Tao Porchon-Lynch, Master Yoga teacher, 95 years young, has over 70 years of yoga practice and more than 45 years of teaching yoga to students in India, France and the U.S.
Her life in India encompasses many historic events. There aren’t many people still alive who witnessed first-hand some of the events Tao has.
Before teaching yoga, Tao had a long and varied career. Tao was an actress in England, France and the USA in the 1940’s and 50’s, wrote screenplays and made documentaries in the 60’s and 70’s.
Tao is a living advertisement for how to tap into our human potential. She is unique in her ability to overcome the effects of aging to control her body and mind in harmony with Yoga’s principles. Tao’s philosophy is “There is nothing we cannot do if we harness the power within us.” Her yoga principles and practices will be appreciated by current and future generations.
Her current passion, in addition to yoga, is ballroom dancing and she is an award winning world-class dancer.
Interview with Tao Porchon-Lynch
Q: Yoga practice and day to day life, are they connected or not?
A I think a short practice of yoga resembles the sun rising over the horizon. It opens up a new dawn of life for both nature and mankind. The subtle energy of the “breath of life” enables this “inner energy” to wipe out the darkness of fear and then brightens our mind and body to face the dawn. As we breathe, we experience the beauty of nature stir within us. We become in touch with this inner energy and the wonder of the life around us as it flows into the whole universe.
As we open the door, like the dawn welcoming the rays of the sun, it reveals the purity of a new day. The wonder of knowing that this power behind every thought or action makes us aware that nothing is impossible.
Yoga is like a ladder of life, it moves through your whole body. All the elements are presented as chakras in your own body. The body is made of the earth. When we die we go back into earth. The next step is water and water is the blood of the earth. Without water everything within us dies. The third one is fire. Fire means the heat of the sun drawing out of you, all the good things in life. I call it my powerhouse, because if it doesn't work, nothing works inside. All the movement in my body starts from there. The fourth one is air. Without air we don't breathe. If you think that you're doing yoga and don't control your breath, you're doing anything but yoga. Without proper breathing, you're like in prison, but if you go deep inside yourself and feel the air travelling through you and moving into all parts of your body, you're awakening your body. I feel that yoga does a lot of good. The last one is ether, which you cannot describe. Ether is when the wind makes the clouds move: you can't see the wind, but you can see the result. So is that what composes us. And as we move higher, into our head, we clear up our mind and body.
Yoga is the route that brings this that lies dormant within us. It has always been my trademark on my road to accomplishments.
Q: What is a yogi? What is the difference between a yogi and a regular person?
A. A yogi is more interested in knowing why we are on this earth and searches within himself for the answers. If we get up in the morning and start to think about all the things that could go wrong, we materialize them. But if we get out of bed and look out of the window and see nature we can feel the energy of nature inside of us and know that nothing is impossible this day. Everything is going to work. It helps yoga. We are all on this path. A yogi is on the path towards the answer to the question ‘What is life?’ and he can do anything he puts into his mind. If you don't do that and wake up in the morning thinking about all the problems you might have then it will become a torment. You will be carrying a load of thoughts that usually don't materialize. The word ‘yoga’ comes from ‘yuj’ which means ‘to make a union, to unite’. And when we practice it we unite the body, the mind and the spirit. What unites it all is yoga, the breath of life. It opens up a new day filled with possibilities... I have a story. I used to go to a group where people who came back from the war and couldn't live with their families and had trouble doing ordinary work. When I got there the first time there were 90 people in the room. And there was a funny little man who came to me and said ’I didn't come to do yoga. I came to see you.’ And I said ‘What do you mean you didn't come to practice yoga?’ And he said ‘I'm 72, I can't do yoga! I can't do any of that stuff, I never could do it!’ And I said ‘What do you mean you can't do it? Of course you can! There is no such word as ‘can’. You can food, you can vegetables. The verb is ‘to be able to.’ So I got him into the dancer's pose. And he was jumping around asking people if they saw what he just did and the whole place was laughing. ‘I never could that in my entire life! Even when I was young!’ And I didn't know whether to laugh or cry because he was so proud of himself since he managed to hold up his foot which he told me was impossible. I have another story, another one that is precious to me. I went to teach some children who were doing kung fu not to become violent, but to fend themselves against violence. And they were from 3 years old to 6 years old and from 7 years old to 12 years old. At the end of all the classes they wanted to sit and talk to me, so we sat on the floor. They were asking me all sorts of questions. And one little girl asked me ‘Tao, what are you going to do when you retire?’ And I said ‘I'm not going to retire.’ She said ‘Good, but what are you going to do when you're done here?’ ‘I'm going to dance my way to the next planet.’ She said ‘Well, that makes sense. We've put a man on the Moon, so when I get to be your age all the stars will have the people on them and I will be able to be on a star.’ Isn't it cute? I think if we can teach the children now that instead of dropping garbage and thinking bad thoughts we can bring them together and they know what is wrong and what is right. We keep digging holes in the ground and filling them with junk and taking all the oil out, everything out of the earth. Now we also dig holes in the sea which is killing all the fish, so if we take all of that out and fill it with garbage we are poisoning the earth and poisoning people, because the earth produces the food.
Q: Who are your teachers?
A: Originally nobody. Originally I saw some children at the beach and I thought that it was some new game like football. And it looked very interesting to me and I thought ‘I can do that too.’ But my aunt said ‘This is not ladylike.’ And I said ‘If boys can do it, I can.’ So that's how I started and I didn't know what I was doing. I just thought that it was very interesting. Eventually when I was in Hollywood I met Indra Devi who knew my uncle. She arrived to Hollywood and she said to me ‘Why aren't you teaching yoga?’ And I said ‘Because I don't know enough.’ She said ‘Nonsense! You know everything. You teach yoga.’ And I started teaching friends, other actresses and that's how I started my teaching career. I kept going back to France, back to India. Every time I was in India I studied yoga. Eventually in 1958 I went back and I heard about B. K. S. Iyengar. They said ‘Oh, but he only teaches men.’ Two other women joined me in the class, the rest were men. Every year I came back to India specifically to do one month with Iyengar. I went back 17 years and I liked his techniques, but I wanted to know more. I had heard about Maharaja of Mysore where Iyengar had learned with Pattabhi Jois and Krishnamachharya who had studied with him. I started to study with Pattabhi Jois. He was strong, yet gentle and also he gave a lot of attention to breathing. With him you learned to breathe. It was incredible. Impressed I returned and started to teach breathing in America. On my next trip I took a lot of my students and introduced them to Pattabhi Jois. Watching him, I couldn’t get over how his body shined like a newborn baby. He didn’t say much, but whatever he said was very worthwhile. One of my student teachers wanted to be certified by him and went to India. She was there for a month, studying the breath. He reiterated before you do yoga, you must learn to breathe. It is not just physical, it comes from within.
Q: How come that Krishnamachharya has several famous students, but their styles are so different?
A: I think that is natural. We discover many channels to do yoga. Krishnamachharya and Pattabhi Jois discovering some ancient texts, approached it from the breath, whereas Iyengar became famous because he was a master of technique. He also became famous relying on props in his practice to get into a good posture.
My only feeling is it’s important to learn as much as possible from both masters because not all your students are built the same way.
If you’re a teacher, you can’t tell everybody to do it exactly the same because we aren’t built the same way. For instance, I have small body and long legs. I also have small shoulders. Some people have long arms and a lot of people have long bodies. And you can't ask them to do it. You have to look at them and see what you can do to help them get into a posture. Sometimes people come to my class and say that I can't do certain things, and at the end of the day they are happy when I help them. Even if it's just two people who learn something new about themselves, it still makes me happy. When people ask me questions, I really learn a lot from them, from my students. I have certified close to 3,000 people, yoga teachers. I try to teach them to use compassion as much as I want them to understand the meaning of yoga. Yoga is to discover that there is nothing we cannot do in life. All the power of the universe is right inside us.
Q: Tao Porchon-Lynch, is it your real name?
A: Tao has been my name since I was a little girl. It means the energy of nature.
Q: Yoga was created by men and for men. Should it be adapted for women?
A: When I first arrived at Iyengar’s, apart from the three of us, all of them were men, 90 men in a room. Five years later there were nearly all women. Now men are coming back, including people like football and baseball players, doing yoga again. And it's good because most men are very stiff.
Q: And what about women? Is it good for women? Or should it be adapted a little bit?
A: To me there is no difference between men and women practicing yoga. We all have the same energy within us — the breath of life.
Q: How does it work? It seems very easy: raise your arm, take a breath, but what actually happens?
A: The ancient Chinese said you channel the energy from your instep in your feet, your hands and your head. The energy, like the sap of the tree moves upward through your body. It is the path of life throughout your whole being that opens the door within you.
Q: Do you mean that asana and pranayama purify nadis, energy channels in our bodies?
A: In the west, we’re more concerned with taking pills. Within us, nature publicizes that we can recycle our lives like the four seasons always bring about a new spring.
Q: So we use stretching to make our bodies smoother, more relaxed and ‘to iron’ our muscles?
A: Yes. As we experience the energy within us, it’s like the spring brings forth flowers after a dull winter. After a dreary winter, spring breaks through the renewal of beautiful blossoms. Let the sun come into you. As it opens the flowers, it will open you up.
Q: For what reason there are difficult asanas that seem more suitable in circus then on yoga mat?
A: There is no reason. To bring energy into the body, some people like energetic asanas that build up their body. You can get as much from the easy ones. I don't like power yoga with all the jumping. I start with the breath and I want my students to learn to breathe first as that will allow them to become lighter. So much harm is done from forcing the body. Unless the student is really in touch with their inner being, and uses this energy correctly, it can cause later problems. One of the most incredible people is David Swenson, a good friend of mine. When you see him, he is humble. He can do a split between two cliffs, with the ocean below, without fear, letting the life force take him into the pose.
Q: When people start practicing yoga and decide to go deeper, they often learn about yama and niyama. One of the yamas, brahmacharya, raises so many questions so that I have to ask: what is your point of view? Can one practice yoga and lead a family life?
A: Yes, I think you can, absolutely. I think it can bring people closer together because you're on the same path.
Q: It's not about sex or abstinence?
A: No. Tantric yoga has brought many couples together. The oneness that we feel around us and through us is the love of creation.
Q: You're a very beautiful woman.
A: I believe I look slightly dilapidated because I’ve been travelling for two days.
Q: What one should do to be happy?
A: Just look at nature. Look at animals.
Q: Please share your beauty secrets with our readers.
A: I don't really have any. I never knew how to make up because the studios used to do it.
Q: Do you want to wish something to the readers?
A: Just tell them: tomorrow never comes. One minute after midnight is already today. Know that if it's a good thing, it's going to happen. Don't let anything bad happen in your thoughts. Think of beauty, even of a snowdrop. This little flower comes through the snow and ice and everybody has that sort of beauty inside of them. No matter how ugly a person thinks he is on the outside, there is always beauty inside. Take a breath and know that you're tuning in to the most beautiful thing in the whole universe, the creator of life, and you will make everything open up for you.