By Cathy Beres
Yoga instructor and illumine writer Cathy Beres reflects on her time with Porchon-Lynch as she visited Chicago in October.
At 96, Tao Porchon-Lynch is the world’s oldest living yoga instructor, as documented by The Guinness Book of World Records. She has practiced yoga for more than 70 years and taught yoga for more than 45 years in the U.S., India and France. A former model, actress and documentarian, and currently a champion ballroom dancer, she has inspired many students the world over with her approach to life and her dedication to the practice and teaching of yoga.
She was perched curbside at O’Hare on her suitcase like a lovely bird, dressed in a purple puffy jacket, form-fitting black pants, white turtleneck and open-toed black sky-high heels, her bright red toenails peeking out. The first thing you notice about Tao Porchon-Lynch are her brilliant blue-green eyes. They sparkle and dance, engage and embrace with just one glance.
She pops into the front seat of my Volkswagen Beetle. You’d never know she was injured in a stumble a few weeks prior, as she is as spry as a woman half her age. She taught a class in Hartsdale, N.Y. that morning, then flew from Westchester County Airport to Chicago, and we are now en route to Yogaview for her evening workshop. I offer a yogurt parfait to her and to her assistant, Susan Douglass. I had learned she eats very little, likes to drink juices and has one dried prune before retiring each night. Maybe that’s her secret to longevity?
She chats enthusiastically as we sit in rush hour traffic. We talk yoga (she teaches eight or so classes a week in the White Plains, N.Y. area), we talk travel (she’s been everywhere, some recent travels include France and Macchu Picchu, but her favorite place on earth is India) and we talk dance (she started competitive ballroom dancing at the age of 87 and has won hundreds of first place awards at the Fred Astaire Championships, accompanied by her 20-something-year-old partners). She tells me about her two hip replacements.
I ask her for the secret to her longevity and energy; whatever it is, I want some of it. She simply smiles and says she wakes up each day knowing it will be the best day of her life. She says her husband called her a Pollyanna, but she firmly believes if you plant a good thought in your mind it will happen. I channel her positive energy as I navigate traffic, and before I know it, we’ve arrived at Yogaview.
She opens class by graciously thanking the nearly 70 yogis attending the workshop, saying, “I’m blessed that you are here.” She references nature throughout the practice, since it’s a driving force in her life. When she is upset she goes and looks at the trees.
“The same energy that is moving in us is moving in the trees,” she says. “Look to nature: It comes back every season; it has something to teach us. We all breathe the same life, even grass has a heartbeat.”
Nature is her encyclopedia, and she hugs trees to feel their energy. “Trees are hundreds of years old, nobody tells them they are getting older. They recycle each year and I’m recycling too,” she declares.
She talks a lot about energy throughout class. In standing poses, she instructs us to keep our fingers together to keep energy from escaping. Toes should be alive in poses, and she keeps her toes brightly painted to better appreciate them. She does a shoulder stand or legs up the wall every night to help her sleep better, and places the head of the bed facing north to relieve stress.
Her strength and flexibility are amazing, and her personally written yoga nidra meditation is calming. Nobody seems to want to leave when the workshop is over. A large group of younger women sit in a circle around her on the floor like groupies. Photos are taken, autographs signed and more talking. Little by little the crowd dwindles, and it’s time to take her to my place to rest. It’s 9:30, so I am sure she must be exhausted and starving.
Not so. Does this surprise you? Back at my apartment, we crack open a bottle of bubbly along with her assistant and my friend, Maria Santoferraro, author of the blog “The Daily Downward Dog,” who came in from Cleveland for the event. We gab on the couch like teenagers at a sleepover.
Yet she shows no signs of sleepiness. She says she is fueled by her “inner energy, her life force, the lord of creation that lives dormant inside each of us.” Hers is certainly not dormant; it seems to be dancing inside her all day and night!
Speaking of night, she sleeps very little, usually four or five hours, and not through the night, as she often gets up with thoughts racing and will write for a while. She is currently working on her autobiography.
In the morning, over juice, we enjoy some quiet morning moments as we watch the sun rise over Lake Michigan. Porchon-Lynch makes it a daily ritual to savor the beauty of nature wherever she is.
“I love to look in the sky at a flock of birds and watch them against the blueness of the heavens in the sky. Before I put any thoughts in my mind,
I see the beauty of nature,” she says. “It’s nature’s way of advertising that nothing is impossible!”
This is her mantra, “Nothing is impossible.” After spending 24 hours with Tao, I believe her.
Cathy Beres is a certified yoga instructor, freelance writer/marketing consultant and graduate student at Northwestern University.