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Pinellas Park woman honored as world's oldest yoga instructor


At 91 years old, Bernice Bates is sitting on top of the world.

Bates recently was named the oldest yoga instructor in the world, thanks to the judges from Guinness World Records who found her worthy of the distinction.

Although she downplays the record, adding that there are probably older instructors in India, her accomplishment has gone viral as TV and radio stations from across the globe have called, requesting interviews.

This year marks the seventh annual Guinness World Records Day (held Nov. 17), where people across the globe are encouraged to break records. More than 300,000 people celebrated by attempting to break a record.

In Pasco County, 221 students at Longleaf Elementary earned honors for having the largest Hula Hoop workout. Then there was the largest Soul Train dance, which included 211 participants in Berkeley, Calif., and the largest Zumba class, which included 1,439 at Teylingen College in the Netherlands.

Bates' record is but a handful that garnered international attention.

"I'm flabbergasted. I don't teach yoga for these kinds of things," said Bates, who was still reeling from the hoopla that comes with holding a world title.

Bates' daughter, Barbara Palmer, an English teacher at Lakewood High School, nominated her mother as the oldest yoga instructor this year. The record was previously held by Bette Calman, 85, of Victoria, Australia.

The award came as a surprise to Bates' students, who were told earlier that day that there would be photographers at the class on that balmy November afternoon.

Bates got her start as a swimming instructor in a Cleveland suburb in the 1950s and taught swimming and yoga at the YWCA in Parma, Ohio, in 1960. After moving to St. Petersburg in the 1970s, she taught a yoga class at Lakewood United Methodist Church. She later taught yoga at the Mainlands Clubhouse 5 in Pinellas Park for nearly 15 years.

All in all, Bates was happy to be able to share the award with her students and family.

"It's my students and my daughter and granddaughter that get to share in it," she said.

Bates said she was surprised by all the attention since that day.

"It's been a merry-go-round really," she said. "I've never been into the accolades, just the joy of teaching. So this is different for me."

Through it all, Bates said she just wants to focus more on the benefits of yoga.

"It's good for anybody, from preschool to senior citizens."

Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at at (727) 893-8874 or

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Pinellas Park woman honored as world's oldest yoga instructor 12/03/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 3, 2011 3:31am]
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