Arts & Leisure

Prem Prakash lifts the bar

MIDDLEBURY YOGA TEACHER Prem Prakash prepares to make a lift at the International Powerlifting League North American Championships in St. Louis this past November. He won the gold medal in his division, set four Vermont State records and qualified for the 2023 World Championships in England. Photo courtesy of Prem Prakash

EAST MIDDLEBURY — When most folks in Addison County hear the name Prem Prakash, they think yoga. The East Middlebury resident has been teaching yoga and meditation in our area for more than 30 years. 

These days he works primarily at Middlebury College, training almost every varsity sports team — from football to ice hockey to squash — in yoga practices he designs to support injury prevention and recovery, mind-body connection and peak performance. 

When he’s not working with athletes, Prem Prakash is translating esoteric Sanskrit texts into English. 

But over the last couple years the 63-year-old yogi has been quietly training his own body for a very different athletic pursuit: powerlifting.

And as it turns out, he’s quite good at it.

LONGTIME LOCAL YOGA teacher Prem Prakash has recently begun training as a competitive powerlifter. He trains four days a week in his basement gym and is looking forward to competing in the 2023 World Championships, which take place next October in England.
Independent photo/Megan James

In November, Prem Prakash (it is one name in two parts) traveled to St. Louis for the International Powerlifting League North American Championships, where he won the gold medal in his division, set four Vermont state records and qualified for the 2023 World Championships, which take place next October in Coventry, England. Not bad for a rookie. 

It all started in 2020. Prem Prakash’s son, 20-year-old Jahnu, who lives in a cabin on his parents’ East Middlebury property, is an MMA fighter. One aspect of training for this mixed martial arts full-contact sport is weightlifting, which Jahnu had been doing at a local gym. 

When the pandemic struck, Jahnu decided he’d rather work out at home, and Prem Prakash offered up his basement. They bought some basic equipment — a weight bench, bar bells, mats — pushed aside the tool cabinet, table saw and other clutter that had been occupying the humble, unfinished space, and set up a training room.

A SHELF IN Prem Prakash’s basement home gym is adorned with medals he won at the big powerlifting championship last fall, as well as Middlebury College sports memorabilia, including the women’s hockey 2022 NCAA Championship trophy. Over three decades, the local yoga teacher has trained college athletes in yoga practices that help them prevent injuries and perform their best.
Independent photo/Megan James

“I started lifting with Jahnu as a father-son thing,” recalls Prem Prakash. 

But this yogi has a competitive spirit; before long he was looking online for local competitions. 

“Yoga and powerlifting are two separate worlds,” he acknowledged, but there’s more overlap than you might expect. From the yoga perspective, Prem Prakash explained, there are two energies intrinsic to life: cooperation and competition.

“I think you could say that yoga is more the cooperative spirit — and cooperation is essential. You can’t have a community, a family or even a body without cooperation,” Prem Prakash said. “And yet, competition is inherent in us.”

He started participating in powerlifting meets around Vermont, training four days a week, and pretty soon he had qualified for the North American Championships, where he joined 600 other weightlifters vying for gold. Jahnu came along, too, to support his dad. 

“He was my corner man,” recalled Prem Prakash.

The scene at the competition surprised Prem Prakash. He hadn’t expected other weightlifters to be so encouraging, to cheer each other on so enthusiastically. There’s “something very primal about lifting a heavy weight,” he said. “It’s a little bit meathead, a little bit mystical.”

The competition includes three lifts: the squat, in which you lift a barbell over your head from the back of your shoulders; the bench press, where you lie on your back and lift a barbell off your chest; and the dead lift, in which you lift a barbell up from the ground to your waist.

Prem Prakash’s personal records — so far — are a 255-pound squat, 205-pound bench press and 315-pound dead lift. His own body weighed just 148 pounds at the St. Louis competition.

“Quite frankly I’m on the upper end of the age spectrum,” Prem Prakash acknowledged. But working with the college athletes continues to inspire him to give the competition his all. 

“I hope to bring home a medal from worlds,” he said.

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