Naomi Havlen

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March 5, 2005
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Strike a pose - and hold it

It's easy to refer to someone who can touch their toes as limber, but Basalt resident Bel Carpenter takes it a little further.Carpenter can lean forward and touch his toes - with his head.And if that doesn't impress, consider that he just competed in the Second Annual International Yoga Asana Championship, the Bishnu Charan Ghosh Cup 2005, bringing home a silver medal in the national men's competition and a bronze medal in the international men's competition.

As an instructor of Bikram's yoga at Yoga College of India in Basalt, which he opened in 1997 with his wife, Emily, Bel Carpenter gets a lot of practice. He claims he didn't do much practicing before the Feb. 19 and 20 competition in Los Angeles, but since his wife was pregnant for most of the summer and fall, at times he says he was teaching 17 yoga classes a week.Yoga competitions are a new thing in the United States, although they have probably been happening in India for the last century. Competitors are judged on five compulsory poses - none of which looks easy - and then they can do two of their own poses for the judges. The entire routine must take no longer than three minutes."The five postures demonstrate balance and concentration, and the mobility in your spine," Bel said.

Competitors are first judged on the proportions of their bodies, getting up to 15 possible points from judges. They can then be awarded up to 10 points for each of the postures, and up to 15 points for grace as they move in and out of poses."It's everything from the look on your face, to how you are breathing and if you are tremoring," Emily said. "Practice doesn't prepare you for being on stage in front of 200 people."Bel, 32, considers yoga competitions a way to improve his own techniques. He says he enjoys continually challenging himself to get better. Competitions may even drive a new generation to become interested in yoga, he said.

During a brief demonstration of his own three-minute routine Friday, he touched his head to his knee while holding his leg parallel to the ground, pulled a leg straight into the air behind him and did a handstand, crossing his legs into lotus position in mid-air. He does all this with a look of concentration on his face and silent, steady breathing.Bel says he hopes his success will inspire his students to compete - some of them have already participated in the state competition in Glenwood Springs.Bel and Emily met in Boulder in 1995 and discovered a mutual love of yoga. Within three months of discovering the technique known as Bikram's yoga, they decided to travel to Los Angeles to undergo training to be teachers for the method.

Bikram's Beginning Hatha Yoga is named after the man who Bel and Emily took this training from - Yogiraj Bikram Choudhury, founder of the Yoga College of India. It has a specific technique of asanas, or poses, and it is always practiced in a room heated to around 100 degrees. The heat helps muscles relax, Emily said, to get the most out of the different stretches."It's something anyone can do - it's so beneficial, and it's designed to be therapeutic," Bel said. "It can even help with injuries. And people may come for the physical benefits, but they'll stick around for the mental and emotional benefits."The couple opened Aspen's Bikram's studio in 1998 and operated it for six years before selling it in 2003 to one of their first students. They also opened a Glenwood Springs branch of the studio in 2002 before closing it last November when their daughter, Juliana, was born.

Of course, pregnancy didn't slow Emily down - photos on the wall of their Basalt studio show her practicing yoga eight months into her term. Next year, the couple would like to return to the competition to compete in both the men's and women's divisions."The competitions reinspire you to improve yourself," Bel said. "I wonder what I can do to promote yoga, like maybe doing more youth classes, traveling and teaching classes and continue to practice and challenge myself."Naomi Havlen's e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Mar 6, 2005 12:34AM Published Mar 5, 2005 12:00AM Copyright 2005 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.