This Is What Yoga Looks Like 90 Years Later!
By Autumn Feldmeier
Ironically, it is during the darkest week, coming up in the Winter Solstice of 2017, that I was given the opportunity to interview Tao Porchon-Lynch. Known to most as the “Oldest Living Yoga Teacher,” at 98 years of age, Tao is much more than just that.
As a young child, she traveled with her uncle throughout Asia and was introduced to yoga at the age of eight (after being told this was only for boys). Then, as a model, she was given the title “The Best Legs of Europe,” and went on to perform in cabaret - even performing during the London bombing blitz of WWII. Currently, she spends her time teaching six to eight yoga classes per week, competitively dancing ballroom tango and judging wine for the American Wine Society (which she and her husband founded).
I was so inspired just speaking to Tao over the phone and I'm thrilled to be able to meet her and learn from her in person at the upcoming Sedona Yoga Festival.
In your TED talk, you talk of marching with Gandhi in 1930. What was life like for a girl in India in that era?
Gandhi was a friend of my uncle’s, and one day, when I was eight, I saw a little man and everyone was bowing and touching his feet. My uncle said, “Pack a bag, no fancy clothes; we are going on a long trip.” So, we marched with Gandhi!
Gandhi liked my long hair, and he was very sweet. One thing he said that stuck with me was, “Men have lots of visions, but it was the women that put those visions to action.” Empowered by this, I went to see BKS Iyengar who said, “I only take men,” to which I responded, “You are a snob!” (finally he took me in to teach me).
Then I went to see Patabhi Jois, and I was told, “he will teach you the secret of yoga which is the breath.” That's when I found that it's not just the movement, but what comes from within you.
You talk about using the laws of Nature to inspire your life. How do you think that has helped you age?
When people tell me I can't do things because of age, I say, “I don't let age get in the way!”
Tell me about your modeling career.
In 1947, I was back in France after the war as a cabaret dancer. I also met Marlene Deitrich and I was the model for a dress made for her by Lanvin. Marlene came straight to Lanvin and said, “I want a dress and I don't want it on any other model except for Tao!”
Later, I was chosen as one of nine models to come to America and I came to Chicago. At the time, I had a 17 inch waist and I was interviewed on a TV show where I told the measurements in centimeters (it was over 50 cm, vs 17 inches), and they laughed and laughed.
One of your sayings is, “Know whatever you put into your mind materializes.” How do you keep your thoughts positive?
As soon as I wake up, I say, “Today is the best day of my life.”
But, Tao, how do you keep this optimism in our current times (especially as a woman?)
I believe women will save the world because men can be too fanatic! Remember, as women, we are accomplishing things we set out to do; there have always been women leaders throughout history. As for the men - let them have their say, but the women will be the ones to clean up their mess and do what we believe in. Currently, I'm helping with the UN because I believe in the world.
Where does this faith in the Universe come from? Your upbringing?
As a child, my uncle would tell me, “No one is beneath you! If you come upon a farmer who is illiterate and you think you are smarter than he is, the farmer could say to you, 'Well, you are illiterate with the earth.'" We are not the doer, we are the instrument. Get in touch with your breath, the breath of life, and it will empower you to do it!
You started ballroom dancing at age 87…
I've won 748 first places! During the war, the American's taught me how to jitterbug. Now, I'm doing the dance of life!
You have this amazing saying: “There is no such verb as ‘cannot.'” Explain this to me.
Well, first off, the verb “can” isn't even a word! You 'can' fruits and vegetables. The verb is “to be able to do.”
I have to ask, what is your diet?
I don't eat very much. I have a 1/2 grapefruit in the a.m., but i'm not too interested in food. As a child, my uncle taught me, “never put on your plate more than you can eat. Don't overeat.”
Tao, How are you so brave?
I say, “I will not get involved with negative things!” We are one -- when you take a breath, you take a breath with every other person and with nature. I think that women can do anything they want to do. Take a breath; it's the light of the world, and go and do it.
When we open our minds to oneness, then it is all possible.
If you want to experience Tao's magic, you can read her autobiography, Dancing Light: The Spiritual Side of Being Through The Eyesof a Modern Yoga Master, or attend her workshops at the upcoming Sedona Yoga Festival.
Cover photo by Robert Sturman.