72-Year-Old Yoga Master Talks Aging Gracefully While Staying Spiritually Youthful

Janice Lennard, who teaches yoga and pilates in California, spoke with ESSENCE.com about how yoga can assist in one's spiritual life.

It’s not easy mastering the art of discipline and relaxation, but with passion and persistence 72-year-old Janice Lennard makes it seem effortless. The Yoga & Pilates instructor attributes her fit lifestyle to having studied and practiced yoga, ballet and pilates for over 65 years. Lennard—who also has an extensive dance background— is quite generous with her time: She instructs classes seven days a week in Rancho Mirage, Calif. “I enjoy helping other people to relax and to get the benefits from yoga,” she told ESSENCE.com. 

Lennard—who appears to have found the key to the fountain of youth—has released a series of fitness DVDs that focus on Ballet Barre, Mat Pilates and Yoga. The youthful-looking 72-year-old spoke with ESSENCE.com about the art of Yoga, hearing from God through the practice and how to embrace getting older.

Talk to us about the art of yoga and some of the things you make sure to inform your students about when you’re teaching?
Yoga is really a relaxing thing. What it does is it relaxes you; the mental part of it—to me—is so incredible. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy teaching so much: I enjoy helping other people to relax and to get the benefits from yoga. Even if they can’t do a lot of the poses—a lot of the time in my classes I don’t do a lot of balancing poses, because some of the classes include older people and they can’t do those poses. So we do regular standing poses. I do that for about a half an hour and then we go on the floor and do a lot of stretching. I tell my students, make sure to just do what you can do, when you feel you can’t do something, just relax and wait and catch up with us later on in the class—don’t try and do crazy things because you don’t want to get hurt.

How has yoga assisted you in your spiritual life? Do you tend to hear from God easier through yoga?
Yes, sure. I do think spirituality and yoga is connected. The spirituality of it is really nice, just the relaxation of yoga helps the spiritual part of the brain to relax. Sometimes by myself, when I’m at home, I can sit and just relax and just start thinking about certain things—just telling myself to relax and breathe—you know breathing is very important, too—breathing in and out through your nose—not through your mouth, through the nose from the whole body—from the stomach all the way up to the chest, it tends to relax the brain and your mind, and through this, you get that spiritual thing. 

How does yoga help you to embrace 72?
I think it just helps me to grow old gracefully. The mind relaxes, and it helps you accept who you are and what you can do. That’s the basic thing I tell my students in class: When you’re doing yoga, you should not strive to do exactly what the instructor is telling you to do; you should instead do it to the best of your ability.

What do you love most about getting older? 
As you get older, you learn more. You tend to accept who you are and what you can and can not do instead of trying to do what everyone else is doing and trying to kill yourself to do everything.

What are some of your secrets to staying disciplined? 
Write down what you do everyday, and then look at the list and then basically cut down on some things. Just do a little bit at a time instead of rushing around and trying to do everything. Or in between things, just sit down, relax and breathe—even if it’s for only five minutes, you’ll feel better. 

What words of wisdom have you learned over the years that you live by?
Patience. Just take everything a day at a time. Don’t try to race your mind and do too much at one time. This is very serious; just take it easy. When I come home from my classes sometimes I just sit on the bed and my husband is usually watching soccer, and I watch soccer with him and it relaxes me. Watching the game helps to clear my mind of everything that’s going on.

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