MAYWOOD, Ill. -- Life may not begin at 80, but it’s certainly not slowing down for Oak Park resident Mary Louise Stefanic, a yoga instructor at the Loyola Center for Fitness. She continues to teach two yoga classes a week at the center and can’t imagine stopping any time soon.
“She claims her classes are gentle, but they are not easy. Mary Louise has an extensive knowledge of yoga techniques and it’s amazing how she connects with her students,” said Kara Smith, special events coordinator at Loyola Center for Fitness. “Every day she asks her class, ‘What does your body need?’ and then caters the class to those needs.”
Helping others started long before she was an instructor at Loyola. In fact, it began in 1966 when a flier arrived at her house offering yoga as a path to peace and tranquility.
“People didn’t know what yoga was back then. But being a stay-at-home mom with six kids in the house I didn’t care what it was - I wanted peace and tranquility,” Stefanic said jokingly. “Though it was not easy to get there, I really made it a priority and it changed my life.”
In three months, Stefanic lost 20 pounds, had a new vigor for life and a new passion. Soon, friends were asking her to teach them as well.
“I offered classes in my living room, but we quickly outgrew that, so we moved to the Methodist church where I taught for 22 years,” Stefanic said.
Always up for a challenge, Stefanic agreed to teach at the Loyola Center for Fitness in 2001. “I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked up those stairs for the first time. The group wasn’t sure either. They started telling me about their ailments and that they didn’t think yoga was for them. When they found out I was 69, a lot of the barricades started to fall away,” she said.
Some of the students from that first class have continued to come every week for 10 years and they have become a close-knit group.
“I know the people in my classes. I know their fears, their handicaps, even their quirks,” Stefanic said. “My class is about relaxation and stretching your body, but it’s not about pain. I want to help them to listen to what their body needs and get there.”
Stefanic is certified in therapy yoga and continues to take classes to learn new and effective techniques to use yoga as a tool to help people heal. She has given lectures to medical students and residents about the benefits of yoga in medicine and has taught yoga classes for patients at Loyola’s Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center.
“The hardest part of yoga for people is being still, but that is so important. I love being able to help people let go of the rest of the world, and for just a few minutes, look deep into themselves and become aware. It’s so beautiful,” she said.
For Stefanic, yoga is not something you do, it’s a part of who you are.
“I’ve been doing this for over half of my life. Sure, there are mornings when I don’t want to get out of bed, but I never regret it. Yoga has given me an intimacy with my body that helps me understand what it needs. Our bodies really are marvelous machines.”
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About Loyola University Chicago
Committed to preparing people to lead extraordinary lives, Loyola University Chicago, founded in 1870, is the nation’s largest Jesuit, Catholic university. Enrollment is nearly 16,000 students, which includes more than 10,000 undergraduates hailing from all 50 states and 82 countries. The university has four campuses: three in the greater Chicago area and one in Rome, Italy. Loyola also serves as the U.S. host university to The Beijing Center for Chinese Studies in Beijing, China, and now features an academic center in Saigon-Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Loyola’s 10 schools and colleges include arts and sciences, business administration, communication, education, graduate studies, law, medicine, nursing, social work, and continuing and professional studies. Loyola offers 71 undergraduate majors, 71 undergraduate minors, 85 master’s degrees and 31 doctoral degrees. Loyola is consistently ranked among the “top national universities” by U.S. News & World Report. The university is also among a select group of universities recognized for community service and engagement by prestigious national organizations, such as the Carnegie Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service. For more information about Loyola, please visit LUC.edu. You can also follow the university on Twitter (@LoyolaChicago) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/LoyolaChicago).