Close your eyes, and imagine a typical day if you’re 96 years old. I know, should any of us outlive the average life span by 15 years, it’s tough (and maybe a bit scary) to envision how that will play out.
But what if you imagined age is just a number, and there’s nothing you cannot do?
What if you stopped procrastinating and started embracing each day with gratitude and optimism?
What if you put one high-heeled foot in front of the other, and fearlessly moved through the dance of life?
That’s how Tao Porchon-Lynch approaches each moment. At 96 years-young, she’s still globe-trotting for yoga workshops, ballroom dance events and wine seminars. When she’s at home base in New York, she teaches a full schedule of yoga classes, attends dance lessons, and fits in a myriad of interviews, event appearances and more. In other words, Tao’s calendar rivals that of an over-achieving teen with Type-A parents.
After years of admiring Tao from afar—reading anything and everything for insight into what makes this extraordinary woman tick—and ultimately recruiting her into the athlete sponsorship program I ran for Athleta, the time came for me to practice what Tao preaches. Don’t procrastinate. So I put the wheels in motion to head east, from California to New York, to attend Tao’s yoga class and tag along to observe, listen and learn as she went about her day.
Tao greets each day with a burst of energy. “At 5:30 am, I jump out of bed and do a few yoga poses. I usually sleep about five hours, and rarely sleep through the night.” Her voice is distinctive and lyrical, with undertones that English was not her first language and overtures from her career as a movie actress in the fifties and sixties. “If I wake with thoughts, I get up and write. Sometimes, in the morning, I don’t remember writing during the night.”
Tao speaks of nature as her Encyclopedia of Life and focus for meditation. “First thing each morning, I look up at the birds. I love the geese, especially seeing them fly in formation. They show us how to move our energy throughout our own bodies.”
Fueled by movement, meditation and half a grapefruit with a glass of juice, Tao steps into her high heels (the only shoe she wears), hops in her little Smart car and heads out to begin the best day of her life.
Dance of Light
It was a bright, sunny day when I arrived to meet Tao and attend her 8:00 am yoga class at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Hartsdale, New York. After a gracious welcome, Tao opened up like we were old friends, chatting about multiple hip replacements and other injuries that have, for brief periods of time, sidelined her from the physical part of her yoga practice. “Pain is not the boss of me,” she states emphatically. “I tell my doctor, ‘Don’t talk to me about what I cannot do. I am only interested in what I can do.'” She smiles, a spark of passion and determination in her eyes, and directs me to where I can find everything I need for the class.
With that mindset going onto the mat, Tao settles effortlessly into lotus pose on her “magic carpet” and proceeds to lead us through a 90-minute class geared to all levels, including the advanced regulars in her class who have been practicing with Tao for more then 20 years. She often speaks of helping students get beyond “cannot” to realize their potential and ignite the power within. At one point toward the end of class, I struggled getting into pike handstand with my feet against that wall. Before I knew it, Susan Douglass (also a yoga teacher, trained by Tao) scooted over and pressed her feet against my shoulders while Tao helped guide my feet to the correct position. It felt amazing—one of those “ah ha” moments when you realize your body can do something you never knew it could.
Dancing Through Life
After yoga class and a short break for Tao to do another interview, we left for the post-yoga ritual—bagels and hazelnut coffee at a local hangout. The conversation continued, with Tao flowing through a verbal dance of her life story, from activist to model, actress, film producer, wine connoisseur, competitive ballroom dancer and yoga master. I can’t do her story justice, so you’ll have to pick up a copy of her upcoming book, Dancing Light: The Spiritual Side of Being Through the Eyes of a Modern Yoga Master.
Soon the time came for Tao to put on her dancing shoes and head back to the studio for lessons. (There’s no downtime for this woman.) Her passion for ballroom dancing started less than 10 years ago—at age 87—and she’s earned hundreds of first place awards competing and performing around the world. “Last weekend I did 35 different dances in a competition, with few breaks,” she told me. “But I love to dance, and whenever I earn money from yoga workshops I use it to pay for more dance lessons.”
At 2:00 pm, we arrived back at the studio. Tao was signed up for back-to-back lessons with two different instructors. After a short spin around the dance floor with a visiting instructor, Tao’s regular instructor and partner arrived, and the room seemed to light up with their affection for one another. Vard Margaryan is 70 years younger than Tao, but when the two of them took to the dance floor time stopped and decades disappeared. Seeing them grinning and Jitterbugging their hearts out brought tears of joy. Seriously, I dare you to watch this video without feeling a surge of emotion. (And while you’re at it, watch Tao’s TEDx talk here.)
After the dance lessons, we parted ways so Tao had time to herself before heading out to teach an evening yoga class. Hugs ensued (and more tears were shed). It sounds trite to say the day was unforgettable, but it was. The world is lucky that Tao continues to teach yoga and show us how to passionately move through the dance of life. Although it feels like I barely tapped the potential of learning from this amazing woman, here are five lessons that clicked for me:
1. Go With the Flow. Everything in life has ups and downs and ins and out. Whether or not you control the flow, breathe, make the most of it and don’t forget to…
2. Look for the Light. Through the movement of life, tough times happen. Sometimes we need to fight it, sometimes we need to accept it. Either way, there’s light on the other side. Look for it.
3. Smile. Even if you don’t feel like it, smile. Because once that’s done, you can’t help but feel it. And, a smile is contagious.
4. Be a Body in Motion. Whether it’s yoga or dance, running or walking, find a reason to move your body, something that helps you go with the flow of life, look for the light, and smile.
5. Love Life. We have so much to learn from—and really can’t live without—the trees and the birds and all the magnificent life around us. Cherish it.
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All photos copyright © Robert Sturman. Huge thanks to Robert for allowing me to use his epic images to tell Tao’s story. See more of his work at RobertSturmanStudio.com, and follow him in Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
This story first appeared on the January 2014 cover of Fiterazzi Magazine. In February 2015, Fiterazzi merged with Spright and set off in a new editorial direction. Now Tao’s story has a forever home here, so her inspiration can continue to reach people of all ages. Also read “Don’t Procrastinate” for some of the story behind the story.