“We don’t have to fade. In my head, I’m still in my 20s, and I have no intention of ever growing up.” If you ever needed reason to believe that age can be just a number, then Tao Porchon-Lynch is a living, breathing example.
Born in the former French colony of Pondicherry, India, Porchon-Lynch, 97, has been practising yoga for more than seven decades, and teaching for more than 50 years.
“I was only 8 years old when I first came across yoga, and I thought it was a game,” she recalls. “I saw a group of boys on the beach making beautiful shapes. When I told my aunt, she said: ‘That’s yoga. It’s unladylike.’ I said: ‘If boys can do it, so can I.’”
Porchon-Lynch’s colourful life reads almost like the movie scripts she once wrote and produced. She was under contract with MGM as an actor, and modelled for top designers including Jeanne Lanvin and Coco Chanel. She even won a competition in the 1940s for the “longest legs in Europe”.
“After the [Second World War], I went to India again to learn more about the spiritual side of yoga. Then, when I was back in Hollywood in the 1950s, Indra Devi [often hailed as the first woman of yoga] – who knew me when I was younger – asked why I was not teaching. So I travelled to India again to improve my physical practice.”
This spiritual journey has seen Porchon-Lynch rub shoulders with some of the world’s most revered yoga gurus and history’s most prominent activists. She has studied with the likes of B K S Iyengar, Sri K Pattabhi Jois and Swami Prabhavananda; meditated with Maharishi; and marched with Mahatma Gandhi, twice.
“My beloved uncle’s friendship with Gandhi affected me deeply. Meeting him in our home, and experiencing the 1930s Salt March with Gandhi, was extraordinary. He has decorated the walls of my mind throughout my life. Through Gandhi’s example, I became more fearless and resolved to stand up for freedom and what was right,” Porchon-Lynch says.
While these great names have been pivotal in shaping Porchon-Lynch’s life, she says that the commitment to the practice of yoga and the breath – and not some special diet or miracle cream – hold the key to her longevity.
“Your breath doesn’t know how old you are. The most vital thing in the world is learning to breathe. People think they know how, but they don’t. The practices of yoga and meditation help you live each moment and get in touch with your life force. When you feel this energy within yourself, you feel alive and are able to pass this on to others.”
Energy is one thing that Porchon-Lynch definitely seems to have in abundance. While she is a vegetarian, with an occasional taste for shrimp and lobster, she jokingly cites chocolate and high heels as just some of the things she couldn’t do without.
"I teach one or two yoga classes a day, and in between take dance lessons." Porchon-Lynch says. She took up competitive ballroom dancing at the age of 87, and has won hundreds of first-place awards, often against dancers 70 years her junior. She even made an appearance in June on America's Got Talent.
“Then I usually do some media interviews, and I travel a lot to lead special workshops,” she says. “In the past three months, I’ve been to Slovenia, Montenegro, India and the Bahamas.
“To get rid of all that is on my mind before bed, I practise shoulder stands, with about 50 leg lifts up and down and side to side,” she explains. “All day long, your blood has been moving downwards with gravity, so I like to do the opposite. It clears my brain, and helps me sleep. I also massage my hands and feet to keep everything flowing.”
So what’s her message to a current generation who seem obsessed with social media, selfies and reversing the ageing process? “People don’t know how to look within themselves, so they make up all of these pictures about their life. I want them to go back to the breath, and keep focusing on that.
“This life force is inside us, but 90 per cent of people rely on what others say, instead of feeling it. Be in touch with the beauty of nature and oneness, and you will blossom. Don’t think about age. What you put in, your mind materialises. Stay curious, and live every moment.”
Porchon-Lynch is also curious about what Dubai will have in store for her. She flies into the city for the first time to teach at the inaugural XYoga Dubai Festival on February 19 and 20 at Burj Park, Downtown Dubai.
“When I went to India in December, I changed planes in Dubai. Just being in the airport made me curious – there seems to be a special energy. It’s like the whole of the universe is meeting right in that magical place.”
To find out more about Tao Porchon-Lynch, visit her website www.thetaoexperience.com