Yoga helped Taylor Hunt beat heroin. Now he's encouraging other addicts to follow his path.
Shattered in mind, body and spirit from 10 years of drinking, popping pills and, ultimately, shooting up heroin, Taylor Hunt finally found sobriety during his fourth trip to a drug rehabilitation center.
Six months later, still working the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to stay clean, the then 25-year-old Dublin native was stymied by the 11th step—connecting with God through prayer and meditation. “I was good at praying, but I didn’t know how to meditate,” Hunt says.
Then Ashtanga yoga came into his life and changed everything. “Yoga, matched with the 12 steps, has given me an entirely new life,” says Hunt, now in his 12th year of sobriety, his 10th year as a Columbus yoga instructor and his third year leading a nonprofit that helps other recovering addicts through yoga.
That nonprofit, the Trini Foundation, provides scholarships for recovering addicts to take Ashtanga yoga classes. Started in 2016, it has provided 100 scholarships using about $150,000 donated to the organization.
“I wanted to make sure other people could do the 12 steps and take yoga, do them together, because it can give you a completely different equation [in recovery],” he says. “But I knew that financially a lot of people in recovery couldn’t afford yoga, and I felt that was unacceptable.”
Hunt, 37, is the executive director of Trini. His wife, Jessica Hunt, who also is a recovering addict and an Ashtanga yoga instructor, is the co-director and program coordinator. Hunt has written a book about his experience, A Way From Darkness, and the couple own and operate Ashtanga Yoga Columbus, a Clintonville studio where some scholarship students attend classes.
Originally, the foundation only gave scholarships to students in Ohio, but it has expanded its reach throughout the country as more people have learned about the opportunity and more studios have been willing to partner with the foundation.
Besides funding scholarships, Trini pays instructors to teach yoga classes in all the drug treatment centers in Columbus so that those struggling with sobriety can try it out.
One of those programs is operated by the Columbus Public Health department. Treatment program manager Debbie Helldoerfer says a Trini instructor has been teaching a class for recovering addicts in the outpatient program once a week. “It’s been amazing,” Helldoerfer says. “I wish we could offer it to everyone every day.”
Yoga, she says, helps participants “be present and in-the-moment,” helping to teach them how to focus on one thing at a time. “It’s calming the brain and the body, getting them involved in something that can stabilize their mood, reduce their cravings and help them feel better physically. They come to the class grumbling, but they make progress.”
According to the American Addiction Centers website, yoga is being increasingly used in addiction treatment programs as a way to reduce stress, manage withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapses. But first, recovering addicts need to be willing to try yoga. When a woman in AA first suggested yoga to Hunt, he dismissed the idea. “I was like, ‘You’re out of your mind. I’m not doing yoga.’ ” But she persisted until Hunt agreed.
Hunt’s first yoga class was scary and awkward, but he returned at the urging of his AA sponsor. Soon, he felt a sense of contentedness from the class. “I felt like I had some value to me as a person, and that’s the first time I’d felt that,” Hunt says. “And from that day on I never stopped doing it.”
Yoga gives him clarity about his life and actions that have helped him stop his compulsive behaviors and deal with depression and anxiety. He’s seen the same result in some of Trini’s scholarship students. One, a 25-year-old waiter, has been sober for two years. Another, a woman of about 30, has gone from being a grocery-store cashier to a marketing manger in the nearly two years she’s been sober.
Hunt has ambitious plans. He’d like to expand into every state and to convince government officials that yoga can be a viable means of treatment. “We are on the front lines of getting people to understand what this is . . . and how it can help them in their addiction,” Hunt says. “I feel like this is a solution for some of the people who are struggling.”