Connecting body and mind
Journey of self-awareness leads to two yoga titles
Two-time Women’s World Yoga Sports Champion Holly Elaine Raymond of Merritt Island firmly believes that yoga can be a true journey of self-discovery.
The gold medalist in the adult women’s 18-40 division of the International Sport Yoga Federation, her most recent win occurred in December during the four-day international competition in Bangalore, India.
These honors have encouraged the 22-year-old to bring awareness to both the sport and the practice.
A dancer since she was a toddler, Raymond spent her preteen and teenage years training in hopes of becoming a professional ballerina.
“I had always been an anxious kid, especially around age 9 or 10,” Raymond explained. “My anxiety began to manifest into an eating disorder when I was about 14. As I became more serious with my ballet dancing, I remember my training began to spiral from joyful to unhealthy. I suffered from anorexia for several years, off and on.”
MOM KNOWS BEST
Her first experience with yoga was when her mom, who often practiced at H.O.T. Yoga on the Island in Merritt Island, encouraged her to participate as a form of cross-training.
“I took Mom’s advice and tagged along a few times, getting to know the basics,” she said.
“Though I enjoyed it, my busy dance schedule initially kept me from maintaining consistent class schedules.”
It was the summer of 2019 when she realized she had reached a breaking point. After attending a six-week ballet training program in New York City, she decided it was time to make some changes in order to rehabilitate her body and mind.
“I had to take a step back and look at what was needed in order for me to heal, as I was suffering from physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.”
Fast forward, Raymond returned to yoga and began training with H.O.T. Yoga’s owner and founder, Suzanne Elliott.
Upon observing her flexibility and superior athleticism, Elliott encouraged her to compete in sport yoga competitions.
“I remember her first regional event was a virtual competition, back in 2021, during the COVID-19 outbreak,” Elliott said. “I helped her send in the video, one she excelled in.”
Raymond qualified for the national championship in Louisville, Kentucky, that same year. After a second place win at that event, she qualified for 2021 World Yoga Sport Championship, via zoom due to COVID-19, where she won her first world title, the youngest adult female in the division to ever do so.
Asana postures are judged on six yoga poses: a backbend, forward compression, traction, lift, torsion/twist and an inversion.
The competition required all postures be held for 3-5 seconds and a full routine performed within three minutes. Competitors were scored on execution, expression, flexibility and balance, with more points awarded to poses deemed higher difficulty.
“Achieving this accomplishment was a big turning point in my life,” Raymond said. “When I saw the results on the screen, something inside me shifted.
“It was then I began to realize that practicing yoga was not only an opportunity for me to reexamine my life goals and relationship with physical training, but a chance to learn and incorporate yogic skills and mindset into the training.”
After this competition, she decided to focus on training and began working at H.O.T. Yoga where she manages the front desk.
FIRST WORLD TRIP
Her trip to India in December with Elliott and two others was one she will cherish.
“Not only was it my first trip to India, it was my first trip overseas,” Raymond said. “This proved to be a much bigger obstacle for me than the competition, I think.”
Despite the fact that she was severely dehydrated just hours before the semifinal round, Raymond said her yoga mindset kicked in and she went on to win her second title.
“It was an incredible honor,” Raymond said.
“I have watched Holly excel the past several years, and she has been an inspiration to many, both local, and around the world,” Elliott said. “I am thrilled she was able to represent the American team live this past year and am incredibly proud of her.”
Raymond said her journey in the world of yoga and its competition has just begun, as she plans to complete her official yoga teaching certificate this spring.
GET TO KNOW YOURSELF
“Exploring different forms of movement and experiencing the way my body responds has been both informative and empowering, and has allowed me to get to know my physical and emotional self on a deeper level,” she said.
“I believe participating in these competitions is an opportunity to bring more awareness to the practice,” she added. “These Asana poses and postures are really a byproduct of the intense focus and incredible connection between the mind and body required to maintain and control the positions. Yoga poses are practiced to prepare for meditation.”
Raymond is looking forward to sharing and teaching others yoga; something she said has had such a positive impact in her life.
The USA Yoga and the IYSF organizations are working toward having sport yoga included in the Olympic Games.
“I plan on continuing to help advocate for athletic organizations to prioritize athlete well-being over long-term performance, as I know this approach was what has made me a happier, healthier, and more well-rounded individual,” she said.
Sue DeWerff Panzarino
Sue is an avid surfer, shark attack survivor and storyteller who loves to write about the wonderful people and great organizations on the Space Coast.