94-year-old yoga instructor charms her Darien audience

The mystical magic of an authentic spiritual practitioner came to Darien Saturday, March 9, when the world's oldest yoga instructor -- according to the Guinness Book of World Records -- presented a workshop combining her wisdom, wit, warmth and wine.

Tao Porchon-Lynch, 94, paid a visit to Elements Yoga & Wellness Center, where she led a group of 60 people in a yoga session, informal talk and a wine tasting.

"Watching her do yoga, in and of itself, was really inspirational," said Megan Kuczynski, the Elements instructor who brought Porchon-Lynch to Darien. "Her energy is electrifying."

Porchon-Lynch was born in India in 1918, and spent the first 20 years of her life there.

"Yoga's been part of my life (since) I was about 8 years old," she said. "I started a long, long time ago."

Yet in the 1920s, she was discouraged and was told, "It's not for girls. It's not ladylike."

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"I've always been a rebel," she said, and so she began pursuing it.

"There are 16-year-olds who aren't in as great a shape," said Sheila Finan, of Valhalla, N.Y. "She glows. She has a very nurturing quality about her ... She's a beautiful leader."

Porchon-Lynch's life has led her along many paths, including work as a model, writer, actor, film producer, award-winning ballroom dancer, and certified wine expert. She's also had a variety of unique experiences, such as being a protege of Noel Coward's in England, marching with Mahatma Ghandi, working with the underground resistance during World War II, and meeting and spending time with one legendary writer in Sancerre, France, just after the war.

"This funny little man was sitting there and I was wearing a sari," she said. "He started talking to me. I didn't know who he was. ... He wanted to know all about India."

After asking to join Porchon-Lynch and her friends for breakfast, then later dinner, she found him "charming," but said the name Ernest Hemingway "didn't mean anything to me whatsoever."

The next time she returned to Sancerre, the hotel owner said Hemingway had been there asking if and when she and her friends might return, but their paths didn't cross again.

"I like her energy and how she brings her experiences into her teachings," Andrea Carvalko, of Trumbull, said of Porchon-Lynch "She incorporates a lot of the life she's experienced."

Porchon-Lynch, who founded the Westchester Institute of Yoga in 1982 and lives White Plains, N.Y., combined demonstration with guidance during the 90-minute session. Then, remaining in the full lotus position on her mat, she introduced different wines for tasting, along with relevant stories about the wines and regions.

Participants lingered for a long time, asking questions and listening to her words.

"Gym yoga is not the pure yoga," Porchon-Lynch said, referring to practices that largely focus on the exercise elements. "Real yoga is based upon the breath of life within you. You can do anything you want if you tap into that.

"Everything is breathing. You open up all the doors to your life, and if you think this, there's nothing you can't do. Tune into your inner self. Inside of you is the power ... this wonderful power."

"At 94, she's still so able-bodied, and has such a wonderful perspective on things," said Donna Kuebler, co-owner of Elements. "If there were one word I would say to describe her, it would be hopeful."

"I'm just so impacted by her positivism, as well as her agility and her persistent smile," said Christina Sciarrillo, of Stratford. "I wish I could smile as much as she does. She's enchanting."

Jarret Liotta is a freelance writer.