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Emily Avery of Stratham took gold in the youth division at the US yoga national championship and will represent the US at the international yoga meet in June



Emily Avery
Courtesy Photo

This high school senior excels in a discipline that’s famous for flexibility and she demonstrates that quality also in the variety of her accomplishments — completing all her school work with honors while splitting her day between academics and ballet. She trains and practices her asanas at Bikram Yoga Portsmouth.

This winter she’ll appear in the Portland Ballet Company’s “Victorian Nutcracker” for the second year as Olivia. She was recently invited to a summer at the oldest ballet school in the world, Paris Opera Ballet School founded by Louis XIV. And she was just accepted to Princeton University, where she plans a dual major in ballet and neuroscience. See? Flexible.

What got you into yoga? About two years ago, my dad was persuaded by some friends to try out a Bikram yoga class. After he told me about his experiences in the hot room that night, I knew it was something I had to try.  

When did you realize you had real skills? I think everyone who can make it through 90 minutes in the hot room has ‘real skills’! So, I guess I would say that I realized my abilities after surviving my first class.

Yoga seems so serious. Is there a light side to it? Yoga definitely has a light side! Even though students in class are working as hard as they can, the importance of laughter is never forgotten. I often practice yoga next to my dad and this is, for sure, a funny experience.

You also perform ballet. How are they similar? Ballet and yoga have significant overlaps. Flexibility, of course, is key to both. Strength and balance are also clear shared goals. Less obviously, the grace and poise developed by ballet dancers have become invaluable for me as a yoga competitor. With more performance experience thanks to ballet, competing in yoga routine has become more of a joy and less of a stressful experience.

It seems odd to compete in yoga. When I first heard my teachers mention a yoga asana championship, I thought it sounded completely contradictory. Now I have completely changed my mind — yoga competitions bring people together and spread awareness about the benefits of yoga practice. The inspiration that is shared at yoga competitions is not at all contradictory to yoga’s associations with unity.

What’s your favorite asana? It’s called standing head to knee. It’s a complex posture that requires a tough combination of strength, flexibility and balance to complete. With so many different aspects and details, I know that I will always have something to work on when completing this posture.

Any word of encouragement for an old-timer thinking of getting started in yoga? My biggest words of encouragement are just give it a try. Yoga (especially hot yoga) may seem intimidating to beginners, but there’s absolutely no reason why anyone shouldn’t try it out. No one could be too old, too stiff or too out of shape to come to class. In fact, that’s why they need to be there!

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