A 93-year-old Puducherry-born yoga teacher sets an amazing record
She has marched alongside Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King,but 93-year-old Tao Porchon-Lynch is being honoured for another achievement altogether,the Guinness World Record 2012 for being the oldest,active yoga teacher in the world. Based in New York,the Puducherry-born Tao is a woman of many interests,connects to the vitality of a place and its people and has led international yoga retreats to India,Wales and Morocco,besides being a wine connoisseur in the rolling vineyards of France. With Tao (way or doctrine in Chinese),the word old ceases to exist. She has been teaching yoga for 45 years and practicing it for over 70 years. She teaches at the Westchester Institute of Yoga,New York,founded by her in 1982 and has certified and taught hundreds of instructors.
Tao took to professional ballroom dancing at 84. And when not winning trophies at dance competitions (she has collected more than 300 at national and international arenas) dressed in slinky red dresses with partners young enough to be her grandsons,Tao shares the platform with the Dalai Lama and Deepak Chopra to promote world peace and preservation.
Taos mantra for life there is nothing that you cannot do might appear too simplistic for jaded souls. The wiry five-foot five frame master is a picture of health and positivity. Her face is a swirl of happy wrinkles,impish eyes,chunky earrings and manicured nails painted a sensuous maroon is occasionally matched by a diamante bindi on the forehead.
Like great teachers,she possesses humour and the ability to live life simply. Tao demonstrates a series of advanced yogic postures such as the swinging lotus,the horse,and the gravity-defying peacock,elevating her body high above the ground with the ease and disposition of a happy infant. In a soft voice,she reminisces about her long journey that yokes the philosophies of India,America and Europe.
Taos father was French and mother Indian. Her mother died in childbirth and Tao was raised by her aunt,her fathers sister. When she was eight,she saw a group of boys performing crazy postures on a beach in India. Her aunt told her,that being a girl,yoga was not meant for her. But she ploughed ahead,saying,If boys can do it,so can I.
Her heroes from India are Indira Devi,K Pattabhi Jois and especially yoga master BKS Iyengar who taught her the finest body alignment and breathing techniques. In her early 20s,Tao moved to her fathers vineyards in France but when the Germans invaded France during World War II,she escaped to England. To survive,Tao performed Indian dances in London cabarets. After the war,she modelled for a living,and then entered into a contract with MGM to act in films through the Forties and Fifties. (She appeared onscreen with Hollywood icon Elizabeth Taylor in The Last Time I saw Paris).
Tao is also a screenplay writer and documentary filmmaker. Through the 1950s and early 60s,she taught yoga to friends and MGM co-workers,free of cost. She chortles,when she recollects that she was first paid $15 for four classes per week by American fitness icon Jack LaLanne in 1968 at his New York Health spa. This marked her entry into the world of professional yoga.
Simplicity,belief in self and consistency in practice are Taos clichéd life pillars. What motivates her to practice every day at dawn and she replies,It is the pleasure of the practice itself. It has seen her through two marriages,widowhood,uncanny career transitions and serious body injuries. Not even a hip replacement surgery in 1982 could stop her in her track. Her orthopaedist confirmed it would be impossible to perform difficult yoga poses again. She proved him wrong and her photo,doing the gravity defying pose,now graces his office. Tao admits she doesnt believe in letting age and broken bones get the better of her.
She disapproves the supplement popping,medication-obsessed culture of today just as she remains in denial of hot yoga. She never feels tired and is rarely sick. She is a frugal eater,predominantly vegetarian,but occasionally consumes fish,never drinks water,believing that it dilutes nutrients and drinks only fruit juices and tea for their anti-oxidant properties. She admits to succumbing to an occasional dessert but then can do without it for a year.
She believes in regular massages for strained muscles and harbours the belief that through her practice of yoga she can heal herself. Last year,she broke her wrist but strengthened it to perform the poses that support her body weight. For a good nights sleep prior to retiring to bed,she does the shoulder stand pose with feet up,letting go of negative thoughts and stress.
Although Tao never had children of her own,she says all her students are her progenies and remain her biggest inspiration. She recently published her first book Reflections: The Yogic Journey of Life and is currently working on her memoir,about her stay in India. Meanwhile her future plans comprise dancing off to the next planet in glitzy tops,fitted pants and three-inch heels. Knowing her,she might just get there.