HUFFPOST: The 93-year-old yoga master Tao Porchon-Lynch was recently named “oldest yoga teacher” by the Guinness World Records. I’ve had the pleasure of studying with Tao and spending time with her over the last few years. She is one of my inspirations and certainly an example of what I call “Power Living.” Her journey provides insights to crafting an amazing life.
1. Play Your Cards Right – Tao’s Indian mother died in childbirth, and her French father left Tao to be raised by his brother’s family in India. Tao could have let the absence of her birth mother and father become a mental roadblock. Instead, she embraced her circumstances and cherished the love she received from the family she had. She became a successful model in Europe, and then a film star under contract with MGM in Hollywood working with Bob Hope and other notables. Are you playing your cards or wishing you had another deck? The situations we are born into shape our character, but do not have to determine our destiny.
2. Follow Your Heart – At age 8, Tao wanted to learn yoga. In India at that time girls didn’t do yoga. Her aunt said, “It is very unladylike. It’s only for boys.” Tao replied, “If boys can do it, so can I” — so she did. She went on to study with Indra Devi, and became one of the first women to study under yoga masters B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois. She gave informal classes to friends and associates for free throughout the 1950s and early 60s. Her first paying job teaching yoga was in 1968 when fitness pioneer Jack LaLanne hired her to teach in his Hollywood studio. In 1982, Tao founded the Westchester Institute of Yoga, and has since trained and certified hundreds of yoga instructors. She has also made over 20 pilgrimages to India with her students because she believes that such visits offer enlightenment about the true spirit of yoga. How bold are you in following your dreams? If others don’t see your vision, do you stop? Power Living requires a degree of fearlessness. If something is placed in your heart, then go for it!
3. Find Someone Who Inspires You – When asked who inspires her, Tao’s first response is usually Gandhi — who happened to be a friend of her uncle. Tao tells the story of meeting “this little man who so many admired.” She liked him for his conviction and his belief that women should have the same freedom as men. The insuppressible spirit of Gandhi is felt in Tao’s own work. One of Tao’s favorite sayings is: “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness of ignorance. If you light just one, you’re already on an enlightened path.” Who inspires you? It’s helpful to have a beacon of light to follow, whether it is someone you’ve met or someone you’ve read about. When you feel like you’re getting off track, you can come back to their core philosophy.
4. Take Care Of Your Body – Tao has been a vegetarian all of her life, and her yoga practice keeps her strong — literally! She can still hold her entire body up on her fingertips in a peacock pose, and does at least 50 leg lifts in a shoulder stand every evening for a good sleep. When she had an accident and needed her hip replaced, the doctor said she would no longer be able to do yoga. She was diligent in her physical therapy and proved the doctor wrong. She even sent him a picture of her in a full lotus position! She believes we all can overcome the effects of aging and control our bodies and minds through yoga and diet. What is your physical practice? Do you have the clarity and energy to fulfill your destiny? How you manage your health will determine how fully you show up in your life.
5. Stay Positive – Tao is very adamant about controlling her mental atmosphere. It is one of her secrets to staying young. She believes that whatever you put in your mind starts to decay in the body. She says, “Don’t let fear enter your mind. When someone starts to talk negative, I switch it right around.” Is your default mode negative or positive? What techniques do you use to tune your mind? For example, music may lift your spirits. A walk in the park may make you smile. Each person is different. Take time to identify your own mood-changers.
6. Be The Change – Tao cares deeply for others and the world. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, she gets involved. For example, she has been a supporter of various animal rights efforts from Save the Whales to Save the Wolves. She has also been a lifelong proponent of peace. She marched with Gandhi, worked in the French Resistance under Charles de Gaulle, and even marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1995, she was one of the invited teachers to participate in Yoga for Peace in Israel. In 2011, she shared the stage with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama at the Newark Peace Education Summit. At the Summit, we debuted a workshop together entitled “The Gandhi Effect™: Transform Yourself and The World Around You,” applying the philosophy of Gandhi and sharing practical techniques such as meditation to foster peace. Throughout her life, Tao has inspired countless people through her presence. What do you care about? What do you want to change in this world? It starts with you. Each one of us can make a difference.
7. Do It Today! – Tao believes that time is a jewel for us to use and not waste. At age 84, Tao decided she wanted to go to Argentina and learn how to tango. One evening, she mentioned that desire to the dance teachers at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in White Plains, N.Y., where she teaches yoga. They said, “Why not start right now?” and she did that night. Since then, she has become an award-winning dancer, tearing up dance floors around the world. What do you want to do in your life? It’s never too late — or too early — to be great.
Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy is a Harvard-trained strategist, digital consultant and World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. She helps companies operate more efficiently and individuals live more effectively through her company Power Living Enterprises. A seasoned yoga/mindfulness teacher and executive/life coach, she is also an internationally-recognized voice in Personal Empowerment, Leadership and Health & Sustainability. In addition, she is the co-author (with her mom, Columbia University-trained journalist Janie Sykes-Kennedy) of Dancing Light: The Spiritual Side of Being Through the Eyes of a Modern Yoga Master – an inspirational memoir on 96-year-old yoga master Tao Porchon-Lynch.
Originally published in The Huffington Post.
To see Tao in action, check out her Power Living interview and her wisdom from the 2011 Newark Peace Education Summit.
On April 14th, Dr. Kennedy was at the Yoga Journal Conference in New York moderating a discussion with Tao on yoga, creativity and showing up fully in life. View pictures from the event.
Learn more about authentic living in 40 Days to Power Living®: Think, Eat & Live on Purpose and detoxifying your mind, body and spirit in the Seven-Day PWR Detox.