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We asked yoga photographer Robert Sturman to reflect on his time with friend and yoga teacher Tao Porchon-Lynch, who passed away last week at the age of 101. Here is what Sturman had to say about this remarkable woman’s enduring spirit, embrace of aging, and the habits that kept her young at heart—like 93 years of asana practice and a glass of wine at lunch.
“Tao’s is a story that needs to be told to inspire human beings to not give up, to not say ‘I’m too old to start this,’ to be okay with getting older, and to be okay with dying.”
“I met Tao nine years ago, when she was only 93 years old. A student of hers brought her to Central Park to meet me for a photo shoot. I had heard that she was the oldest living yoga teacher in the world. She was wearing a beautiful red dress. We just made art and connected. That night I published a blog about the experience on Elephant Journal, about this incredible woman who kept thanking me for being so patient with her. When I woke up the next morning, it had gone all over the world; it had gone completely viral. After that, we decided we were going to continue to work with each other and the relationship kept building. We first met twice a year, then three or four times a year. She wore a different color every time. It went from red, to green, to blue, to yellow, then white. Most recently it was purple.”
“When Tao came out to Venice and Santa Monica about three years ago, we went down to the ocean with my dog and just sat there in the sand and talked. She told me stories about her life—not the inspirational and happy Tao she usually presented to the world. Instead, I listened to and felt her sadness about outliving two husbands, having a miscarriage, her own mother dying during childbirth—just the real-life sadness of a human being who had been on this planet for 98 years. I felt like I had connected with her empathically for the first time.”
To Be Human
“She had experienced so much of what it means to be a human. She talked about [her losses] in a way that you really felt the pain, but she never complained about it and was never a victim to it.”
A Life Well Lived
“I was very interested in her. I wanted to know more about her childhood in India, all the stories about being in Europe during World War II, about when she came to America, and her Hollywood days, when she said she hung out with the likes of Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, and Clark Gable. And we enjoyed drinking wine together as well.”
Grace and Elegance
“When you see someone so gracefully, so elegantly walking through this world, it gives you hope.”
The Lines in Her Face
“At more recent shoots, it was less about yoga poses and more about really going into the lines in her face, which showed the beautiful stories of the life that she had lived.” One day when we were working in Sedona at sunset, the light was so perfect on her face, on all of her history.”
Honey in the Heart
“This was the last photograph we created together. It was taken last fall in New England. She just offered up this simple, beautiful gesture—‘honey in the heart, and fire in the belly.’”
Art as an Expression of Time Together
“We worked together so well because we just hung out and enjoyed life. We shared the belief that art did not have to be a struggle. It could be an effortless and joyous expression of a life well lived.”
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