World’s Oldest Yoga, Tao Porchon-Lynch, Comes to Washington
Nowadays, yoga is perceived mainly as a women’s activity. But, when Tao Porchon-Lynch was a child in Pondicherry, India, her aunt hastily informed her, “Only men do yoga.” Porchon-Lynch was undeterred. She figured, “If boys can do it, I can do it too.” Though she didn’t have any instruction until decades later, she began practicing on her own.
At 95 years young, she is currently the world’s oldest living yoga teacher. She keeps an active schedule, traveling to various cities to teach yoga workshops and to participate in ballroom dancing competitions. In April, she participated in the Fred Astaire Dance Championships in Atlanta with dance partners 70 years her junior. She will visit Washington to lead a yoga workshop at Buddha B Yoga Studio on U Street, Northwest on July 25.
Speaking in a gentle British accent, Tao explains that she was raised with the Vedanta philosophy of seeing the oneness of all beings. As a child, she lived three blocks away from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India and visited it frequently with her uncle. The same uncle also knew Swami Vivekananda, an immortal figure whose 1893 speech at the World Parliament Religions ignited the first sparks of yoga in western culture.
In the 1950’s, she was making films in Hollywood when the renowned Indra Devi came to town. Devi had known Porchon-Lynch’s family in India and asked her, “What are you doing in films? Why are you not teaching them yoga?” She told her, “Teach them pure yoga, real yoga.” At her urging and without any formal training, Porchon-Lynch began teaching yoga to the actresses at MGM.
Eventually, she decided to go back to India to deepen her practice and understanding of yoga. She approached BKS Iyengar for instruction, but at the time, he only taught men. She banded together with Dona Holleman and another Indian woman and together, they persuaded Iyengar to allow them in his class.
Later, she studied with Pattabhi Jois and the Maharaj of Mysore who taught her the importance of breath in yoga practice. Porchon-Lynch observes, “Without breath, the postures are not good. People are sloppy. When they know how the energy works in the body, then they can do a beautiful yoga. The meaning of it is to join the body, mind and spirit, to become one with it.”
Porchon-Lynch turns 96 on August 13. She finds she is a little stiffer than she used to be, due to a hip replacement and a rod in her leg, which eventually broke and had to be removed. But, she can still do yoga poses. Her attitude is, “I won’t let pain be the boss. I’m the boss.”
She pays little attention to doctors’ warnings that she may have to cut back her physical activities. On the day of her interview, she wore a pair of high-heeled crimson red shoes, which she said she wore while climbing Machu Pichu. “I’m not interested in what I can’t do. I’m only interested in what I can do. Know that nothing is impossible.” Porchon-Lynch frequently reminds her yoga students, “When you breath, you are using the power of life within you. Everything that pulsates with life is also within us.”
Porchon-Lynch workshop at Buddha B Yoga Studio on July 25 is called “Explore The Body as Energy.” She will explain how to use pranayama, hand positions (mudras) and bandhas (locks), to focus and store the body’s vital energy.
This will be Porchon-Lynch’s second visit to Buddha B Yoga Center, Washington’s only Jivamukti-affiliated studio. Owners Valerie and Rexx Samuell try to create a spiritual focus in their studio, alongside vigorous posture practice. They also co-produce “Healthy You”, a plant-strong vegan cooking and wellness show on Fairfax Public Access television.