Lessons from a yogini

I took a class with Tao Porchon-Lynch this weekend at the Newtown Yoga Festival and was lucky enough to meet her when I was picking up her book on my way out. I can’t seem to stop thinking about her. I was so over the moon to be able to take a photo with her. You know that giddiness you feel when you are around a legend or someone you deeply admire. What struck me as I approached her was the feeling of love in her presence. She was the embodiment of warmth. There is nothing gimmicky or contrived about her despite the fact that at 99, she continues to practice and was named the oldest yoga teacher by the Guiness Book of World Records. I won’t lie, I was excited to meet a yoga legend. But what I got was refreshingly different than what I even expected.

In a world where women experience so much anxiety about about getting older, she shows up in her charming way with an innocence and simplicity that seems in contrast to the life she’s lived. Except it’s not once you understand how she’s lived her life. She talks about her refusal to grow up. She refuses to acknowledge age as a burden or obstacle. And although she is still stunning at 99 years young, it is obvious that her beauty is deeply rooted in her spirit and her consciousness. It’s a kind of beauty beyond what we usually regard as beautiful.

She talks about how she refuses the notion of “can’t” and rejects the idea that we have to listen to what anyone says about how to live our lives. Her life is one of fullness that is that is saturated in travel, dance, and yogic knowledge. But it’s the fact that she still walks around in heels after yoga class that made the biggest impression. It’s the fact that she absolutely will not consider that she cannot do what she wants to do. I can admit that I worried more than once about what people think about whether I dress too young or post too many yoga pictures in my underwear (there was only one). We are often judged around every corner when it comes to what is appropriate, what our limitations are and the subtle shame about being just who we are. If there was one thing that being near her gave me was the flutter of hope of what may seem impossible. That getting older is a deeply rewarding and freeing experience. And further more, we don’t need to be older to be free.

Beyond that there are some simple, practical things that she’s shared that I want to share with you.

She practices shoulder stand every day, and if you are not familiar with Sarvangasana, you can get similar benefits by putting your legs up against a wall. This pose, in addition to massaging her hands and feet everyday, helps to keep everything flowing.

She also talks about the importance of the Breath. We have the luxury of the breath that breathes itself. But beyond that, AWARENESS of our breath gives us countless clues to our mental and emotional state. Having a practice of awareness of our breath is very powerful medicine. She also points out, ”the breath doesn’t know how old you are.” I love that.

She talks so much about her connection to nature, and I think this is where I feel a real kinship to her. She writes, “much of the development of my own life has been in the wonder of nature living its life. Know that nature gives us clues to living.”  There is no way around the fact for me that nature, just as much or more, informs my spiritual life in innumerable ways. Even now as the leaves are beginning to change and fall to the ground, I think, who I am to keep holding on? What was bright green just a few short weeks ago is fading, quieting, preparing. I will do the same.

There is source energy that I feel when I am hiking with my son or even just meditating in front of my big window. It’s the same when I look at the moon and stars. Or sit to watch the breeze go through my favorite tree. Or the ebb and flow of the ocean. I feel expansive and my creativity increases. But the biggest joy is sensing when I am mirroring what I tune in to. When I am doing any of these things, my being rises to match the vibration. It just can’t help itself. With that comes the sometimes elusive feeling of Oneness.

And of course, last but not least, is her gentle guidance to untangle ourself from negative thinking and lead us away from our fear, my personal obstacle. I was so happy to see that the mantra in her book is the one that i recite every day.

Asato Ma Sadgamaya

Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya

Mrtyorma Amrtam Gyama

Lead us from the unreal to the real.

From darkness to light.

From death to immortality.

As impressive as it was that she was holding herself up doing full lotus pose at 99 years young, the way she smiled left a greater impression on me. To be joyful, kind and graceful at any age is a blessing. To wake up with gratitude enough to face even the tough days is an extraordinary gift.

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