By Margie M. Palmer
Yogis at the San Diego Yoga Center agree that its co-owner, Anthony Burkart, bends over backward to make sure students feel welcome, but his ability to twist and bend extends far beyond classroom greetings.
It also landed him a first- place nod in the 50-year-old-and-older division at the USA Yoga West Coast Regional Yoga Asana Championship.
In addition to being named the California state champion, 51-year-old Burkhart also received an award for receiving the highest points overall.
An unexpected love affair
Burkart was first introduced to yoga when he was in his 20s, when he was into running ultramarathons — a long-distance that at 50 kilometers is race that’s well beyond that of the standard, 26.2-mile footrace; the introductory session was a hot yoga class.
“One of my coworkers asked me if I wanted to go. He said it was going to be hot, and it was smoking hot,” he said. “I haven’t stopped since.”
Yoga came with a number of unexpected benefits. In addition to helping him focus on relaxation and breathing, it helped his race performance.
“It helped a lot with races, and it helped prevent a lot of injuries,” he said. “I’d be running for 24-26 hours straight. I was always rolling my ankle. [Yoga] gave me more endurance and … it also made me a lot stronger.”
Another upside, Burkart noted, related to post-race recovery.
“I found that I could run a 100-mile race and once the race was over, I could get back into my regular routine. I could go home and go to sleep and go to work the next day with lots of energy, no injuries and feeling great, he said.”
Moving to competition
His decision to begin competing in yoga competitions was a natural progression.
“I practiced for between five and six years before I became an instructor, and once that happened, I started to go a little deeper with my own practice. I began teaching, and then I got involved in competition,” Burkhart said. “At that point I moved from San Diego to Hawaii and I represented Hawaii twice in the nationals.”
He returned to San Diego in 2008 to buy the San Diego Yoga Center (SDYC), and although he continued to do well in competitions, he ultimately decided to take some time off.
It wasn’t until a few students at the SDYC decided to enter the statewide competition that Burkhart decided to give it another go.
“I said I’d enter with them, we all went and competed, and I placed first,” he said. “Not just for California, but also for the southwest region.”
Now, he’ll advance to the national championship in Lynchburg, Virginia, in early August.
A message to future yogi competitors
Although Burkhart admits that competition isn’t for everyone, his message to would-be competitors is simple.
“I would tell them that you don’t actually have to be perfect with anything. Competition isn’t about winning, it’s about demonstrating aspects of the yoga that you’re being graded on,” he said. “It’s good to test yourself, and I do recommend it. Competition brings out the best in all of us. It’s about bringing out the best in everyone and raising that level to a high quality. That’s what yoga people do.”
— Freelance writer Margie M. Palmer has been racking up bylines in a myriad of publications for over a decade. Reach her at email@example.com.