Photo by Andrea Kurtz
Porchon-Lynch at home in White Plains doing a varation of a wise man pose
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Since 2006, more than 100 people have gathered annually in various local restaurants to honor Westchester resident Tao Porchon-Lynch on her birthday. No one attends her party because of familial obligations; she’s a widow with no living relatives. Her admirers congregate to celebrate the “positive energy” this 93-year-old has brought into each of their lives.
Partygoers come from all segments of her life. One contingent includes yoga students and teachers she’s trained since she co-founded the Yoga Teachers Alliance (now the Yoga Teachers Association) in 1976 and created The Westchester Institute of Yoga in 1982. There are friends from the Hartsdale Rotary Club who admired Porchon-Lynch and her husband of 20 years, Bill Lynch, who died in 1982. (There’s a flag and plaque honoring his civic accomplishments at the Hartsdale train station.) Another large group consists of oenophiles who attend her wine lectures and tastings. Wine was always important in her life; her family owned vineyards in the Rhône Valley. In 1967, she and her husband helped found the American Wine Society. Since 1970, she’s been a wine judge and vice-president of its Southern New York State chapter. A fourth lively group comprises teachers and students from Hartsdale’s Fred Astaire Dance Studio, where she’s taken lessons and entered competitions since 2002.
During the 1940s and 1950s, Porchon-Lynch was a contracted actress with MGM in Hollywood
Everyone waits expectantly until the encomiums are read (from the famous, like Jane Fonda, who’s including Porchon-Lynch in her next book, to the ordinary folk she’s inspired), and she’s blown out the
candles on her cake. Then, resplendent in a short, form-fitting satin dress, Porchon-Lynch takes to the dance floor performing a samba with Vard Margaryan, followed by an Argentine tango with Hayk Balasanyan. Her partners, 20-something Armenians, are Latin dance champions, but all eyes are on Porchon-Lynch as she executes her steps with energy and finesse, wearing her signature three-inch heels (she claims they’re beneficial for her unusually high instep). Such routines have won her more than 300 first-place trophies in national and international Fred Astaire competitions.
Days after her party, she sits serenely in the lotus position in her White Plains apartment. I ask how, at 93, she manages to: 1) teach 13 weekly yoga classes in Scarsdale, Hartsdale, and Tarrytown and give master classes at prominent yoga centers, such as the Kripalu Center and Integral Yoga Institute New York; 2) take weekly dance lessons and enter national and international competitions; 3) host wine lectures and tastings at the Residence Inn White Plains by Marriott; 4) write her meditations; 5) film two yoga DVDs; 6) lead international yoga trips to places such as India and guide wine trips to select vineyards in France; and 7) appear with the Dalai Lama and other luminaries on panels advocating world peace. Her answer? “I don’t believe in letting age and broken bones get the better of my life. I believe nothing is impossible.”
Porchon-Lynch in her French Resistance uniform during World War II
According to Porchon-Lynch, the first step to harnessing one’s optimal energy is learning to breathe properly. “I show my students that breathing deeply is not just a physical act but a tuning into the power behind all things which can renew and recycle our bodies.” Not a believer?
“I’m seldom sick and rarely get tired,” she says. “There’s too much reliance today on medications. Through the study of yoga, I can heal myself. I don’t take any supplements—no vitamins or calcium or anything. I take no medications for any medical conditions; I rarely take even an aspirin. I do, however, believe in regular massages for strained muscles.”
She has broken a few bones in accidents, which have only temporarily slowed her down. At age 78, a fall necessitated a pin being placed in her leg. This caused her hip to overcompensate and, at age 86, she had the hip replaced. Her orthopedist told her it would be impossible to perform difficult yoga poses again. She proved him wrong—her photo, doing one of those poses, now hangs in his office. Last year, she broke her wrist. Through exercise, she trained it back into proper position; once again, she can do poses that support her full weight.
Photo by Andrea Kurtz
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Porchon-Lynch in a mayurasana in lotus pose
As for her diet, “I’m a vegetarian,” she says. “I never drink water; I believe it unnecessarily dilutes the nutritional intake of what we eat.” She drinks vitamin-rich fresh fruit juices and tea for its anti-oxidant properties. She consumes small portions: only a grapefruit for breakfast, vegetarian meals, and fresh fruits at bedtime. She dines out frequently; Caffé Azzurri, opposite the Astaire studio, is a favorite, as is Meritage Restaurant in Scarsdale. She weighs 102 pounds and is stronger than she appears. On occasion, she corrects her students, male and female, by lifting them into proper yoga positions.
From her earliest years, Porchon-Lynch had a sense of the world beyond Pondicherry, a French territory in colonial India, where her father’s brother and his wife raised her after her mother died in childbirth. (Her heartbroken father immigrated to Canada.) Her uncle, who helped create railroad systems throughout Asia and Africa, took her on his work assignments, where she met Masai tribesmen and Singapore merchants. “My uncle was a great friend of Mahatma Gandhi and he had me go with them as they marched for freedom for India. This belief in justice for all has remained with me.”
In her early 20s, she moved to her father’s family’s vineyards. “When the Germans invaded France, I helped my aunt hide refugees fleeing the Nazis, and, when things became difficult, I escaped to England and continued my underground work for the Resistance movement.” To survive, Porchon-Lynch performed Indian dances in London cabarets. The famous American journalist, Quentin Reynolds, wrote that she made “dark London brighter.” She eventually became a protégé of Noël Coward.
Photo by Andrea Kurtz
Doing the tango with Hayk Balasanyan at Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Hartsdale
After the war, in 1945, she modeled for designers, including Marcel Rochas and Jean Patou. She acted in films and plays and won a contest for “The Longest Legs in Europe.” (Even today, the 5’5” Porchon-Lynch’s long legs still command attention, particularly when she wears form-fitting black leather pants.) Lever Brothers chose her as one of nine models to tour the U.S. in 1948. She later signed a contract with MGM, appearing in American movies and TV. She developed close friendships with Fred MacMurray, Cesar Romero, and Burgess Meredith. She later wrote movie and TV scripts and made documentaries. While at MGM, she taught yoga to her fellow actors. After her marriage to Bill Lynch, she visited India annually and perfected her yoga with master teachers Indra Devi and BKS Iyengar. After her husband’s death, she made the teaching of yoga her primary career.
Although Porchon-Lynch never had her own children, she says, “In my mind, all my students are my children.” Last May, she joined a prestigious panel at the Newark Peace Education Summit. Along with the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra, and two Nobel Laureates, she argued that individual healing could transform international policies. The Dalai Lama invited her to participate on a similar panel later this year. In addition, she’s working on her memoir, Memories: How I’ve Lived, Laughed and Loved.
Andrea Kurtz is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared previously in Westchester Magazine, the New York Times, Vogue India, Ladies’ Home Journal, Fresh Cup Tea Magazine and the Yoga Journal, among others. Next spring, her novel, set mainly in Westchester, will be published.