World's oldest yoga instructor Tao Porchon-Lynch, 98, on her journey to Hollywood and back to the mat
In a world where mass media paints aging as the antithesis of strength and beauty, it seems almost revolutionary that a woman could embrace each coming year with grace and fearlessness.
That's exactly how many would describe Tao Porchon-Lynch, who at 98 is the planet's oldest yoga instructor.
Porchon-Lynch is also a celebrity in her own right, though she didn't initially set out to become one. By the sheer force of her skill, infectious personality and wisdom, people not only flocked to her, but have also come to see her as an authority on the practice.
And when we say people, we mean Deepak Chopra, Charles de Gaulle and Ernest Hemingway. Perhaps you haven't heard of Porchon-Lynch until now, but you're probably familiar with some of her pupils.
Yoga wasn't her first passion, though. The fitness icon initially found success as a model and cabaret performer in both Paris and London, with famed English playwright and composer Noel Coward serving as her mentor.
"My friends, such as [actress] Marlene Dietrich and Coward, were so important during World War II and after," she said. "Despite the tragedies around us, we laughed and had fun together. Having friends who genuinely care about you is important."
She continued to build lifelong relationships when she moved to Hollywood and pursued a career in acting with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM). "I've had a lot of funny incidences at MGM since my spoken English was not very good," noted the Pondicherry, India, native.
"At one point during a film the director kept saying, 'Turn your face to the camera,'" Porchon-Lynch remembered. "I kept my backside to the camera. He seemed to be getting mad and said again, 'Tao, please turn your face to the camera.'" She then asked how one spelled "face." The director responded, "F-A-C-E." Porchon-Lynch then said, "That's it! I thought you meant F-E-S-S-E, which in French, (which I spoke fluently), sounds like 'face' and means your buttock!" That's just one instance of the many confusing moments she experienced that she can laugh at now.
As her language skills grew stronger and her relationships with other actors developed, she began exposing the likes of "An American in Paris" (1951) actress Leslie Caron and "Anchors Aweigh" (1945) star Kathryn Grayson to the yoga practices she had learned as a child -- instilled in her from her uncle who was a pupil of Indian Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda.
World-renowned Russian-born yoga teacher Indra Devi, who lived to be 102 and died in 2002, had encouraged Porchon-Lynch to share her gift of yoga. "Indra Devi was the first to bring [Vivekananda's] teaching to the U.S.," she said. "She was on a trip through California and came to MGM. As soon as they said my name, she looked at me and said, 'I know you.'
"Gradually, I started to offer classes at the studio," Porchon-Lynch said.
Over a decade later, Porchon-Lynch decided to pursue the practice full time and has grown her list of followers since. Almost five years ago, she set the Guinness World Record as the oldest yoga teacher in the world at 93 and became a two-time author thereafter, publishing "Reflections: The Yogic Journey of Life" and her autobiography with Janie Sykes Kennedy titled "Dancing Light: The Spiritual Side of Being Through the Eyes of a Modern Yoga Master."
That same year, she also decided to dip her toes into the reality TV world and competed in Season 10 of NBC's "America's Got Talent." "Dancing on 'AGT' with my teacher Vard Margaryan was fun," said Porchon-Lynch of the experience.
"I didn't realize we would get such an incredible response. I knew my schedule would not allow me to go on in the competition, but we were thrilled to receive a yes from all four judges and a standing ovation," she said.
Like yoga, dance has been a part of Porchon-Lynch's life from the onset as well. "In India, I learned Bharatanatyam -- a classical Indian dance with stylized hand and eye movements," she said.
"That actually helped me get my first job dancing in a nightclub in London during World War II," she said. "Now, dance has given me new life again." She said the art form "fills [her] spirit."
Porchon-Lynch's latest endeavor is a return to her modeling days, as one of the faces of Athleta's most recent advertising campaign. "I was looking for yoga clothing that fit well and was beautiful," she said. She believes yoga lovers should look put together while practicing to honor yoga itself. "Athleta's 'The Power of She' campaign also celebrates women, which is important to me."
Though she's nearing centenarian status, age won't slow Porchon-Lynch down. "I have too much to accomplish every day," she said. "Just as nature recycles herself, I can recycle myself with every breath I take."
You might be wondering: What are Porchon-Lynch's secrets to living a long and fulfilling life? "Breathe deeply, think good thoughts, keep moving your body and do what you love!" she advises.
Faith Cummings writes for Paper Magazine and InStyle.com, among other publications. Check her out on Twitter @fcummings to see more of her work.