Last week, I took a class with Tao. Initially I was excited to practice with such a wise woman, but five minutes into class I forgot about her age completely. Tao appeared weightless. Her limbs lifted off the ground with ease, and the constant smile on her face and attention to the form of every person in class made it a warm, welcoming place to be.
Inspired by her longevity and fiery spirit, I chatted with Tao via phone later that week to find out her secrets to a well-lived life. Here's what she had to say:
Q: When it comes to food, what's your philosophy?
I start off with half a grapefruit every day, but I don't eat very much. I'm not really interested in eating. In fact, if I'm alone, I forget all about it. I don't eat meat because I don't want to kill anything. I find that food is the essence of my breath of life, and everything that I eat has come through the soil to feed me.
Q: What do you wish people knew about yoga?
I do yoga as I was taught in India by (Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja) Iyengar. Now a lot of people are mixing it up a bit, but I feel that it's very important to make my classes at least an hour and half. I like to watch everyone, because none of us are the made the same. I want to make sure whatever they do is good for their body type.
I think you need more than an hour, because doing yoga without the breath doesn't get you very far. When you're part of the breath, you're part of the eternal energy. It's lingering within your own being in every posture.
Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?
I wish I knew that the power of everything was within me. If you're in tune with your breath, you're in tune with the power of the life within you. If you feel that within you, nothing's impossible. It's within every plant, every blade of grass. How do they move through the hard soil and come up to give us beautiful blades of grass? This same energy passes through every person or creature on this planet. Tune in, and know nothing is impossible within me. Never say, "I cannot." You can. Whatever you put in your mind materializes, so materialize what you believe in life.
Q: What's the secret to aging gracefully?
I've never even thought about it before. I just know that I'm not going to spend my time thinking about getting old. I think of my time as watching the beauty of nature and the trees all around me—some of the trees around me are hundreds of years old, and they're not getting older. So tune in with your inner self, and know that that doesn't change.
Q: What does your nighttime ritual look like?
Before bed I take a bath, then I tune in and watch my breath flowing through my body, and I know it's taking me on the story of life. That way I can relax and feel every pore in my body releasing and renewing.
Tao is the award-winning author of Dancing Light: The Spiritual Side of Being Through the Eyes of a Modern Yoga Master.