Self-Empowerment Lessons from 92-Year-Old Yogi Tao Porchon-Lynch

Written by Derek Beres

Peacock received the loudest applause of the afternoon. The challenging arm balance gives even the most advance asana junkie pause, but given that it was being performed so effortlessly by 92-year-old Tao Porchon-Lynch added to the heartfelt reply. Having just healed a broken wrist and recently completed (and won) a 16-hour marathon ballroom dance competition, there was little the fireball seemed incapable of. I made an affirmation to myself to both never complain again when asked to do a particular posture, and to demand the same of my own students.

Tao has been practicing yoga for over seven decades and teaching for two score and five years. While nothing new was covered in the Iyengar-style workshop (she studied with the man in India forty years ago) held at Strala Yoga, you really didn’t attend for groundbreaking postural referencing. Given the fact that Tao moves as gracefully as she does at 92 was reason enough to sign up. No one left feeling differently.

Having attended two David Williams workshops at Pure Yoga the weekend prior, it was like watching history still in process. Williams was the first non-Indian to study with Pattabhi Jois, bringing Ashtanga Yoga back to America. Both instructors discussed the importance of a dedicated, continual practice; both mentioned that experience alone will grant you the knowledge of remaining youthful as you age. Tao herself kept referring to the fact that she’s still constantly being educated by yoga, and that in her mind she’s no different than the child that grew up during the Depression yet obviously never clung to a depressed state of mind.

Most importantly, it was refreshing witnessing an elder so in command of her body and mind. At a time when mandated healthcare is being vehemently derided, when politicians are lobbying to cut, end or privatize Medicare and Social Security, when the process of aging is seen as a disgraceful burden on our national debt, Tao’s simple message of self-empowerment -- that you can do anything you want -- provided a warm sense of comfort. Talk is one thing, however; seeing her smoothly float into a Half Moon pose or wrap up her arms into Eagle provided validity to her words.

It is true that we all have our own karma to deal with, and we arrive at similar places via different routes. Perhaps Tao’s genes predisposed her to long health. Regardless, her Peacock will remain with me. I’m constantly warned by students about their limitations, the injuries or mental afflictions that don’t allow them to practice fully. While I’d never advocate pushing past our personal capabilities, we have to play the edge of our abilities or we never grow. Feeling victimized by life is a certain harbinger of death. Remaining resilient to self-doubt and open to the possibilities of what we are capable of is the surest sign of life.

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