How about a little yoga with your news? A Chicago area woman accidentally discovered yoga back in the 60’s. As WGN’s Robin Baumgarten reports, it changed her life, and those lucky enough to cross her mat.
“Ok Ladies and Gentlemen.” It’s Tuesday morning at Loyola fitness center in Maywood, and Mary Louise Stefanic is teaching her always packed gentle yoga class. “Roll your shoulders up and down and back and open your chest. Oh, that’s nice.” She’s never missed a day here due to illness in almost 12 years. “I do a little bit every day. I also try to sit and do at least a few moments or minutes of meditation. It’s food for my soul.” Mary Louise is from Muscatine, Iowa and has lived in her historic home in Oak Park since the 60’s.
Mary Louise and her husband Joe raised six kids, the youngest in utero when Mary Louise believes divine intervention and a piece of junk mail from the YMCA set her on a new path. “There was a class I don’t know what it was, never heard of it. But it offered peace and tranquility. I had five children - 6 ½ on down, and I needed it.” She took that first yoga class in 1966 and has been paying it forward ever since. “Now we move into cobra. So revitalizing. It cured me of so much anxiety. I lost 20 pounds in 3 months. And I say that because people noticed the difference. What are you doing? I wasn’t able, I wasn’t ready to teach yoga… and here I am.” I’m so grateful for the people coming into my life.”
Zdenka Blum of North Riverside is 77 and has followed Mary Louise every warrior pose and downward facing dog for decades. “They were not doing yoga then. When I told my friends I am doing yoga, they said, you’re doing what?” Kathleen Petrak is part of Mary Louise’s posse; the people who have been taking her class at Loyola since day one. “Her knowledge. It’s irreplaceable, ‘cause you just can’t after 45 years can’t duplicate that.” Mary Louise turned 80 last September. Loyola blogged about her and the next thing you know she’s a cover girl. We asked her husband Joe how he feels about that. “Well my golfing friends tease me about it. Say how’s it feel to be married to a celebrity or a cover girl? I said well as long as it’s not a centerfold I guess it’s ok.” Now, at almost 81, not only has yoga changed her life, it’s changed the lives of those around her.
“I had open heart surgery two years ago.” Says Zdenka. “I couldn’t put my weight on my chest. I don’t even know I had it.” Kathleen Petrak is also grateful to Mary Louise. “In a few years with her help I could eventually be like her. She helps us to age in a better way.” Mary Louise gets emotional talking about it. “I don’t think of it myself, but people will come to me (starts to cry) and you can see how moved I am by that. When they say you’ve changed my life.” Zdenka adds, “I have taken other classes, but I will always return to her class.” So from now until further notice, you’ll find Mary Louise Stefanic and her fans at the Loyola Center for Fitness, two mornings a week. “What else would an 80 year old woman do on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’ll keep on keepin’ on.. “Namaste, thank you thank thank you.”
Mary Louise used to teach things like headstands. But she says when it stops feeling good, don’t do it. One in ten Americans now practice some form of yoga.