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Twenty-six compete in yoga championships held at Lanterman Auditorium Nov. 1.

November 06, 2008|By Olivia Smith

Rangel is an avid surfer, runner and mountain biker who discovered yoga while working on a doctorate dissertation at the University of Michigan. He ? found yoga melded his cerebral side with the physical.

“Bikram Yoga is a great balance and gives me a sense of calm and peace,” Rangel said.

Anthony Burkart of El Cajon placed second and Dixon Perey, representing Bikram Yoga Downtown Los Angeles, placed third.

In the women’s division, Lauren Balefsky, a student from Bikram World Headquarters in L.A. placed first, with Jennifer Kunkler and Juliana Olmstead both of San Diego, taking second and third place, respectively.

In the Youth Division, 12-year-old David Tang of Palm Desert won first place with a routine that culminated with a posture laying on his stomach, looking forward and bringing his legs up over his head. It was called, appropriately, Scorpion.

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“You’re looking at the Michael Phelps of yoga once this becomes an Olympic sport,” said the event’s MC Hobey Echlin of Tang’s win.

Kimberly Ramirez, an 11-year-old from Covina and Mishaelle Kemp, a 12-year-old from South Pasadena, tied for second. Kemp’s mother Inga Colbert, also competed in the event. Stefany Alvarado Arias of Los Angeles Headquarters placed third.

Though most of these yogis honed their skills in studios heated to 105 degrees, Lanterman Auditorium was not as warm. Second-place Youth Division winner Ramirez — who wowed spectators with a backbend that allowed her to smile at the audience while looking forward through her own legs — has been practicing yoga for just one year. “I like it better without heat,” she said.

Hatha Yoga, though, has been largely adapted in the U.S. for its healing qualities — some of which can be magnified by practicing in heat. John Tunks has been practicing at Bikram Yoga La Cañada for four years. “What else can we do to improve our strength, flexibility and balance which we lose as we get older?” he asks, adding, “The heat of Bikram [yoga] helps us relax and stretch which also helps flexibility.”

Most in attendance were avid Bikram Yoga practitioners, like Emmy Cleaves, one of the event’s judges. Cleaves started practicing yoga after the birth of her child to get back into shape. “It made me feel so much better that I have been doing yoga for the last 50 years!” she said with a laugh.

“It took me 20 years to do the splits and now I can do them any time. Yoga literally changes the construction of your body from inside out.”

Adds Malmberg, “Yoga is not about how flexible you are — it’s about stretching your body and spine in all directions the best you can. All that matters is that you try the right way, go to your personal edge, and you’ll get 100% of the benefits."

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the Yoga Regionals was its impact on the small but enthusiastic audience. When Danuta Biernat, a student at Bikram Yoga La Cañada, was asked what she thought of the competition, she replied, “Very inspiring. Tomorrow, I will be in class.”

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