She takes the stage with a bit of a bounce, as if giddy to begin.
Standing alone and barefoot, wearing what looks like a one-piece bathing suit, Garland Hume bows before a crowd of spectators at the USA Yoga National Competition in Binghamton, New York. Any jitters quickly fade as she goes into her first pose, raising one leg parallel to the ground and holding it. The stillness of routine settles her.
Her breathing is calm as she moves briskly but efficiently through several jaw-dropping yoga positions -- at least to the uninitiated – that would make most people break in half, or at the very least cry for mama. The whole thing lasts three minutes.
As a teacher and co-owner of Bikram Yoga Richmond, Hume, 33, is well known among local yoga enthusiasts. A few weeks ago she and a friend drove to New York, where she squared off with 127 regional yoga champions from 24 states and emerged as one of the nation’s top ten finishers, taking eighth place in her division.
“You only really get one shot, it’s a three-minute routine, and you do well or you don’t,” Hume says, noting that she barely made it through to the final day. “The judges are looking for technical things in the postures and they require certain movements of the spine.”
There were eight total competitors from Virginia at nationals and the only other person to place was Michelle Trufant who won first place in the women's seniors division.
Richmond has hosted a regional competition only once in 2010, Hume says. Usually they are held in Washington due to the large number of yoga practitioners in Northern Virginia. “Our state is really competitive,” she adds, noting that her regional score allowed her to compete in nationals last year, but she didn’t make it to the finals.
This year was a different story. Early on, she sought some outside coaching help with mental strategies from a Varina high school gym teacher (and her yoga student) and wound up earning the national finish.
Hume explains that there has been a growing movement to make yoga an Olympic sport and connect various communities. USA Yoga, which holds the national competition, lists the “promotion of yoga as a sport” as its main goal on its website. Competitions have been held in India for hundreds of years but the first competition in the U.S. wasn’t until 2003.
“In the 12 years we've had the competition the awareness of Hatha yoga has increased exponentially,” says Mary Jarvis, executive co-chairman of USA Yoga and head coach of national and international championships for the past 13 years “The goal has always been to make the practice of Hatha yoga available to everyone, from youth to seniors. Those of us involved in the championships from the beginning are thrilled at the increase in the popularity because of people being inspired by the athletes.”
One of the problems in making it an Olympic sport, Hume says, lies in the difficulty of encompassing all the different styles of yoga; most competitions are dominated by those coming from Bikram. Because of this, Hume sees yoga eventually evolving toward a universal style.
Her own road to competition was relatively short. Hume started practicing yoga in 2007 when she was just out of college and teaching Spanish at the high school level. “I was stressed out and trying to get in shape,” she recalls. “I fell in love with Bikram right away and went to teacher training [an intensive nine-week course] about six months later.”
Bikram, otherwise known as hot yoga, is based on the principle that heat accelerates chemical reactions; at Hume’s studio people practice yoga in a sealed environment with 105-110° temperature and 40-50% humidity. Hume says she fell in love with it because she noticed physical changes right away. “All of the sudden my skin cleared up, I lost weight . . . plus you feel amazing after class is over,” she says. “It was really healthy for me.”
The world-renowned founder of Bikram has received negative publicity in the past after several accusations of sexual harassment, which has been an issue for the local Bikram community. “We’ve talked about changing the name [of the business]” Hume says. “But Bikram’s more of a name to us than a person. And we’d still have to use the name somehow to describe what we do.”
Currently Hume teaches about five to seven classes a week and takes roughly nine classes a week herself, or two to four hours a day of yoga. She also travels frequently and says that, compared to other cities, Richmond has a strong yoga scene. “I feel like we have the perfect amount of teachers, not too many, not too little,” she says.
Hume plans to continue competing for as long as possible. Whether she does so as an Olympic athlete remains to be seen.
“You can compete forever if you want to,” she says.