TAO WAS AN ENTREPRENEUR, AWARD WINNING BALLROOM DANCER, AUTHOR, PUBLIC SPEAKER AND THE WORLD’S OLDEST YOGA TEACHER
Tao Porchon-Lynch, both the Guinness-certified world’s oldest yoga teacher and the oldest competitive ballroom dancer, has died at age 101.
The forever young yogi and author inspired many through her classes, teachings and writing, “Know that the joy of living is right inside you,” Tao wrote.
“I don’t believe in age. When people ask me about age, I tell them to look at all the trees around them. They’re hundreds of years old. They may look as if they’re dying at the moment, but they’re not; they’re recycling themselves. And in a couple of months, they’re going to be reborn again.”
Tao, an American yoga master of French and Indian descent, began practicing yoga at the age of 8 and went on to study with some of the world’s most prominent teachers. She had many creative endeavors, including a love for wine and ballroom dancing, for which she won many competitions.
Her full life included a stint in Hollywood as an actress and marching with Mohandas K. Gandhi for social justice. She was committed to wildlife conservation and protecting elephants, in particular, and authored the book, “Reflections: The Yogic Journey of Life.”
While other centenarians are long into retirement, Tao continued to teach yoga in Hartsdale, New York, into her 100s. Her students recalled her exquisite grace, strength and stamina as she taught and worked with people one-quarter of her age, always having words of wisdom, so eloquently spoken.
At age 100, Tao was an ambassador for Athleta, the Gap’s athletic-wear brand of women’s fitness clothes. Tao graced the cover of its catalog for their “Power of She” campaign.
Tao practiced yoga for more than 70 years, 45 of which she also spent teaching in India, France, Dubai, China, Russia, Hungry, Nassau, Canada and the U.S
After having three hip replacements, when Tao was asked how she stayed so active after those procedures, she simply replied, “Because I’m the boss.”
Tao’s energy came from “the breath of life.” “The breath of life is right inside of us,” she said. “To feel the dance of life within you, and know that nothing’s impossible.”
The longtime Westchester resident worked earlier in her life as a Hollywood actress, in the company of Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Elizabeth Taylor,
Tao was always asked what her secret for a long life was. Tao said it was Pranayama, a yogic practice that involves controlling the breath, which is the source of our life force, prana. It’s thought to bring harmony between the body, mind and spirit.
The founder of the Westchester Institute of Yoga took up ballroom dancing at age 87 and has won more than 750 first-place awards as a competitive dancer. At age 96, she appeared on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” receiving a standing ovation from the judges.
“To me yoga is in every animal and every blade of grass and it’s alive with the energy of life,” Tao said as she taught a class at the Fred Astaire Studio. “If I can feel it within me, then I’m in touch with everyone in this room.”
Tao has hosted yoga retreats and has spoken at conferences around the world, including Arizona, Russia, Singapore, Dubai, Slovenia, France, China and India. In 2016, she was recognized on Women’s Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
As impressive as her personal achievements are, her life experiences spanning continents and historical events are almost fantastical.
Born in 1918 to a French father and Indian mother who died giving birth to her, Tao was raised by her uncle, Vital Porchon. Her light green eyes sparkle when she talks about her upbringing in Pondicherry, a coastal city in India which was a French colony until 1954.
It was from her uncle that Tao learned life’s important lessons.
“My uncle would say, never ask anyone to understand you, try to understand them,” she said. “Never look down upon anyone.”
It was in Pondicherry that Tao got her first glimpse of yoga. She was eight years old, and young boys, barely older than her, were creating beautiful shapes with their bodies on the beach.
She tried imitating them, but was told by her aunt that it was not a “ladylike” thing to do.
“I said, ‘If boys can do it, I can do it’,” recalled Tao who continued to show up at the beach and over the years learned many of the asanas or postures just by watching. “If you believe in something, go ahead and do it.”
Her uncle, Vital Porchon, who built railroad lines in Asia and Africa, knew many of the great spiritual thinkers and activists of pre-Independence India, including Mahatma Gandhi. At age 12, Porchon-Lynch accompanied her uncle to march alongside Gandhi in the Satyagraha or Salt March of 1930. (She would later take part in the 1963 March on Washington with Dr Martin Luther King.
It was from her uncle that she learned life’s important lessons, she said.
To her, he embodied the power of positivity and mindfulness.
“Every morning he’d say, ‘It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it ?'” Tao said. “Wake up each day thinking it’s going to be a great day, and it will be,”
In 1939, she set sail for France from India to live with her aunt, and would eventually participate in the French Resistance. After the war, she worked as a model in France and England before moving to the United States in 1949. Soon she was working as a Hollywood actress under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, with credits including the films “Show Boat” and “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” and TV shows such as “The Bob Hope Show” and “I Married Joan.” She also worked as a writer, producer and international film broker, rubbing shoulders with old Hollywood cinema celebrities such as Fred Astaire, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster.
In the 1950s Tao trained under some of the biggest names in yoga; K. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, Swami Prabhavananda, Sri Aurobindo, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Indra Devi and taught yoga to actors in Hollywood, including Clark Gable.
After marrying Bill Lynch, an insurance salesman in 1962, she moved to Hartsdale and together with others, founded the American Wine Society. (Her family in France had owned a vineyard in the Rhône Valley for many generations).
Tao continued her passion for yoga by certifying and training hundreds of teachers and taught at various locations including the New Age Center in Nyack, The Jewish Community Center in Scarsdale, and the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Hartsdale.
While always well-known in certain Hollywood and yoga circles, including serving on the Newark Peace Education Summit with the Dalai Lama in 2011, Tao was never a celebrity known to the masses.
That would change when she turned 93.The recognition by the Guinness World Records catapulted her to yoga rockstar fame – the kind of fame where she’d be mobbed at her local Trader Joe’s, airports or restaurants.
In 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi awarded her the prestigious Padma Shri Award for exceptional achievement.
Tao’s life experiences spanned continents and historical events..Tao was like a magnet. She just attracted people from all walks of life. Students would never want to leave her classes!
“To me 101 is natural. It doesn’t scare me. I awake with the sun and think of all my many friends and that makes me ready to know that you never put anything off for tomorrow because tomorrow never comes,”
Tao’s philosophy was to show people that anything is possible if you believe in it, “There is nothing you cannot do.”
“When I wake up in the morning, I know that it will be the best day of my life.”
One of Tao’s longtime yoga students, Shreya Mehta, wrote these beautiful words about Tao.
A special kind of pain is felt when your mentor’s time on earth is through. Today I said goodbye to Tao. She was 101 years old, nothing was impossible for her, a yoga master, dancing star and wine connoisseur and most importantly a beautiful soul.
I hope this loss doesn’t throw me into a tailspin of sadness. She was the one who was a positive energy light when my father and mother in law passed away. When we are grieving a great teacher or guide, we are not only grieving the memories or moments that we’ve had with them but also what lessons they haven’t yet taught. It’s as if our personal GPS has lost its signal and we are suddenly lost. We keep showing up to class and there is no teacher. There is no substitute.
What we can’t see, in the blurriness of our pain, is that our great teachers have left us with a very detailed road map. A lesson plan, if you will. A true mentor never really dies. Their work lives on in you. I have been blessed with the treasures she has left behind, be it in her words of wisdom, her encouragement of my art, and her positive smiling persona.
I have already been touched by her lessons, wisdom and grace and those things can never die.
If someone you look up to made a difference while they were here on earth, just imagine what they can do now that they have wings.