How can one describe all that this woman teaches, inspires and gives? It is hard as you have to really meet her to understand. It is kind of like looking at a car and loving the looks of it however there is something deep on the inside that many just don’t understand.
For those that know of her, they know that she is 94 years old, has studied with Iyengar and still does some amazing asanas. Go beyond this and you find that she is what yoga is about – the true embodiment of yoga. She is happiness and love. On the day I met her she came into the studio and started hugging those who came to see her, even if she didn’t know them. She was wearing her high heals that she likes to wear, especially when ballroom dancing, and had a black BeBe shirt on. Tao has a wonderful smile and is soft spoken.
Once she starts teaching she mixes her lessons with wonderful modifications, stories that be can appreciated; as she mixes various styles from Jois to Iyengar. She teaches from life so just when you think “I can’t do that” she reminds you that she has a pin on one leg and a full hip replacement in the other. She goes on to tell you that while she was in the hospital the only way should could be released was to show them that she was ok. They wanted her to walk the halls but she said “the people are depressing and they look like they are going to die”. Instead she lifted her foot way above her head, behind her, and they let her go home.
Tao’s attitude is not to worry about age and not be told what she can or can’t do. She isn’t worried about the future and isn’t living in the past. When I attended her workshop on Saturday, she had already taught the day before at the Pentagon and was heading to Baltimore to teach all day Sunday. Instead of focusing on the busy schedule she focused on enjoying the moment.
Tao taught in simple movements and yet had you thinking about it in a way that a student could apply and remember it on their own. Yoga asana’s are from life so she starts by talking about her dog who each day would wake her and do his up and down dog. In downdog she reminded us that a dog has 4 legs so have 4 limbs in this pose; separate the feet! In updog lift the chest proud like a dog would be. In Cobra she told us a cobra has a tail so now feet together and yet pull the chin back just like a cobra would be. A Cobra snake pulls back to examine it’s prey.
In tree pose she quickly gave a modification to arch the foot instead of placing it flat against the leg. You push the ball of the foot there but lift the heal up. It engages the hip to lift and pull up. Why? She said otherwise the knee comes down and the only tree that has branches like that are weeping willows so lift up and be strong like a tree branch would. I tried this and immediately found it uncomfortable but she came over, told me “yes, yes but grab my arm” and we did a partner tree pose together. So I got out of my head and just moved which was so helpful to just go – just do, even if it was new, strange and hurt a little. I can just picture her life in this way.
Her main focus was about lifting up and staying in line with the body. Often in the poses we loose the line – keeping the arm long over the body and leg. It is about pulling in each direction away from the center. When she starts moving us into a flow she adds that yoga connects the mind and body therefore music is the connector to our soul. Therefore she adds that we will be moving to some Argentine Tango music during our flow which was quite lovely.
At our lunch break I sat with her and asked her more about her dog. She said that when she had her dog and would go walking each morning there was a little sparrow that would come out and follow them around. When the dog died for a month the bird would come to her when she came outside – just looking for the dog. Therefore like all beings we can learn, be attached and love each other – even if we are different.
We started our day at 10am and went till 5:20pm (supposed to end at 5pm) but after a full day of vinyasa, openers and partner poses that included her sitting on my back in down dog, I was tired and was so happy to have a long meditation to close with. Settling in to our close it was so easy to calm the mind – not just from the movement but from the environment; being surrounded in a room full of grace, love and compassion from everyone.
Tao has had an amazing life, full of places, people and adventures. However not full of the ego or attitude that you may see with others who become recognized for their events. Instead just as she pointed out, we are all unique, built different and are special. Her strength, compassion, love and patience is to be admired and a guide for all of us.
Never one to just sit back and settle down she has a book and CD on meditation. As she put it so well herself “I don’t have plans to retire”.