Lilias Folan: Yoga's Grande Dame

Story Image 8460

Decked out in her leotard and braids, Lilias Folan brought yoga into living rooms nationwide via her syndicated 1972 PBS television series, Lilias! Yoga and You. Through the course of the show's 500 episodes and her travel around the world, she introduced millions of people to yoga, yet remains sincere and humble.

Would you call yourself a spiritual seeker?
 Absolutely. I've been a passionate spiritual seeker since I was a little girl. My up-bringing was very difficult. When it got really tough, I would go into the center of my chest, and I would meet with my friend who would soothe and connect me to something that I had no words for. And that's where I would heal.

That's yoga from a very young age.
 That's how I came to the planet. But as a teenager, I forgot about my friend. Then I had a major crisis and thought, "I can solve this. I'll go back inside." When I did, I couldn't find my friend. Yoga brought me back to this inner friend that's always been there. Yoga brought me home again.

How and when did you discover yoga?
 I went to my doctor with a litany of problems. He just said, "Madam, there's nothing wrong with you. You're suffering from the blahs. Exercise." I had a wonderful husband, two beautiful sons, a golden retriever, a boat on the sound, and the question was, "Why aren't I happy? What's missing?" I decided to go to a Sivananda Yoga class at the YWCA in Stamford, Connecticut. I stopped smoking, slept better, and had more energy.

How did your television show come about?
 I would watch Richard Hittleman's shows in black and white with two beautiful, perfect women demonstrating postures. I thought, "I could do that better." Then, the wife of a local PBS producer took my yoga class. She told her husband I would be perfect for a TV show.

How did it feel to be a part of something so groundbreaking?
 I got very good schooling from Sri Swami Chidananda, a teacher in the Sivananda lineage, and some wise teachers like Angela Farmer, Goswami Kriyananda, and Dr. Jean Houston. Their advice was that this was service. Don't hold on to the fruits of your actions—people writing in and being recognized in the streets, that kind of thing. It became and still is a practice. It's my sadhana.

Do you ever worry about how much yoga has grown since you started your show?
 Losing its connection to the mystics of the past of India? No. It will be what it will be. I really do think that all is well. Joy belongs to everyone.

What motivated you to write your book, Yoga Gets Better with Age?
 I wanted to share my journey. I'm in a 70-years-young body, and I do my yoga practice differently. Certain postures don't mean as much to me anymore, but other ones do. The essence of the book is to show how to work intelligently with a midlife body and beyond in a way that's pain free.