Level 2 Authorised Ashtanga Teacher, Taylor Hunt, shares how his journey of ashtanga yoga evolved from a purely physical practice to a spiritual way of being.
Life is unpredictable. We humans like to believe that we’re in control of our lives, the environment and our destinies. The COVID-19 pandemic is a classic example of how untrue that belief system is. Yoga teaches us that our purpose is to be in sync with nature. When we become one with nature, we can tap into its infinite consciousness and be at peace with ourselves as well.
I’ve been travelling to Mysore to practise ashtanga at its source with Paramguru Sharath Jois and in addition to the wealth of knowledge I receive from him, it also gives me the opportunity to meet and interact with some of the best ashtanga teachers in the world. Level 2 Authorised Ashtanga Teacher, Taylor Hunt, is someone I admire and respect, and over the course of conversations with him, I am proud to say that he is now a dear friend. Taylor is one of those rare people who is in tune with nature and practises yoga in its purest form without ego or vanity. Read on and get to know more about him:
Sejal Gupta: What’s your definition of yoga?
Taylor Hunt: A spiritual practice that helps bring cessation to the fluctuations of the mind. That is my personal definition of yoga today. But, when I first started practising, it was only physical to me. To be honest, that was exactly what I needed it to be in the beginning. I worked so hard on the physical aspect in those early years. I only realised the true power of yoga after a couple of years when I saw how many layers I had shed and how easy going my mind had become. That is when I understood that yoga was less about the physical form and more about calming the mind. Over time, it eventually became a spiritual practice for me.
Sejal: How did India happen to you and what’s your relationship with Mysore?
Taylor: India happened as a result of practicing with Paramguru Sharath Jois for the first time in New York. I remember feeling a deep sense of connection with him. One day after class, I had the opportunity to talk to him and asked him if I could go to Mysore. He said, “yes, of course.” I had already been feeling called to go for a couple of years. His response made me certain. My first trip was in 2010 and I stayed for six weeks.
Sejal: What made you choose ashtanga?
Taylor: I wouldn’t say that I chose ashtanga yoga. I would say that it chose me. I was six months sober when a woman I knew started trying to convince me to practice. I was very reluctant. But, she was persistent. It took her six tries to get me to a class. I didn’t really know what yoga was. I was new to sobriety and it was such a fragile time for me. I had watched countless friends die from the disease of drug addiction and I got very close to death myself. I nervously walked into my first yoga class skinny, weak and out of shape. I was the only man in a room full of women. I didn’t have the right mat or clothes. I had no idea what I was doing. I’d put so many needles into my arms during years of heroin use that I couldn’t do chaturanga. After doing half of the primary series, I was so tired and angry that I ran out of the class vowing to never go back. My sponsor convinced me to go back though and that was when the miracle happened. During my second class, I felt my life shift in a big way. After that practice was the first time I had ever felt love toward myself. And from that day, I never stopped.
Sejal: How has the journey been so far?
Taylor: Honestly, my path has been long and hard. It’s difficult to show up every day. It’s hard to work on the poses I struggle with. It’s a challenge to stay motivated and inspired to practice. But, I have done it every day to the best of my ability and it has shifted every area of my life. Looking back on it, I wouldn’t change a thing. It has brought me closer to God and helped me find my dharma.
Sejal: As a practitioner and a teacher, what was the biggest challenge you had to face and how did you cope up with it?
Taylor: The biggest challenge I’ve ever faced is me. At one point in my life, I blamed everyone else for my problems. Today, yoga has made me take responsibility for my actions and the thing that challenges me most is the person staring back at me in the mirror.
Sejal: How important do you think it is for one to be in sync with nature and why?
Taylor: Nature is one of the ways I get grounded. It’s 2020 and I’m a yoga teacher. You might not expect me to be glued to my computer, but I am. I have to pull myself away and go outside. When I do, it’s always the right choice.
Sejal: How can yoga help a practitioner attain inner balance?
Taylor: Inner balance comes from bringing the mind under control. Yoga helps to do this. The mind needs something to do. So by doing our practice — focusing on the gazing points, the postures and the breath, practitioners can achieve a great sense of peace. It works! I’ve been doing it for more than 14 years and I’ve seen every area of my life improve. My state of mind and emotional body is now stable as a result of dedicated practice.
Sejal: COVID-19 has made so many people anxious, restless and anguished. Do you think it’s just the virus that’s doing this or are the feelings a result of internal imbalance?
Taylor: I think COVID-19 was just a catalyst for many people. The emotions that were already within them came to the surface as a result of the trauma caused by the pandemic. It’s been an interesting and scary time for people. Many of my students adapted quickly, but others did not. I think those who struggled to adapt suffered more because not only did they wish it wasn’t happening, it also caused a paralysing level of anxiety. Many of my students have been able to deal with this whole ordeal by moving, breathing and being mindful.
Sejal: Being a parent, how do you think people can help their children cope better with this pandemic?
Taylor: I think it’s important to model healthy behaviours regardless of external circumstances. Practicing the eight limbs requires a huge amount of earnest effort, but we have to show our kids that it is possible even during difficult times. In fact, it is the most important time to do this. The environment we create for our children and the way we deal with things as adults directly affects them. When I find myself responding out of fear or anger all the time, I see my children doing the same. Our yoga starts at home. This is the hardest and most fulfilling part of the journey.
Sejal: Your final words to yoga practitioners and teachers.
Taylor: My last words are simple. Show up on your mat. Do your practice. Feel your emotions. Tune into your body. Let go of the things that don’t serve you. Yoga is for the people who do it on a consistent basis. It is transformative if you work at it.