APTOS -- Every day, a group of yoga practitioners gather at Bikram Yoga Aptos to sweat through 26 postures in 105-degree heat. Next to the seasoned stretchers stands 11-year-old Harleigh Doermann, who tackles twists, turns and headstands with ease.
"Harleigh's just such a special little spirit," said Nicole Duke, the studio's owner. "Her ability to stay still is incredible, especially when you think about the attention span of youth."
Doermann's attention is so focused, in fact, it's taking her all the way to New York City.
Doermann, Duke and Jason Rawles of Bikram Yoga will compete at the National Yoga Asana Championships at New York's Hudson Theatre on March 2-3. Competitors will perform six to seven postures over the course of three minutes in front of a panel of judges.
Doermann, a Watsonville resident who has practiced the discipline for two years, vividly remembers the first time she heard she'd be competing in the event. This is her first championship.
"I had just finished school, and I got in the car and my mom told me," said Doermann, a sixth-grader at Rolling Hills Middle School in Watsonville. "I was really excited."
She participated in the Los Angeles-based regionals with Duke and Rawles, where the three earned spots to qualify for New York. On March 2, the 132 semifinalists from around the country will bend and pose for a spot in the Youth and Adult Division finals March 3. The competition itself will not be
The judges will evaluate performances based on strength, flexibility, balance and grace. Each posture or pose will be judged on a scale of zero to 10, and an additional score of zero to 10 will be given based on overall grace. Adults can receive a maximum of 80 points, youth 70.
"They evaluate all of those things not just on the technical aspects, but of the asana [posture] and your grace level," said Duke, who has participated twice before in the championships. "They look at you being able to smile and making it look easy, even if it's not."
USA Yoga is a nonprofit that promotes Yoga Asana (yoga postures) as a sport, with the ultimate goal of getting yoga into the Olympics. India has hosted Yoga Asana competitions for hundreds of years, but the practice is relatively new in the U.S.
"Whenever you hear 'yoga competition,' you think, 'That's weird,'" said Colleen Doermann, Harleigh's mother, who also practices at Bikram Yoga Aptos with her husband, David. "It seems contradictory at first."
Still, the championship helps people deepen their yoga practice, said Rawles, who teaches at the Aptos studio and has participated in regionals four times.
"It's less about competing with your fellow competitors and more about competing against yourself and what you can really do," Rawles said.
So how does Doermann feel about maintaining her composure throughout intricate positions?
"I'm excited and nervous," said Doermann, who has also practiced at Santa Cruz Gymnastics Center for the past few years. "I'm a little nervous about doing it front of a lot of people and staying in postures."
Follow Sentinel reporter Bonnie Horgos on Twitter at Twitter.com/bhorgos
At a glance
Contribute to Harleigh Doermann's Trip
What: The Doermann family is trying to raise $2,500 for Harleigh Doermann's trip to the USA Yoga Nationals in New York.
When: March 1-3
Where: To donate, go to http://fundrazr.com/campaigns/8Qe34#.URLJoLP2kc0.email