At 97, the woman recently recognized as the World’s Oldest Yoga Teacher is vital, limber, energetic and wise. She wins dance competitions against people half her age with a partner half their age. She leads yoga classes and retreats, still easily lifting herself up into inverted poses and happily traveling with groups of students to her native India. In her younger days, she enjoyed a career as a model and actress and participated in the French resistance during World War II. Tao Porchon-Lynch has lived fully and has no intention of slowing down. In her autobiography, “Dancing Light: The Spiritual Side of Being Through the Eyes of a Modern Yoga Master”, she shares her unique and fearless perspective on life and encourages us to meet this moment as fully as she does.
Tao was born to an Indian mother, who died giving birth to her, and a French Canadian father who felt unequipped to bring a baby to Saskatchewan in 1918 with no one to care for her. So she was taken in and raised instead by her mother’s brother and his wife in Pondicherry in the south of India. She was encouraged to practice an innate awareness of the breath and interconnection with nature. Her fearless and indomitable spirit met every “you can’t do that” with an adamant focus on what she could do.
With her uncle, she met Gandhi and joined the salt march, deeply impressed by his principles of non-violence and commitment to freedom and equality. Soon after, she went to Europe during World War 2, where she lived for a year with an aunt who ran a vineyard and secretly helped Jewish refugees escape the Nazis. It’s clear from reading this passage in Tao’s life that boldness and courage ran very much in the family.
When it got too dangerous for Tao to be around her aunt’s work, she went to London where she began performing in nightclubs as a dancer. She fearlessly took gigs during the Blitz, even as her own home and belongings were bombed. She turned down an offer of housing and support, determined to make her own way in life. She connected with several famous actors and dancers and began making a career for herself.
Porchon’s story continues through several twists and turns, some delightful and some heartbreaking. Yet there is never the slightest sense of self-pity or drama. She simply shares matter-of-factly what she experienced, how it felt and what she has learned.
At times, the number of famous people in show business (Marlene Dietrich, Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy…), yoga (Sri Aurobindo, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, BKS Iyengar…), and activism (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Indra Devi, Welthy Fisher) with whom Tao interacts seems almost unbelievable. Combined with her innocent and fearless tone, the book starts to feel like a Forrest Gump story. The difference, though, is that Tao is always aware of the bigger picture. She understands how these connections came to be, and she cultivates that energy of possibility.
Spending time with her autobiography, as told to Janie Sykes Kennedy and Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy, is to pick up a little of the light and courage she has shone through her life. Plus, it’s just a tremendously interesting read! Highly recommended.
Pranada Devi is a communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She is the Managing Editor of Parvati Magazine, and the Communications Manager for Kupid’s Play Records. In addition, she is the editor for Parvati’s forthcoming book “Confessions of a Former Yoga Junkie”.