“I don’t want to know what I can’t do. I’m only interested in what I can do.”
If there’s living proof that yoga is the fountain of youth, it’s Tao Porchon-Lynch. The 96-year-old Guinness World Records-certified oldest yoga teacher in the world still teaches regular classes in Westchester County, New York. That is, when she’s not traveling around the world, coming in first place in ballroom dance contests, writing books, and makingvideos with Tara Stiles.
Porchon-Lynch’s life story feels like a movie (and it could end up being one, after she finishes writing her autobiography at the end of this year). The former MGM actress and model for brands like Lanvin and Chanel, who was born in French India, crossed paths with Marlene Dietrich, Gene Kelly, and Gandhi. She studied with B. K. S. Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois. And yes, you will work up a sweat in her yoga class, and you probably won’t be able to resist hugging her.
“Last weekend I came in first place in a dance contest. My partner was 70 years younger, and all ages were participating. I danced all day for two days then I taught two yoga classes Sunday morning. I wasn’t really tired.”
We sat down with the lovely-as-ever Porchon-Lynch last week after taking her Monday night class at the JCC of Mid-Westchester, where despite a recent slip on the dance floor and three hip replacements, she’s still demonstrating most of the asanas in her class. “I don’t believe in calamities,” she explains. “I don’t want to know what I can’t do. I’m only interested in what I can do.”
Most Important Yoga Lessons
Yoga Journal: You’ve been teaching yoga for 56 years and practicing it for 72 years. Are there any particular poses that you credit with helping to keep you young and fit?
Tao Porchon-Lynch:Breathing is more important than anything else—poses that are not done correctly are not going to help. It’s how much you can feel the breath moving throughout your body. If you’re in touch with the breath inside you, there’s nothing you can’t do.
YJ: Is there anything about yoga that you wish you knew as a younger person?
TPL: Not really. As a teacher, the most important thing is to have iscompassion. We’re not all made the same—you can’t tell everyone to do it the same way. Sometimes it’s better for students to stop physically and continue mentally, rather than strain. It’s important to watch your students to make sure you can help them.
YJ: You studied with yoga greats like the late B.K.S. Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois. What are the biggest lessons you learned from them?
TPL: They were both the greatest yoga masters. I loved Iyengar for one thing—his alignment, which was always perfect, and his principles of alignment. Pattabhi Jois was wonderful, all breathing, which was what I was looking for. I learned so much from Pattabhi that had to do with my inner self.
TPL:Last weekend I came in first place in a dance contest. My partner was 70 years younger, and all ages were participating. I danced all day for two days then I taught two yoga classes Sunday morning. I wasn’t really tired.
YJ: Do you think being a lifelong vegetarian has helped you live a long, healthy life?
TPL: Maybe. I don’t believe in getting old. In America, look how many beautiful trees are hundreds of years old. They are losing leaves but they are not dying—they are recycling. In a few months, spring will start up again. You can learn so much from nature.
Tao Porchon-Lynch’s 5 Rules for a Long, Happy Life
1. Don’t procrastinate—tomorrow never comes. 2. You can’t believe in something if you only do it halfway. 3. Each day, whatever is in your mind materializes. 4. Never think about what can go wrong. I know my best day is every day. 5. If you wait for something good to happen, it will. Don’t look for tragedy.