Joseph Encinia first competed in Texas in 2005. After years of dedication, he won the 2009 National Yoga Asana Championship and placed 2nd internationally. With continued effort he has become the 3 time National & 2011 International Yoga Asana Champion. Asana caught Joseph in the midst of his teaching and touring in Russia to learn more about how his yoga journey
Asana: When did you start your practice? How did you discover Bikram Yoga?
Joseph: I started Bikram Yoga when I was 19 years old in May 2005. I found Bikram Yoga because I was looking for a way to change my physical health. At the age of 8, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis which is a joint condition that severely affected the movement of my joints. Then at the age of 13, I had a heart attack. The heart attack kept me from doing anything physical for many years. I discovered Bikram Yoga through a friend and automatically feel in love with the practice.
Asana: Is Bikram Yoga the only style you have practised? Have you explored other lineages?
Joseph: Bikram Yoga is the foundation of my asana practice. Currently living in NYC has given me much opportunity to practise other lineages of Hatha Yoga, but none gives me the same feeling as I have from Bikram.
Asana: People are familiar with the 26 poses in Bikram Yoga but not many have been exposed to other asanas which you demonstrate. Where did you learn these asanas?
Joseph: The other asanas which I demonstrate come from the Bishnu Ghosh lineage. Bikram developed the 26 posture beginning series from a classic 84 asana series taught by his guru, Bishnu Ghosh. When I started to compete in competitions, I often made trips to visit senior instructors and other champions in the community to teach me these postures.
Asana: Have you always been flexible? How do you achieve your current state?
Joseph: Having suffered from Rheumatoid Arthritis since I was a young boy, I was never flexible. When I started my yoga practice, I couldn’t even touch my toes. I achieved my current state of flexibility by practising Bikram Yoga. The heat of a Bikram Yoga class assisted me a lot in the beginning in allowing me to safely stretch my muscles and open my joints.
Asana: What motivated you to enter competition in 2005?
Joseph: I never did any athletics growing up because of my conditions. In the first year of my yoga practice, I was introduced to the Yoga Championships and thought of it as an easy way to do my first athletic event. I placed last but was not upset by the result. Rather, I took the opportunity to continue in my practice and improve for the following years.
Asana: You have a tremendous track record in winning competitions, not just the national championship but also international competitions. Has this been you ambition?
Joseph: My ambition has only been to heal myself physically, mentally, and spiritually through my yoga practice. Winning the competitions has only been the by-product of the hard work and determination of my yoga practice.
Asana: How do you link up yoga with competition, which concepts seem to contradict each other?
Joseph: Yoga competition is never one’s physical ability versus another’s; nor is it one’s mental capability versus another’s. Rather, yoga competition is one’s mind versus the ego and the body is a stage in which the internal competition takes place. In order to truly become a Yoga Champion, one must remain present and living the teachings of yoga to display the stillness of our true self.
Asana: You seem an obvious champion whichever competition you enter. Do you feel your ego taking over? Do you have stage fright?
Joseph: By controlling the ego and not letting it take over does one become a Yoga Champion. I’m only a Champion because my yoga practice has built determination, self-control, concentration, patience, and faith in myself. By focusing on these qualities while practising yoga, I can control my ego, remove stage fright and be completely still when demonstrating the asanas.
Asana: Do you still teach?
Joseph: Yes, I teach Bikram Yoga full time in NYC and often travel worldwide to share my experience and knowledge gained through the competitions and practice.
Asana: Do you note that some students follow you because of your championship?
Joseph: Yes, I do realise that students follow me because I am a Champion and I am deeply grateful for that. I believe that my students can relate to my journey of struggle and know that it is possible to make anything happen.
Asana: How do you inspire your students?
Joseph: Just by being myself. I like to be real with my students and never act “holier than thou”. I’m me and that’s all I can be! I live and practise yoga for me. I do it for my health and spirit and if students are inspired, then it is good for them.
Asana: Are you constantly on the watch out for possible “successors”?
Joseph: Yes, I’m always looking for other practitioners who can attain a high level of asana practice. It inspires me to see students grow on this path and I will help anyone wanting to become a Yoga Asana Champion.
Asana: How do you place “practice”, “competition” and “teaching” in your life? Is yoga your job?
Joseph: Yoga is my life. I do my best to live the philosophy and practise daily. The only time I see it as a job is when I have to do administrative work to continue to support myself in this path. In all honesty, I feel I never work … only practise and life takes care of the rest.
Asana: What do you do besides yoga? Do you practise other sports, for instance?
Joseph: Besides the practice of yoga asana, I dedicate my time to the study of astronomy and Spanish guitar. As for sports, I enjoy anything with balance. I enjoy surfing, skateboarding, paddle boarding, snow boarding, and playing on my balance board at home.
Asana: How has yoga changed your life, for instance, from a weak kid with various diseases and even suffering from a heart attack when you were 13?
Joseph: Yoga has changed my life tremendously. I’ve achieved physical health I never could imagine growing up. Physically, I’ve lost over 50 lbs and do not take any medication. Mentally and spiritually, I’ve grown so much and realise that I’m only at the beginning of an amazing journey on the path of yoga.
Asana: What is next for you? What is your biggest goal you wish to achieve in life?
Joseph: I never know what’s gonna happen next; nor do I like to plan. Life has already set my path and as long as I stay direct with it, then whatever happens will be perfect. I do aspire to change the nature of sports by promoting and building the awareness of Yoga Asana competition. I believe that when society accepts and promotes asanas as a sport, then we have shifted consciously for the betterment of humanity.
It is inspiring talking to Joseph and celebrate his success. We were all born with endless possibilities, very few ever to be realised. Life was never about what we could do, but what we would do. Joseph demonstrates that the quality of life that we have is determined solely by the effort we put into giving our life value, purpose and a reason. We try, we fail; we keep trying. We get what we need. This is because when we put in an effort every single day, that is where transformation happens. That is how change occurs. We can all feel it and start on the mat.