Tao Porchon-Lynch was a Grande Dame of Yoga.
Yoga was always been a part of Tao’s life. Her uncle, who raised her, was a student and follower of Swami Vivekananda – who is credited with bringing yoga to the West in his famous speech to the Parliament of the World Religions event in Chicago on September 11, 1893. Tao absorbed the essence of Vedanta – a school of Hindu philosophy – from her everyday living and her uncle’s many insights. At 8 years old, Tao saw boys doing yoga on the beach at a time when girls didn’t do yoga. Her aunt said, “It’s unladylike. It’s only for boys.” Tao’s defiant response was:
Well, if boys can do it, I can do it.
So she did. This was 1926.
Tao’s influences and teachers were a Who’s Who of the Spiritual World.
Tao grew up in the spiritual hotbed of Pondicherry, India. Her uncle, Vital Porchon, knew the great poet and spiritual leader Sri Aurobino – who founded an ashram in Pondicherry when Tao was eight. Then came other legendary influences such as Mahatma Gandhi – another friend of Tao’s uncle. Tao marched with Gandhi twice – including the famous 1930 Salt March. Tao studied for many years with Swami Prabhavananda at the Vedanta Society in Los Angeles and was one of the first women to study with acclaimed yoga masters B.K.S. Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois. She studied with Polish metaphysics teacher and yogi Dr. Roman Ostoja and the iconic Founder of Transcendental Meditation, The Maharishi, sought Tao out and befriended her.
He simply materialized – like he was reaching outwards to answer my inner quest. He seemed to have known me forever and understood my search. With a smile he said, “Come, we talk.” After a brief discussion about India, we silently entered into a deep meditation.
This was before The Maharishi taught meditation to The Beatles and spurred a worldwide movement.
The great Mataji Indra Devi encouraged Tao to become a yoga teacher.
Indra Devi was the first female from the West to study with the renowned Sri Krishnamacharya in 1938. She opened up her yoga studio in Hollywood in 1948 and devoted her life to spreading the teachings. She knew Tao in Pondicherry when she was a little girl. She was one of the women on the Salt March with Gandhi. On a trip through California, Indra Devi visited MGM and saw Tao. She insisted that Tao teach yoga.
I might never have thought myself as a yoga teacher if it hadn’t been for her. I didn’t think I was good enough.
So Tao started teaching – and soon had a group of actresses at MGM as students such as Kathryn Grayson and Leslie Caron. Fitness guru Jack LaLanne gave Tao her first paying yoga teaching job. Tao later founded the Yoga Teacher’s Association (1979) and the Westchester Institute of Yoga (1982). She participated in Yoga for Peace in Israel in 1995 with 400 yogis from around the world including 95-year-old Indra Devi and T.K.V. Desikachar. She has since certified over 1,600 yoga teachers and has led over 35 yoga retreats in Bali, India, Morocco, Peru, and France. She has been an invited guest in places like Sri Lanka, Budapest, and Moscow, and even taught yoga to Department of Defense personnel at the Pentagon in 2012. Also in 2012, Tao was named Oldest Yoga Teacher by Guinness World Records.
Tao’s philosophy on yoga was woven into how she lived her life.
Tao taught that Vinyasa in yoga is not just linking up physical movements. It’s linking up from within – from our life force. Tao lived as if she is One with Eternal Energy allowing her to embody her mantra: There Is Nothing You Cannot Do.
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