She’s a film star from Hollywood’s golden era and the world’s oldest yoga teacher.
When we grow up we want to be just like Tao Porchon Lynch, but for now, we’ll make do with taking a class with her at XYoga Dubai this weekend, where she’ll be teaching two Yoga for All sessions.
We hear you’re the world’s oldest yoga teacher, at 97. How long have you been practicing for?
The first time I did yoga I was only eight years and thought it was a new game. I saw a group of boys, on the beach in Pondicherry in India, making beautiful shapes with their bodies.
When I told my aunt, she said, “That is not a game. That is yoga! It’s unladylike. That’s not for girls.” I said, “If boys can do it, so can I!” So I did.
That was back in 1926, who would have thought I’d find myself in Dubai taking part in the Middle East’s biggest yoga session, it’s marvellous!
You were born in India – is that where you began studying and who were your teachers?
I was actually born on a ship in the middle of the English Channel at the end of World War I. My mother died giving birth to me so my uncle took me to Pondicherry. I was raised by my aunt and uncle. My uncle knew Sri Aurobindo (Indian yoga guru) and I used to walk on the beach with both of my uncle and Sri Aurobindo, it was not long after that I started my studied at the Aurobindo Ashram.
I spent some time in Europe during the war period and I traveled back to India in order to learn more about the spiritual side of the practice.
I also spent some time in Hollywood back in the 1950s, Indra Devi (female yoga pioneer) – who knew me when I was younger – saw me and asked why I was not teaching yoga. At this point I made the decision to go back to India to increase my knowledge on the physical practice of yoga.
It has always been my dream to travel the world learn and share the practice of yoga and everywhere you go there are new traditions and value to be taught. I cannot wait to visit Dubai and see what it has in store; the region has such a rich heritage.
Sounds like you had a glamorous life – you starred in Hollywood films alongside Elizabeth Taylor. Did you give your co-star any yoga lessons?
Elizabeth Taylor was a much bigger star, I did not get a chance to spend a lot of time with her due to her busy schedule, I did teach a yoga class at MGM which many actresses attended such as Kathryn Grayson and Leslie Caron.
I helped Leslie heal from a foot injury by using a Coke bottle to massage the bottom of her feet. Right after that, the first foot massagers came out!
From Hollywood star to yoga advocate – how has yoga changed your life?
I don’t think about it too much because I’ve lived with it all my life.
I was brought up always believing in the ‘Oneness’ behind everything so it was never something that just struck me or changed my mind about things all of a sudden. Other people are finding something that has been innate in me since I was a child.
We’re looking forward to seeing you at XYoga Dubai. What type of yoga will you be demonstrating?
If we come to see you, could we be practicing yoga in our 90s?
Yes – tune into the breath, keep practicing and know that there is nothing you cannot do for you’re not the doer, you’re the instrument!
It’s lasted you a life time – what’s the secret to yoga’s enduring popularity?
Yoga helps you tap into your own beauty and the power within.
If you’re really doing yoga an aura shines through you. Now, many people are also realising the physical and mental benefits of reducing stress, increasing strength and flexibility and helping to manage pain.
Finally, Tao is a fantastic name. Is it your yoga name and what does it mean?
Tao is my given name—Tao Andrée Porchon. My ayah (nursemaid who was like an older sister) gave me that name. I don’t think she realised it but in Indian astrology, having a ‘T’ at the start of the name indicates a strong spiritual belief and the ability to make prophecies. In Chinese philosophy, Tao means ‘the way or path’, and ‘the energy of nature’. It also is the symbol for long life.