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Over 90, Teaching Yoga: Bernice Bates



When she was in her 40s, Bernice Bates saw a TV program about yoga and thought it looked ridiculous. That was half a century ago. Guess what she has been doing ever since? Teaching yoga. At 91, her dedication to the practice won her a place in the 2011 Guinness Book of World Records.

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(Locator: Pinellas Park, Florida)

(Bates instructs class) "Take a deep breath and h-m-m-m-m."

Bernice Bates: "It's a part of my life now for 50 years. I've taught thousands of classes."

(Bates instructs class) "However you can move your hands. We have a visitor that comes to see us all the time, do you know his name? Arthritis!"

Bernice Bates: "My name is Bernice Bates, I'm 91 years old, and the Guinness Book of Record has named me as the oldest yoga teacher in the world. Yoga at first in our country was thought of as sleeping on a bed of hot nails or walking on hot coals. I found out it was the best exercise ever because it involves the body, the soul, and the mind."

(Bates instructs class) "Keep your soles of your feet together and push them out a little farther."

Bernice Bates: "It's a different kind of an exercise than we're used to here in our country. We are all competitive in anything we do. They get on a treadmill and (making grinding noises) and they're so sweaty and tired when they're through. Yoga builds energy; we don't deplete it.
The seniors who take the class like it, because it is slow motion and non-competitive and there always is another choice if they can't do the pose."

(Bates instructs class) "And then come up. I've never had a picture taken like that before!" (Class laughs)

Bernice Bates: "If they can't get up and down of the floor they can sit and do it in a chair."

"I start in bed in the morning before I even get up. And I can walk to the kitchen and get my breakfast instead of dragging my feet because I started my circulation going. I don't go to the doctor but once or twice a year for a checkup.All my life I've tried to honor my body. I was a swimming instructor. I taught PE classes, doing the things that God intends us to do to keep such a beautiful body.Because if your body says, 'Uh-uh,' you stop. You don't want to hurt yourself, someday you'll get there. And we have a saying, 'I can't do that- YET.'"

"I think I've attained this age because I have done yoga. Gives you peace just like your church does."

"I go to Lakewood United Methodist Church down in St. Petersburg. I taught yoga down at the church. My family is my church family."

"I was born in 1920, it was a tough life. My father abandoned the family. My mother had problems and couldn't take care of us. The last foster family that I lived with took me to church, and I met the boy that I finally married in that church. A good marriage, 62 years, three wonderful children.My husband Bob died about eight and a half years ago and I find that this yoga program really helped me understand and go on. I still miss him very, very much, but I know that someday we'll both meet in heaven."

(Bates instructs class) "Make a fist, tight, tense open it up and relax it&ellipsis; take some deep breaths, and relax."

Bill Dickson, Yoga Student: "She's an incredible person. I would like to be able to picture myself doing what Bernie does in 24 years when I'm 91."

Norma Callahan, Yoga Student: "I'm 77 and I feel like a kid next to her. She's an inspiration."

(Bates to class): "Do you feel like you've had a workout? And I thank you all for coming." (People thank her and clap.)


Bates teaches her class every week at the retirement community in which she lives, and does not charge the participants anything. You can contact Bernice Bates through Lakewood United Methodist Church at 727-867-1744.

Posted: January 27, 2012