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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)

Does yoga offer hope to aging boomers seeking not just to boost strength and flexibility but stem the effects of aging? Scientists are investigating. The National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is funding several studies to see if yoga helps in the management of lung disease and chronic low back pain. Another study is exploring whether yoga can increase attention span and focus in healthy elders.

Breathe Deeply

As befits a student of Iyengar, Porchon-Lynch pays mind not just to her students' poses but to their breathing technique. While she circled the room, tweaking students' posture here and there, she gently urged them to be mindful of their breath.

"Think of a water lily moving up through the muddy surface," she coaxed, in a voice so tiny the students had to strain to hear. "Let the breath do the work and you relax, okay? Feel as though all the tension of life is flowing out of the body."

Porchon-Lynch, who began practicing yoga as an 8-year-old in India, says she gave informal yoga classes to friends and associates for free throughout the 1950s and early '60s. (This was after a storied career that had her dancing in British nightclubs, being cast in shows by Noel Coward, modeling haute couture in postwar France and appearing in several Hollywood B movies.) But she didn't get a paying gig teaching yoga until 1968, when Jack LaLanne hired her as a teacher for a nominal fee. She still maintains a busy teaching schedule, leading classes most days at several studios around New York.

While it may be difficult to see Porchon-Lynch as an octogenarian, she's hardly immune from the effects of age. She had one hip replaced two years ago and has had a pin in the other since the late 1980s.

"I'm like a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces fitting together," she said.

Thirty years after spending a month at Iyengar's institute in Pune, India, she still praises her former mentor, who's also 87, and -- just as he does -- recommends that people having difficulty with a pose use props like bricks and ropes to help ease a stretch.

"I think no one is more pure in the alignment of the postures than Iyengar," said Porchon-Lynch. "It's the good alignment that prevents injuries."

Before rushing back to New York, Porchon-Lynch chatted briefly with us. Here are excerpts from our conversation.

Do you do anything besides yoga to stay in shape?

No. I've never been very athletic. I've never been one to go running -- I was interested in seeing what my body could do from within. . . . Recently I've taken up ballroom dancing. I've been competing. I have two lovely dance partners, one a 28-year-old from Ukraine.

You seem so peaceful and serene. Is it the yoga?

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