By Gwen Dawkins
Lolly Font, 90, is like the Italian-American comfort food, baked ziti: no fuss, delicious and crowd-pleasing –– with a little extra sauce.
How would you describe your style?
Very organic, practical, and I say it like it is. I use yoga as my guide for so much of my being. I was trained in the tradition of B.K.S. Iyengar and I went to Pune, India to study with him. That experience turned my life around. I had scoliosis on my right side. When I was young, I carried heavy books in my arms on my five-mile walk to school. Then later in life, I had five children in seven years. As such, I always had a child on my hip and one in my arms. I was subconsciously abusing my body, simply by doing what I felt I had to do.
I started taking yoga classes in my early 40s and immediately noticed how much better I felt. I became very committed to my practice and a few years later, co-founded a major yoga studio in Palo Alto, CA. In the meantime, I traveled to India to learn from Mr. Iyengar. He helped me become aware of how my unconscious habits had continued to deform my shoulder blade. He encouraged me to move into the postures with proper alignment and precision, striving toward that still point where you find yourself completely balanced. That involves a real internal study of the way your brain, body and breath work together. His therapeutic methods enabled me to use my body consciously; resist letting my body give in to a new, incorrect shape; and allow it to heal itself.
What are your most marked characteristics?
My optimism; I believe you can make whatever you want of yourself if you put the energy behind it. You are in control of your destiny. I’m also gutsy. My mother taught me not to be afraid to ask for what I want. And, I’m known as a very stubborn individual who never takes “No” for an answer.
Do you have a mantra that keeps you going?
Mantra? What’s that? I’m a very practical person and I have a good sense of humor, so I’d rather use common words. For example, in yoga, my goal as a teacher is to reach everyone in ways my students can understand. I suppose “Tits up, girls!” could be considered a mantra. What can I say? I’m a free spirit.
Do you have any daily rituals?
Yoga. It’s all inclusive, my entire being. It has carried me though so much. I quit teaching group classes just a few years ago, but I still consider myself a teacher. Since Covid-19 has caused the need for social distancing, every day, I do yoga over the phone with either my friend and yoga studio co-founder Elise Miller or my friend Buz.
What drew you to teaching?
I was the oldest of four kids in a large Italian family in which two sisters married two brothers. We all lived together in two flats in the same building in Utica, New York. My father and uncle ran a bakery and my mother cooked and took care of all seven of us kids. My aunt handled the bakery’s office work and all of us kids bagged bread each morning before going to school. There was always a lot of work to be done and younger kids for me to teach. I took a lot of pride in knowing that I was helping my family survive. We all needed each other. I raised my own children to be my helpers as well –– they’re all good cooks by the way.
“I suppose ‘Tits up girls!’ could be considered a mantra. What can I say? I’m a free spirit.”
When my husband accepted a position at Stanford University as a professor of Speech Pathology and Audiology, we moved to California from Syracuse, New York. I enrolled my kids in a Parents’ Nursery School, where the parents worked as teachers. We were part of the university community and we learned a lot about child psychology and how to teach children from experts and great speakers from Stanford.
Prior to starting my own family, I had received my Master’s degree in Education and taught elementary school, so I really loved getting back into teaching. When my husband left Stanford to open his own speech and learning center, he asked me to work with preschoolers with special needs. And then of course, later I began teaching yoga. I like to bring the light of knowledge and understanding to whomever I’m with. I was born to do that.
What makes a woman beautiful?
Anybody who is grateful, feels lucky and can find peace with themselves is beautiful.
Do you have a favorite food or drink?
I have wonderful childhood memories of family meals. We had a big long table to seat 11 people. My father made a special board to cover the entire length of the table. Then he would pour polenta across the board. All of us kids would be sitting there watching this beautiful polenta spill out, thick as lava. My mother made a great, flavorful tomato sauce, which my father poured over the polenta, then we’d add parmesan cheese. Each person would make a line in the polenta for their portion and we would all dig in –– eating right off the board. I loved that.
Do you have any secret talents?
I’m a little famous for my delicious roasted peppers I make every fall. I put them in a big, long barbecue and roast the skins until the juice comes pouring out. I arrange them on a platter and often make bruschetta with them. My friends call them Lolly-paluzza!
How old do you feel versus your chronological age?
I’m very proud to say I feel my age: 90. That is to say, I feel the same way I have felt for most of my life. I’m glad my body hasn’t deteriorated and I want people to know it doesn’t have to. Part of it is attitude. My mother taught me to take care of myself and to be responsible for myself. Yoga is the other element –– if it weren’t for daily yoga, I wouldn’t be this strong or have as much ease in movement. I love that at my age, I have a wonderful sense of independence, strength and satisfaction.
What is your favorite journey?
Going to see my kids, their families, and the way they’re living.
What is the last thing think about before falling asleep?
I just breathe, I feel my body, I just settle in. I relax in Shavasana, go with the exhale, and go deeper into the mattress. I trust my body to take me to where I need to go.
Lolly Font and Elise Miller Co-Founded California Yoga Center
Photos courtesy of Addison Olian Photography