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Talking Shop with Lilias Folan

Long before the proliferation of celebrity yoga teachers, Lilias Folan was reaching out from the Midwest via public television to bring yoga to the common man and woman.

By Colleen Morton

Long before there was a proliferation of celebrity yoga teachers, there was Lilias Folan, reaching out from the Midwest across the airwaves of public television to bring yoga to the common (and commonly stiff) man and woman.

Wife, mother of two, and grandmother of four, Lilias has been practicing yoga for more than 30 years. Though she notices that at 64 years old, her joints "talk" to her more, she's as inspired by the practice as ever.

Yoga Journal: How did your PBS show "Lilias!" come into being?

Lilias Folan: One of my students in the early '70s went home and told her husband, who was a producer for our local PBS station, WCET channel 48, "I have the perfect person to do a yoga series." I used to watch Richard Hittleman when I first began yoga. He had two perfect women behind him, but when I started teaching I knew that the bodies I was looking at were not perfect. I thought, "I can communicate this better."

YJ: How long had you been teaching when you started the series?

LF: About five years.

YJ: Was it frightening to be teaching on television with relatively little teaching experience?

LF: I was too innocent to be frightened. When you're really doing the Dharma, nothing is going to stop you. I felt the connection to my unseen students immediately. The camera and red light became so connected to me that when I taught in front of "real" people I felt peculiar.

YJ: It seems to me that the media—television, video, and the Internet—have dramatically affected the dissemination of yoga practices.

LF: I just received a letter from someone who's been studying with my videos in a lighthouse in Canada!

YJ: You suffered from depression at a time when your life seemed to have everything—a husband, two kids, a nice home—and this is when you came to yoga. Did yoga help you to have feelings of satisfaction?

LF: When I first came into yoga, the mental discomfort I was having was too embarrassing to talk to my physician about. I was so used to carrying that mantle of sadness, that deep well of discontent that was a part of me. I did spend two to three years with a very fine psychiatrist and talked out the past intelligently and with healing. But the yoga started to clear up the residue of some of the sadness—spontaneously, and very slowly. I had to go through a lot of discomfort. What the mind has long forgotten the body remembers.

YJ: What poses were most difficult or uncomfortable for you then?

LF: Because I'm very athletic, the postures came easily. The most difficult thing was sitting still in meditation or lying down in relaxation. People would tell me they couldn't sit close to me, I would exude such horrendous agitation. When I would do yoga nidra, this nausea and sadness would come up from my belly, shimmer, and then leave. I would ask, "Is this something returning?" But it was leaving me, rather than going in.

YJ: How do you handle a student's raw emotions when you're teaching a class?

LF: I believe that if something arises, you don't clamp it down, because it might wrap around your kidneys. I create a safe container and share my process with the class. I look at kidney stones as unshed tears. Tears are our birthright. The purpose of yoga is to know thyself. If thyself is having a moment of shimmering depression, let's look at it, then let it go.

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Reader Comments


Lilias is always an inspiration, the first lady of yoga. How about a full interview with Lilias today in 2009?

Evamarie Brettelle

You were my inspiration for starting yoga and I thank you profoundly. Any chance of getting the PBS yoga series on DVD?

Dear Lilias Folan
I am in recovery in a Resource Learning Center in Taunton, Ma because I have a diagnosis of mental health and meds make us gain weight and Liz in our peer support group brought in your tape Alive and it was so inspiring for me and now I am looking for more of your tapes. It was noncompetitive and not intimatating and it was challenging but you went slow enough for us to see and you gave us hope to become more flexible because all of this fat is in our way. You looked great and were nice and made it seem possible for the beginner to achieve. Could you send me any more of you tapes or dvds either/or vcr. We are all ages and appreciate you and your work in yoga. Do you have any pilate tapes out yet? My address is 48 Taunton Green Apt 2 Taunton Ma 02780 Thank you if you do. Sincerely from all of us. Louise

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