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Isn't Life Just Great!

An interview with Jack LaLanne
by Andrew Cohen


Jack LaLanne

"Living is tough, it's hard, and most people, especially religious people, spend too much time on their spirituality, hoping that this spiritual thing is going to do something for them. It doesn't work that way! They've forgotten all about honesty and integrity and really getting down to the nitty-gritty."

Jack LaLanne is the ultimate example of a Self Master. But I had no idea, when his name came up while we were talking about this issue of WIE, what a truly remarkable man he is. The health and fitness guru of 1950s and '60s television fame is currently eighty-four years old and bursting with vitality. His radiant health, as remarkable as it is for any man his age, is overshadowed by the sheer joy that emanates from every fiber of his being. And his energy! "Either he's enlightened or he's crazy," I thought to myself as LaLanne, sitting across from me in the living room of his southern California home, pounded the side of his chair, shouting, "I've got to help the people!" To speak in spiritual terminology, his energy, his transmission, is one of relentless and overwhelming positivity. "Anything in life is possible, if you make it happen," he said to me, grinning from ear to ear.

This American icon, who claims to have been "reborn" after hearing a talk given by a nutritionist in Oakland, California, when he was fifteen years old, has not looked back since. His infectious enthusiasm for that which changed his life—diet and exercise (he has "systematic, vigorous and violent" two-hour workouts every morning starting at 5:00 a.m. and never ever misses a day)—is unwavering. Not only was he literally decades ahead of his time in championing the lifesaving benefits of proper exercise and nutrition, but he is also the founding father of the modern health club and single-handedly designed and created the very first weight machines ever built. (He has a small museum in his house with the original models still intact. His energetic and equally gracious wife, LaLa, claims to use the antiques in her own workouts.) Jack (who didn't approve when I tried calling him "Mr. LaLanne") never cheats on his low-fat, supplement-intensive diet and is a living example of everything that he speaks about. Although most people under thirty may not know who he is, everybody thirty-five and over can't help but be familiar with the ever encouraging man in the skintight jumpsuit.

"Why did Jesus perform miracles?—to call attention to his profession. Why do I do these incredible feats?—to call attention to my profession!" Since age forty, Jack has performed a series of incredible feats of strength on his birthdays. For example, at age forty-five he did 1,000 pushups and 1,000 chin-ups in one hour and twenty-two minutes, and at age seventy he swam handcuffed and shackled, towing seventy boats and seventy people, for one and a half miles while fighting strong currents!

Although to some people an interview with Jack LaLanne about enlightenment and its relationship to self-mastery may seem incongruous, the remarkable thing about this extraordinary man is that he may indeed embody many of the unusual qualities of those throughout history who are presumed to have been enlightened. Although he himself had no concept of what is usually meant by the word "enlightenment" and always reduced the solution to every human problem to his perennial prescription of diet and exercise, his ferocious and unwavering single-pointedness of mind seems to have produced in him that one human quality that speaks louder than a thousand words—joy! A true yogi in the classical sense of the word, Jack LaLanne might have impressed Patanjali himself as a rare example of concentration, self-discipline and integrity. Renunciation and self-control, the pillars of any real practice of yoga, are Jack's intimate friends, and while he appeared to be at a loss whenever asked about spiritual depth, lightness of being seems to be his natural state. So, is Jack LaLanne enlightened? No, I don't think so. But this Self Master has more than a little to offer any and all who are interested in self-transcendence in any form.

"Thoughts are things. Negativity is what kills you," Jack often says. And he means it! The vehicle of the Self Master is control over the mind and emotions, and Jack is indeed a master. For him, self-control is the key to liberation: "It's tough to do, but you've got to work at living, you know? Most people work at dying, but anybody can die; the easiest thing on this earth is to die. But to live takes guts; it takes energy, vitality, it takes thought. . . . We have so many negative influences out there that are pulling us down. . . . You've got to be strong to overcome these adversities . . . that's why I never stop."

Jack's one-dimensional yoga is one-dimensional, but his example is indeed remarkable. While surrender and spiritual depth almost never seem to be acquaintances of the Self Master, the utter simplicity and indomitable spirit they embody may pose almost as great a challenge to the ego as enlightenment itself. How many of us can claim to know the peace of mind and purity of heart of one such as Jack LaLanne?

The following interview is an entertaining adventure where two worlds collide. It became obvious almost immediately that Jack, true to his Self Master status, was the one who was going to remain in control! I tried my best to draw him into what would generally be considered to be a more "spiritual" context for our investigation into the relationship between enlightenment and self-mastery, and while I'm not sure I succeeded, he definitely convinced me that he is the real McCoy.


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This article is from
Our Self-Mastery Issue