Pictured is Kylienne Shaul practicing the Pigeon before competition. The Pigeon is a yoga posture focused on flexibility of the back. Credit: Olivia Balcerzak | Lantern reporter

Two members of the Ohio State community will be among the first ever people to participate in competitive yoga at the Arnold Sports Festival this year.

Katurah Hansen, a doctoral student in electrical engineering and Kylienne Shaul, an instructional development specialist and alumna in environmental sciences will compete this Friday in the Ohio yoga pre-qualifier.

The Arnold started in 1989 after Arnold Schwarzenegger, an Austrian-American bodybuilder, won the 1970 Mr. World contest — an event in Columbus that accompanied the World Weightlifting Championship — and promised to return to the city every year to promote the sport. He kept his promise, creating the annual Arnold Sports Festival at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. It is now a four-day event featuring sports competitions, demonstrations, seminars, entertainment, and sale of fitness products.

The Arnold incorporated yoga as one of its 70 sports after receiving a request from USA Yoga, a nonprofit organization that promotes yoga as a sport.

The competition is structured as a three-minute set of six Bikram-style postures that will be judged based on difficulty and execution, Shaul said. The focus of balance, strength and flexibility within the grading scale is an attribute of competitive yoga that she said makes it different from other competitions.

“For the other sports that are hosted (at the Arnold), they are all mostly solo sports where you put in what you get out,” Shaul said. “The spirit of the (yoga) competition is just to showcase your practice. Yoga is meant to inspire those in the crowd.”

All eight of the competitors from Ohio will showcase the skills they developed while attending the same studio, Bikram Hot Yoga Columbus, against other competitors from across the nation. They all also have the same teacher, Mirna Marusic, who specializes in Bikram.

“Aside from that it is done in the heat, it’s (different because it is) 26 postures, six breathing exercises done in the same process,” Marusic said. “Each posture is supposed to open the body.”

To accommodate the audience, this competition will not be held in a 105-degree room like a typical Bikram class would, but Marusic said the competitors are still excited for the event.

Among the competitors is Hansen, who said her college career pushed her to challenge herself in all aspects of her life. Competing in yoga for the first time is no different.

“Part of the reason I’m doing this is because, starting my grad program, I’ve realized that at some point in your life you grow up, and you realize there’s only one of you — like you have to be you,” Hansen said. “I have developed this outlook of take on something new as often as possible. The Arnolds are in Columbus, why don’t I try that?”

Hansen said switching from playing contact sports to practicing yoga did not take away from her competitive nature.

“Bikram brings out my competitive side,” Hansen said. “I go there and I sit in front of the mirror and I stare at myself in the eyes and say ‘this is all you do to workout.’ The postures are hard because you’re in this intense environment but, in the moment, it’s all mental.”

While the mirror may be replaced with judges on Friday, Shaul said the experience will still be personable.

“It sounds really intimate,” Shaul said “The judges are like an arms length away from you on stage, so while the competition is going on the audience is quiet. You could hear a pin drop in the studio.”

Brent LaLonde, director of communications for the Arnold and a 1991 OSU alumnus in journalism, said he expects the quietness of yoga to bring in a different crowd than the audience usually seen at the Arnold who come for the loud, strength-based sports such as weightlifting.

“We expect (yoga) to attract a big audience that we have never seen before,” LaLonde said. “Yoga is a new market for us. We are very excited to expose and welcome new members to our event”

LaLonde said he anticipates the event to be very popular and return in years to come.

Yoga at the Arnold will be held at the Greater Columbus Convention Center located at 400 N. High St. in the Short North Ballroom B on Friday and Saturday.  The competitive yoga pre-qualifier round for Ohio will start at 10:15 a.m. on Friday. There are four divisions that will compete — youth, senior, adult male and adult female — representing various states across the country. Youth and senior division competition will take place throughout the day on Friday and the adult divisions will compete on Saturday.

Bikram Yoga Studio will also host a yoga class on Friday at the festival from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Other yoga studios will also be teaching classes periodically throughout the event. A full schedule of the competition can be found on the event website.