The first thing we noticed was her shoes. We looked up the stairs as we followed an elegant woman with perfectly scarlet painted toes, adorning fairy-tale-like shoes; three-inch wedges with delicate see-through glass heels, somewhat akin to what Cinderella wore at the ball. “Look at her shoes!” Leigh and I both turned to each other and simultaneously mouthed those words as we ascended the stairs of the Institute of Traditional Medicine studio in Toronto last night.
The studio hosted Tao Porchon-Lynch—yoga master, ballroom dancer, oenophile, and former actress and model. She’s also the oldest living yoga teacher, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. I had just received the email a couple of days ago, and thought I would attend the first night, which was a talk on yoga, longevity and Tao’s life. To say that her life has been a “great story” would be like saying that Callebeaut dark chocolate melted and drizzled over home made vanilla ice cream is “just okay”. I hadn’t been there fifteen minutes and already I could envision her life story, somewhat akin to Homer’s Odyssey or The Iliad. This woman had truly lived in the true sense of the word, not just because she is turning 95 this August, but also because she has embraced every moment available and continues to do so. When we arrived, Tao glided across the room to meet and greet us, taking our hands in hers and genuinely thanking us for being there. She laughed, her blue eyes sparkling and she told us about how she came to buy those shoes, “I was in Las Vegas, in a ballroom dancing competition, and my feet were sore, and we had to walk back and forth to our rooms and such. The hotel was having a sale on these shoes for 75% off so of course I bought them.” Apparently these were her “comfy” or more “casual” shoes. Leigh asked her how long ago the competition was, expecting Tao to say something like, 1959 or so, but instead she responded, “Now, let me see, I suppose that would have been…a little over a month ago.” As we picked our jaws up off the floor, our eyes were then averted to her crimson coloured nails, adorned with magnificent jewelry. This woman was put together. We could clearly learn a few things from her. And so it was that throughout the course of the evening that we did indeed learn.
Her wit and self-deprecating humour was charming, and as she read us some of her poetry, she often followed with, “I hope this isn’t too silly, and I hope it’s not too boring.” Those of us that were sitting with eyes wide, in silence, leaning in to catch her every word clearly did not consider this woman boring. And who could? She had walked and protested with Gandhi, been one of the first women that B.K. Iyengar had taught, studied with Pattabhi Jois, and was part of the French Resistance, taught yoga everywhere from MGM studios in the Hollywood hay day to Russia, and continues to ballroom dance as she approaches her centennial year. Boring? Not so much. What inspired me the most was her sense of courage and optimism; she doesn’t believe in the word, “can’t” and says that the word should only be used in the context of “canned”, as in “canned vegetables”. The word “can” on the other hand, implies a sense of being able to do something, and she has firmly believed throughout her life that she can do anything, and she has. In 1982 she founded YTA and since then she has trained 3013 yoga teachers. She accepts every style of yoga, except for the notorious bad boy of yoga, Bikram, whom she says is rude and her personal experiences with him have illumined that fact. She encourages us all to “take a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, and find out what your own personality is to be able to help others.”
I was supposed to go to visit my father the next day, with my boyfriend, but after leaving her introductory lecture on Friday, I decided to stay for the entire workshop. I couldn’t miss this woman’s experience, teachings and energy. Luckily, the men in my life are extremely supportive and know my tendencies to change plans according to life’s flow. The weekend proved to be more than inspirational as Tao explained her interpretations of the charkas, the importance of pranayama, shared her poetry with us, and lead us through various postures and meditation. She urged us to do whatever we want to do now, and to avoid procrastination: anything is possible. I came home Sunday afternoon and immediately booked a room at the SOCAN house in Nashville for November. I’ve been talking about going to Nashville to check out the music scene for several years now, and just haven’t made it there. Tao’s lust for life and energy helped to give me that little push that I needed. Look out Nashville…here I come!

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