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Jan 18, 2013

Today I have the great pleasure of sharing an interview I just did with an amazing lady, my friend Esther Vexler. She's a 95-year-old yoga teacher who currently teaches yoga at the Synergy Studio in San Antonio, Texas. She has a very loyal following, including students and fellow teachers. She keeps busy with her students, a writing group, yoga, her 98-year-old husband, as well as her "comfortable" family. Please sit back, relax, and enjoy this interview with Esther - I know I did!

When did you first find out about yoga?

I didn’t know about yoga til the early 60s. I learned from friends who were studying yoga in Mexico. I was visiting them and we did yoga together. Before, I thought yoga was about lying on a bed of nails. I had some funny ideas of what it was really about.

What was the first asana (yoga pose) you tried?

The first posture I learned was "lion." Undoubtedly the ugliest asana. I laughed and thought “This is so funny.”

How did you begin teaching yoga?

I looked for a yoga teacher in San Antonio and even in Austin, but there wasn’t one. So I bought a book. And so I started teaching from the book. Once I finally found a teacher, she actually asked me “Can I teach with you?” I said: “You’re probably a lot better than I am,” but anyhow we began teaching senior citizens together. “Above all, do no harm” was our idea. So I started teaching seriously in 1968.

Did you always teach yoga or did you have another career?

When I was in my 50s, I went back to get a master’s degree in urban studies. When I was working on it for low income housing, I was very idealistic and wanted to help communities. It led to my doctorate eventually. But of course, I decided to make yoga my career. And all that began because the president of the university said “Why don’t you teach at UTSA?” I replied: “Because nobody asked me!” So he gave me his card and said to call this person. Before that, I’d always just taught yoga for free. But a friend told me that I had to start charging if I wanted to be professional.

What are some of your other teaching experiences?

There was a nun who had a great idea. We saw the potential in teaching young people (mostly girls) at a dropout school. Our object was to help girls who were kicked out of school. Some were pregnant, unwanted, and most had families who didn’t seem to care about them. They had no place to be. They would walk in with chips and cokes for breakfast. I told them they were going to learn yoga and learn how to respect their bodies. Learn how to eat. We offered them fruits and no soft drinks and things like that and it was a great hit.

Also, I love seeing my students grow in yoga. One student wanted to open up a yoga school in my name. I feel good about that, but I try not to have an ego about it. When I teach, I stress that aspect of practicality. You don’t just come to class, you have to take it into your life all the time.

What is your secret for looking so young and beautiful?

That’s interesting. Most of us come from our genes. I have a pretty mother with pretty skin. My mother had nine children to bring up, and I was the baby. Actually, a secret ingredient is being married to the right person.

What have you enjoyed about getting older?

Oh, I’ve had so many satisfactions. Everything. I really have enjoyed growing.

We continue to grow from the minute we’re born. Sometimes there are a few pitstops along the way. OLD is when you stop growing. And you don’t have to stop. You can have those few pitfalls but you come back and you continue growing.

Do you have any advice for women, specifically?

Don’t worry so much about things – your clothes being up to date, your hair, your house being perfect. Women especially worry too much about these things. As you grow older, you realize how unimportant these things are. People and love, that’s what’s important.

What life lesson have you learned that served you the most?

A new consciousness of myself. And learning how to build up self-confidence. We tend to think about what’s wrong with our bodies, and not what’s right about them. Think more about what’s right - there is so much right.

What advice would you give on eating a healthy diet for a long life? What is your diet like?

Our daughter became a vegetarian when she was getting her PhD. So, we decided to try it out too, because she was so enthusiastic about it. So, 45 years ago we stopped eating meat. We just don’t have the need for it. Also, more fruits and vegetables. Less salt.  

What has kept you dedicated to your yoga practice? How do you stay motivated?

I’m still learning from my students. It’s a two-way street. If they see I’m enjoying it, they enjoy it more. Make it a pleasant habit, not a forced learning experience. Don’t come to me for exercise. Come to me for what you get along with the exercises.

What is your opinion of hot yoga? My yoga teacher doesn’t recommend it.

I don’t really believe in hot yoga either. A lot of people have high blood pressure and don’t know it, and hot yoga isn’t safe for them. Plus, in hot yoga you can overdo and overstretch. Everything is wrong – you’re overheated and you don’t know what’s wrong with you. It’s not yoga, just more of a hot exercise class. Yoga is about the total person. It isn’t stressful, and it should be relaxing. Hot yoga is a stressor.

What do you attribute to your longevity?

Partly diet, partly exercise. Maybe the most important thing is love and affection. We’re a very comfortable family. Comfort is a big word. There is a lot of love.

Do you have any favorite quotes?

“It depends on your perspective. Growing old is a great idea. You can accentuate the growing or you can accentuate the old.”

“You only live once. Make the most of it.” – Dr. Seuss

Like the Buddhists say “You have to be in this moment and move on.” I guess people believe me when I say this because I just had my 95th birthday.

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Posted: Friday January 18, 2013, 2:15 pm
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