Why do you think they call it Warrior Pose?
While meditation and spirituality are certainly a component of yoga, for Mr. McCann the competitions represent another, equally important side of the craft, grounded firmly in the physical body. “There’s this spiritual idea that’s kind of pervaded our yoga culture of, oh, just say your prayers and be compassionate and everything will work out great,” he explains. “But actually, if you want to pay your rent in New York City, you have to hustle and you have to do the work. You have to put in the effort.” In this regard, the competitions are a manifestation of the hard work and daily dedication that are just as much a part of yoga as the Oms and the Namastes.
The annual National Yoga Asana Championship is held by the USA Yoga Federation, which was founded by Rajashree Choudhury, the wife of Bikram Choudhury, whose eponymous style of hot yoga has won millions of converts worldwide. While competitions may seem antithetical to yoga, they have in fact been taking place in India for hundreds of years. Participants are required to complete seven poses in three minutes, and are scored on criteria such as balance, strength, timing and flexibility. Recently, Jared was crowned U.S. National Yoga Champion for the second consecutive year, scoring 58.4 out of a possible 70. This summer, he will be competing in the international yoga championship, and hopes to improve on his third-place standing from last year.
Within the competitions, the five mandatory postures come from the Bikram lineage, and most of the competitors are trained primarily in Bikram. Mr. McCann, on the other hand, is what you might call a Renaissance yogi. He has trained with an eclectic roster of teachers in a variety of styles, blending them to create his own unique form. “I’m not reinventing the wheel, I’m just creating my own style of yoga based on a lot of lineages that are already out there,” he says. While Mr. McCann currently teaches these hybrid classes to his friends, he plans to offer them widely at the upcoming studio. “We’re going to bring the best together in one place,” says Mr. McCann, who is in the process of shopping around for a location.
Mr. McCann’s main goal with his new studio is to create a serious training program for yoga teachers. The recent yoga boom has spawned a proliferation of teacher training programs churning out unqualified instructors, he says, which has led to a rise in yoga injuries. “It’s like nine days and you’re a yoga teacher and you’ve never even done yoga before,” he says of some of the programs offered. “It’s dangerous.” He hopes that by opening his own center, he’ll be able to make space for his friends who have been shuttled through the system from studio to studio, and to raise the bar when it comes to teaching and training. And while his studio is being enabled via a generous investment from a venture capitalist friend, he doesn’t mince words about the financial straits of his profession. “I would like to actually make yoga teaching a serious job and not this thing where you have to be part yoga teacher, part prostitute to pay the rent,” he says.