The first time I met Ohio-based Authorised Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Taylor Hunt was at my home in Mysore. I had read about Taylor and knew of him through the Ashtanga community but the last place I thought I would meet him was at home. A friend of mine from Greece (who practises and teaches Ashtanga) was staying with me for some time and she invited a few friends over from the Ashtanga community as one of them was Taylor. I had a very brief conversation with him on that day and he agreed to do an interview with Indica Yoga to share his incredible journey. Taylor used Ashtanga Yoga to recover from drug addiction and how he now helps people suffering from addiction to find healing through yoga.
He was already on the path to recovery when he found yoga but the practice transformed his life completely, “I started yoga when I was getting sober. I was recovering from drug addiction and this lady walked into my life and asked me if I wanted to try yoga. At the time, I thought it was just another exercise class and getting sober is a difficult process so I didn’t go at first. I was working through the 12 steps of recovery and the 11th step is about finding prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God. That's what the step is about and it's a pretty pivotal one because to have a spiritual life, you're going to have to get sober and you're going to live differently than how you've lived. So I knew how to pray but I didn't know how to meditate. During this time, I was asking for some sort of guidance on what meditation was so I could apply meditation practices to my life. As soon as I started asking for that, that's when that lady asked me to join yoga again. Her name is Joanie Delph and she still teaches. I went to my first yoga class and it was transformative but that’s because I really didn’t like the first class (laughs). The reason why I didn't like it is because it brought up a lot of emotions and feelings and things that were happening in my life and the consequences of my actions and those kinds of things. It made me feel really weird. I ran out of the class and I was never going to come back. But I had good people around me and they convinced me to go to the second class and that's where everything changed,” recalls Taylor.
That second class made him realise that yoga can be a powerful form of transformation and he was feeling grateful to be given this tool. “After about five years of practising, I went to Mysore and I have been going there for a decade. On my third trip, we stayed for three months and in the third month, I got authorised to teach. The only reason I'm telling you that is because after that, I realised that I need to share my story because I didn't know a lot of Ashtanga people that had dealt with the same thing as what I was dealing with.” So he spent the next year writing his story and published Away from Darkness. “At first I was afraid of being judged but the book was well-received by the yoga community and also the recovery community. When I was proofreading the book, my wife was sitting right next to me and I said, ‘how do we make sure that other people don't have to suffer the way that I suffered? And she said, ‘maybe we should start a foundation to give access to yoga because people struggling with addiction can't afford it.’ So on that day in 2015, we went through the process of setting up a nonprofit 501c3 and founded the Trini Foundation. We raise money to pay teachers and we don't take volunteers for teachers, but we pay teachers to go into treatment facilities where people are struggling with substance use disorder and teach them Ashtanga yoga. We teach them traditional Ashtanga yoga and then we pay for their pass when they get out.So we got about 50 teachers, 50 partner studios throughout the United States and UK and South America and Mexico. We also have a house. It's called the Trini Recovery Residence. It basically establishes a stable house for people struggling with addiction. We have therapists, peer support specialists, and offer yoga, mindfulness, meditation and pranayama. People can apply to be at the house and they have assistance with the Trini Foundation to basically establish their life again and use the tools of mindfulness and meditation to help further their recovery and further their lives. That's what the Trini Foundation does.”
What inspired me most about Taylor’s story is the integrated approach he applies to his own practice and by extension to his teaching. A lot of people in the Ashtanga community become very enamoured with the physical aspect of the practice and often mistake just asana alone as meditation, or completely ignore the study of the scriptures. I asked Taylor his views on the asana vs theory debate. “It's way more than physical. What we're trying to do is to teach students to follow the eight limbs of Ashaṅga Yoga — the yamas and the niyamas. I think it's cultural appropriation if you're just looking at it as just asana. What we're really trying to do is give the person a full scope of what Ashtanga is. I think it makes a lot of sense to start at the physical form of the practice to get someone's body moving, to open up their heart, open up their mind, and then you can introduce different ideas. I do this fairly regularly. We have a sadhana practice week and it's just basically all the spiritual practices that you can do in order to support your physical practice or support your journey. A lot of people like to throw around the ‘99% practice 1% theory quote’ but what they fail to realise is that all of the other stuff is practice as well. There's a lot of practice that happens with pranayama, with philosophy, with chanting the sutras… We're working on physical, we're working on mental, on emotional, and we're also working on spiritual,” explained Taylor.
After travelling to India for over a decade for yoga, I wanted to know how India has changed or remained the same for Taylor? “I feel a really deep connection with India and I've had some really special times there. My wife and I travel so much and we always get to reconnect when we're there. I think that's a really important thing. We have three kids and she's working on her master's right now so we get to reconnect when we're in India. It's a really special time for us and we always stay with the same family when we're there. So it's really nice to feel the support. We even have our stuff there. We've rented an apartment for the past 10 years. It feels like a second home.”
After spending years practising and teaching, I wanted to know what Taylor’s biggest learning is from yoga. He says it’s the ability to know that everything is going to be ok! “There was a certain moment in my practice where I realised that the catastrophes that I have made in my head never come true. There's never been one of them that has come true. Through the process of the practice, what I've realised is that our minds create these stories and take them all the way to the extreme. I realised I was cutting the cord of this negative thought pattern of projecting the worst future. That was very important because it enabled me to be open to the positive and change my mind to do that too.”
To conclude, I asked Taylor what his advice would be to young yoga students. “You have to practise and you have to do the work, that’s all.”
For further information visit, Taylor Hunt Yoga