By: Anjali Sunita
She was a true yogi and my very definition of authentic. A wine connoisseur, actress, and dancer, Tao Porchon-Lynch did not always fit the model of what people view as a traditional yogi. Her authenticity was in her boldness to be exactly how she was publicly and privately with not a second of separation between her presentation and actual reality. I watched her navigate conversations and direct her mind and energy seamlessly, without pause, away from any possible negative word. Even the subtle suggestion of fear-based language could not steer her course from the highest possibility for each moment. She was a master of her mind and heart, beyond simply postures. She never accepted the notion of limitation. “There’s nothing you cannot do.” “Never look downward or backward, only forward and up”. “Don’t procrastinate, because tomorrow never comes.” These were some of her repeated words. She said it and lived it, most often choosing the happy stories of her extraordinary life as a dancer, actress, or traveler to exhibit her messages of self confidence, positive thinking, and love for life-energy (prana) itself. But Tao’s life was not only a bed of glamorous roses. After her mother died in childbirth, she was given to an uncle who was friends with Mahatma Gandhi and she marched for India’s freedom from the British rule. She helped hundreds out of Nazi Germany in the French Resistance, her partner tortured to give up her identity; gratefully he did not. She was a pioneer for women in yoga in India, kicked out of classes but persisted on. Her life was a continuous message of courage, and grace, undeniable clarity and strength, an ode to the true source of yoga and liberation on every level.
I first heard of Tao through a CNN interview which showed the beginnings of her career as a yoga teacher post hip replacement, showed her teaching, practicing, and competitive dancing already into her 90s. Tao was one of the only people in my entire life to share a heritage of half Indian and half european (french), and beyond that, a yogini; for this reason alone, I had to meet her. However, it was beyond relating to her as an artist or her ethnic background, rare and similar to my own, beyond her age-defying feats, it was the signature sparkle in her eyes that lit a fire in me to reach out to someone I knew was a truly special being. Through the internet, I contacted an assistant of hers to whom I boldly wrote an invitation to Tao to Baltimore to teach at Baltimore Yoga Village. The first answer of her assistant was ‘no’, which did not ruffle me – she was world famous after all. However, possibly a year later, I answered a call that Tao was passing through on her way from Virginia to New York and an offer to be a stop upon her way. I jumped on the opportunity to host her, to meet this woman who has changed my view of life and death forever.
Simply fabulous, the first words I heard her say as she entered the yoga studio. “I am in love with my dance partner, if only he was 70 years older”. She greeted me like someone I’d known for lifetimes. I remember being struck by this then 93 year old woman who taught two back to back workshops at each studio with so much grace, humor, and physical ability. In between, she sat with me and encouraged me forward as I leaned into her like a mentor right away.
This was 2011, not long after I had opened the second studio, took over an existing business which had a culture of yoga that quite frankly made me quite uncomfortable. She was extraordinarily encouraging and refreshingly honest with me about her views of what I was experiencing and in just a few words breathed new life into my love of my work. That first conversation made me excited to grow older, to reach an age when I could say I’ve earned the right to say whatever is on my mind.
When she left, I wrote her a longer letter, sharing with her more heartbreaks, including the infidelity of my ex-husband, the betrayals of friends and teachers, the distortions of yoga I’d seen, and her response in writing this time, is something I will treasure and keep forever. “So wipe out the bad experience,” she wrote, “as you tune into a radiant future which starts today, not tomorrow, for Tomorrow never comes. You have so much to offer which promises a new life; don’t let it get entangled with the past. It will pierce all phony tricks which people enact to attain the goal. Their life will catch up with them, yours will give promise to a new future. You will magnetize towards yourself New blessings which cannot be destroyed by phantoms of the past.” We connected deeply over the source of Yoga and Tao came to Baltimore for subsequent years.
In snippets of time together, she told me softly particular methods for helping hundreds out of Nazi Germany, how she controlled her mind to overcome fear. I learned through her transmission something that I taught my partner’s young children just today, the very day she passed away – I told them as we were contemplating crossing a bridge during thunder and rain, I said to them “we are learning to overcome our fears by relaxing, because when we relax through fear, we can think and we can act.”
It is difficult to mourn someone who gave until her last breath and who already said countless times into her 101st year that she was with the universe. I do not wish to tether her to this dense earth with grief (her teachings to me do not leave room for this), but rather to thank her for the gift of truth she shone upon us like the brightest of stars, and breathe the air as subtle and expansive as her spirit is now, with a profound gratitude for every breath which contains her secret of life and beats my heart until we meet again.