship Finals by 2.2 points, improving on his previous personal best score from the 2017 USA National Yoga Championship.
Outside of the yoga studio, he spends his time at home with his girlfriend, Moji and his Jack Russell Yoga Dog, Max. He learned how important it is to sit still, and slow the breathing, which calmed the nervous system, quieted the mind, and kept the adrenaline low. This was valuable in helping him to perform his yoga routine on stage at the 2019 USA National Yoga Championship.
After the 2019 USA National Yoga Championship, he will continue to fine tune his training and prepare for next year's 2020 Yoga Championship season.Part of the Yoga Championship journey for Wayne has been to be present to enjoy and fully experience those three minutes on stage and winning the Men’s 50+ Division because time is fleeting and it is gone in the blink of an eye.
He would also like to express his gratitude to the United States Yoga Federation and it’s volunteers, all the Judges for keeping the standards high, Ainslie Faust for her time and energy, Kim Tang for her amazing energy, spirit, and coaching expertise, Glenn Brown for his insight, all the yoga athletes who help me to stay humbled and inspired, all the former USA Yoga National Champions for inspiring and keeping the level high for all yoga athletes, and finally my girlfriend Moji for really going through this yoga journey with me, our dog, Max who is at the studio everyday giving unconditional love, my family, friends, the Houston yoga community, and the Urban Fit Yoga Community.
YOUTH Champions Present and past
Alexandra Soukhoveev, 2021 15-17 Girl's Gold Medal
Amisha Poojari, 2021 12-14 Girl's Gold Medal
Purannan Balakrishnan, 2019, 2021 15-17 Boy's Gold Medal
Suraj Ramesh, 2021 12-14Boy's Gold Medal
Liam Luce, 2019, 2021 9-11 Boy's Gold Medal
Shea Kenny, 2019 12-17 Girl's Gold Medal Winner
Nica Thomas, 2018 - 2019 7-11 Girl's Gold Medal
Nica began practicing yoga and gymnastics at the age of 3. She loved trying new things that made her feel powerful. Being a natural competitor, she entered her first yoga competition at 8 and soon became the first 7-11 Youth Girls Female Champion. Nica loved meeting all the yogis, making friends and cheering them on. She is always nervous before a competition and takes "a deep breath and I try to let it go. Once I make it through half moon, I feel very calm and enjoy myself."
Now 10, she is currently entering 5th grade and is a Level 5 Gymnast. Nica is an Olympic hopeful and her future plans include attending UCLA "on a math scholarship and doing gymnastics there."