Bernice Bates - World's oldest yoga teacher

Bernice Bates - World's oldest yoga teacher

New York: At 91, Bernice Bates may not look like a typical yoga instructor but the Florida based great-grandmother has been named the world's oldest yoga teacher by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Bates has been practising yoga for the last 50 years and credits the ancient Indian exercise form for her years of good health.

The yoga teacher in the front of the room lay on the floor, her hands resting on her upper thighs. She lifted her right leg high in the air, foot flexed. Then she grabbed her right foot in her right hand and brought her leg toward her face as she raised her upper body a few inches off the ground.

Students in class smiled in amazement as they watched the teacher's knee graze her nose.

It wasn't just the pose that was amazing - it was the teacher's age. Bernice Bates is 91 years old, and she's more flexible than people who are a third of her age.

"If you can't quite meet your knee, that's all right," Bates told her class, gently.

Guinness World Records recently awarded Bates the title of "Oldest Yoga Teacher." While there might be other, older yogis somewhere in the world, Bates completed the lengthy documentation process required by Guinness. She was nominated earlier this year by her daughter.

Bates first began practicing yoga 50 years ago, after she saw it on a television program. As a younger woman, she taught swimming in Ohio at a YWCA.

These days, the great-grandmother teaches once a week at the community center of her retirement village located on Florida's Gulf Coast.

Her students are usually a decade or two younger than she is.

Each class begins with a short discussion - on a recent day, Bates talked about the importance of flexing and caring for one's feet - and then Bates takes the class through a series of about a dozen vinyasas, or yoga poses. She uses a soft blue mat and wears black ballet slippers while teaching.

She ends with a guided relaxation while playing New Age music on her portable cassette player.

Bates believes in gentle yoga: no sweaty, strenuous or competitive stretching in her classes.

"You may not do it perfect, but there's no perfect person," she said.

She talks about her students who have benefited from her teaching: two women in their 80s, a couple in their 90s, a handful in their 70s.

"They feel great," she said. "It makes your whole body whole again. It's good for anybody. It's good for chair sitters, it's good for pregnant women. Anybody."
Bernice Bates - World's oldest yoga teacher awarded by Guinness World Records video.

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