I Celebrated My Birthday With The World's Oldest Yogi
There are moments when truly spectacular people cross your path. It reminds me of the When Harry Met Sally moment when a woman nods toward Meg Ryan's flushed, satisfied character and proclaims, "I'll have what she's having."
This week I was graced with the presence of a woman who left me wanting to soak up every bit of her poise, grace and zest for life. I want to have what she's having.
An email from my local yoga studio announced that Tao Porchon-Lynch would be in the area to teach a yoga class followed by wine tasting. I was intrigued, and as it happened to coincide with my birthday, I decided it would make a fun present to myself. How can you go wrong with the combination of yoga and wine? Unless maybe it was wine before yoga. Has anyone ever fallen asleep in downward dog?
I arrived to a packed energized room, but as I soon would witness, Tao's energy and spirit would have filled the room even if it were empty.
At age 94, Tao is, according the Guinness Book of Records, the oldest living yoga instructor. But that's only the tip of the iceberg in describing this fiesty and soul-centered woman.
She's clad in all white, and as the YouTube clips I watched before coming suggested, it’s her signature style. She's as thin as a bird, her legs probably the circumference of one of my arms. No doubt they're all muscle, though, based on the poses she can execute.
"There is nothing you cannot do" she says repeatedly. And by the end of the day, I believe her.
She greets the room and apologizes that she has to take it easy with some of her poses today; the rod in her leg from a hip replacement several years back has broken in half, and she's still healing from that.
However, in the next breath she shares that she's just come from Atlantic City, where yesterday she participated in the Fred Astaire Ballroom Competition. She danced 31 dances, winning first place in all of them.
She's clearly unstoppable.
A true master, she's a stickler for technique, sharing what she refers to as "gimmicks" that will ensure we execute the poses correctly. She must be on to something. I slide into my first Crow Pose, a pose that has eluded me even before limitations of recent surgery. I am feeling triumphant. Her voice rings in my ears: "There is nothing you can not do."
After about ninety minutes of yoga — it's hard to say for sure because we were all too riveted to check our watches or iPhones — we move on to the wine tasting part of the program.
Half Indian and half French, this multilingual yogi speaks with what almost sounds like a British accent, and in her soft-spoken, alluring manner, Tao regales us with tales of her life as we sip the wine.
She shares her first reaction to meeting the funny man with round little glasses. She would eventually participate in several marches with him in India as he led her home country to independence. She giggles when she recalls studying under famed yogi Iynegar, who threw her across the room ("He didn't realize how light I was when we was trying assist me," she explains).
As Tao delves further into her wine knowledge (which is vast), she includes philosophical bits. "Countries who produce wine have the most peaceful arguments," she says. She may be on to something there, too.
It's obvious that wine, like yoga and dance, is a true passion of hers. She recalls a stay at a chateau in France where she loved to sip wine in the evenings. The manager of the chateau told her that a fellow guest had taken note of her and was looking for her. "Who is he?" she inquired. "A writer, " he answered. "Just wrote something called For Whom the Bell Tolls."
She leaves the rest of that encounter to our imagination.
As the evening winds down, I'm grateful to have a few moments of one-on-one time. I thanked her for the honor of this afternoon together, compliment her on her wild red nail polish (which excites and pleases her). We discuss our love of travel, and I tell her that India is on my list of places to visit. She proposes a trip to India together next year. "Keep in touch," she says. "I’ve got email and Facebook."
With her can-do attitude, positive spirit, and insatiable love of life, a trip together next year will not surprise me.
Most definitely, I'll have what she's having.