A yoga teacher-and grandmother-on how not to grow old

You don’t have to be a yogi, or even interested in the practice at all, to be inspired by Marlene Weiss.

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photos of Marlene by her student, Ted Habte-Gabr

For the last 25 years, she’s taught hundreds of students at the Los Angeles Athletic Club.  She didn’t start practicing, much less teaching, until after her two kids were grown.

To this petite grandmother, age is immaterial: “I try not to look at my numbers,” she told me after one of the eight classes she teaches a week in the studio named for one of her mentors. “I lie about my age, my height and my weight, so don’t ask me.”

Those numbers don’t seem to matter, either, to the students who fill her classes, which provide rigorous workouts.

Marlene herself learned from a man who defied stereotyping.  Frank White hand-picked her to succeed him at the club, where he had launched the yoga program years before.  An overweight, reformed drinker and smoker riddled by a long list of health problems, White had only started practicing yoga at age 65, which he credited with saving his life.  He taught till the end of his life; he died in 2005 at the age of 85, and was lauded for his magnetic style, as well as his ability to twist himself into positions that would make a “pretzel envious.”

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One of the earliest yoga “rock stars,” Frank White

Marlene never imagined when she first began studying yoga that she’d make it a career; she was even a bit shocked when White first tapped her.  She so admired him and her other teachers, she hadn’t imagined being able to teach herself.

“It’s amazing how life takes its turns,” she said.  Her teaching gives her a “reason to get up every morning, to go somewhere outside of your self.  It’s so important not to be totally involved in your own thoughts.”

While we can’t stop aging, Marlene believes we do have something to say about the getting old part, which is only partially about the physical:  “Getting old,” she said, “is when we stop having interests.”