A Good Age for Yoga

Tao Porchon-Lynch, 87, showed what along-term study of yoga could do earlier this month at Results the Gym on Capitol Hill.
Tao Porchon-Lynch, 87, showed what along-term study of yoga could do earlier this month at Results the Gym on Capitol Hill. (By Rita Zeidner)

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By Rita Zeidner
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The first sign of trouble came when Tao Porchon-Lynch, the 87-year-old yoga teacher whom Results the Gym on Capitol Hill flew in last week from Manhattan, showed up for class wearing stretch slacks, a slinky top and strappy three-inch heels.

Porchon-Lynch then kicked off her shoes and -- after surveying class members for injuries (more than a few had shoulder, foot, wrist and back issues) -- guided them through a few gentle warm-up stretches and standing postures such as Warrior, Down Dog and Half Moon.

Once most students were weary and damp, Porchon-Lynch gave them what they came for: a demonstration of what a lifelong student of yoga pushing 90 can do.

Catlike, she crouched and without a quaver balanced her body's weight on her hands while suspending her torso and legs above the ground in Mayurasana (peacock pose), one of yoga's gravity-defying power moves. Then, in one flowing motion, she swung her legs around in front and took a seat on the mat.

She finished her show with a graceful twist, bracing her left elbow over her right knee, looking over her right shoulder and rotating her torso nearly 180 degrees.

"How do you think I got to be 87?" she asked. "By doing twists."

Well, it's a bit more complicated than that.

While Porchon-Lynch has the lithe physique you'd expect from someone who's been practicing yoga since childhood, her flexibility and strength -- greater than most people will ever achieve -- speak to a more than casual apprenticeship.

She was one of the first women to study under Indian master B.K.S. Iyengar, credited with popularizing yoga in the West. Results yoga director Rozann Stayden, a former gymnast who has studied yoga for 20 years here and abroad, said she invited Porchon-Lynch so her own students could appreciate the agelessness of mastery.

"People are very intrigued by the idea that yoga can be done at any age," said Stayden. "The fact that Tao is 87 and is a yoga master, people were just really interested in seeing her."

As a discipline, yoga is thousands of years old. But recent market research suggests the Eastern practice of controlled breathing, stretching and meditation is coming of age in the United States. A 2004 Harris poll commissioned by Yoga Journal estimated that 7.5 percent of U.S. adults -- some 16.5 million people -- practice yoga, up 43 percent from 2002. An even larger group was seen as intending to try yoga within the next 12 months. Last year Americans spent $3 billion on yoga classes and related products such as clothing, books, DVDs and yoga-centric vacations, the poll found.

In the Washington area, storefront yoga studios have proliferated while virtually all local gym chains offer yoga classes. Tickets to an Oct. 18 Iyengar lecture in Washington sold out months in advance at nearly $50 a pop.

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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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