How To Make the 12 Steps More Effective: Add Yoga

By Nathan A Thompson 03/14/17

Author Taylor Hunt is teaching people struggling with addiction a new tool for recovery: Ashtanga Yoga. His charity works with treatment centers, halfway houses, and prisons.

Taylor Hunt doing a yoga pose
It’s a process of unravelling who we think we are on our yoga mat and becoming the person we’re supposed to be.

Taylor Hunt recently broke his anonymity and published a gritty memoir of his drug addiction, A Way from Darkness. The way out, he found, was the 12-step program coupled with Ashtanga Yoga—a dynamic series of physical poses and breath work—which he now teaches at the center he founded in Columbus, Ohio and around the world.

Now, he has quit his successful business and started the Trini Foundation, a charity that supplies free Ashtanga teachers to rehabs and free lessons to people struggling with addiction. So what is it about Ashtanga that transforms lives? And how does it dovetail with the 12 steps? The Fix decided to find out.

What is the Trini Foundation?

We are teaching people struggling with addiction a new tool for recovery: Ashtanga Yoga. We are working with treatment centers, halfway houses and prisons. Some people come in off the streets and right into yoga and the 12 steps. They might be two months sober or two weeks sober.

It’s also happening at our home studio in Columbus where we provide free memberships for people struggling with addiction. It was pretty cool because it changed the feel of our entire community to have those people join us.

How does it work?

We raise funds for our scholarship program that currently runs in Dallas, Atlanta, Chatanooga and Napa, as well as Columbus.

Our clients go through an interview process first and we ask them to commit to training at least three days a week. We check up on them every month.

About 20 scholarships have happened. They cost about $80 per student, per month. So far, 70% of them have stayed for the ten months we have been operating.

We also supply Ashtanga teachers to rehabs. The foundation pays their salary but the rehab gets them and a bunch of mats for free. 

How do you train your yoga teachers to deal with drug users?

I travel around the U.S. teaching workshops; every weekend I’m somewhere. So, I have these yoga schools that know me and I have been able to train teachers at these schools to become part of Trini.

They come to Columbus and learn with us for an entire week. They practice yoga with us every morning and, in the afternoon, we teach them about anatomy and how to specifically train ex-drug users.

What is the difference between training ex-drug users and regular yoga students?

Our teachers must be sensitive to trauma because, when you practice Ashtanga, latent emotions can show up. You see people cry on their mats sometimes. For people struggling with trauma, it must be a supportive community. There must be an open dialogue between the teacher and student.

We have online forums to facilitate that, and so our clients can communicate privately with their teachers or the Trini Foundation community. A lot of our teachers are ex-addicts, so they know what the sponsorship role looks like and how to translate that into the yoga community.

Are you replacing the 12 steps?

I think Ashtanga and the 12 steps support each other. The steps gave me an opportunity to look society in the eyes and yoga made me a better person. The steps helped me get better with my past and yoga helped me become secure in myself and live my passion. I don’t think one without the other is as good as both.

We ask everyone in our program to have a 12-step sponsor, and we tell them to work the program but it’s not mandatory.

Is Ashtanga enough of a spiritual program on its own, or does it need the 12 steps?

It depends on how the teacher presents it. I teach it as a transformational tool but I can’t say the same for everyone. Some teach it as a sequence of postures, but for me it’s about empowering people to change and open their eyes to the traditional teachings of yoga. Without that, it’s just fitness.

How does Ashtanga Yoga benefit the recovery process?

Routine, doing it daily and making steady progress. When you’re struggling with addiction and your self-esteem is low, incremental progress means a lot for your well-being.

I believe Ashtanga practice can make people better. It’s a process of unraveling who we think we are on our yoga mat and becoming the person we’re supposed to be.

As a teacher, I get a bird’s-eye view of that process. I can see that a student is not the same as they were when they first came six months ago because they have cracked open and gone through layers of trauma, guilt, anger and shame, and resolved it by getting on their mat and staying committed.

Connection and community is a huge thing too. We have an online platform for everyone to dialogue about their struggle. We also do conferences, dinners and other social events.

Do you worry that your students might get addicted to Ashtanga like some people get addicted to the gym?

I’m not worried about that because our clients have the 12-step program to work through their perfectionisms, and to help sort out those neuroses. We teach them, carefully and individually, that it is not about being able to contort yourself into this pose or that pose—it’s about how you unravel on your mat and create a different person, a process I describe in my book.

What makes your book different from other recovery memoirs?

The book was about breaking my anonymity for the person who wouldn’t walk into an AA meeting. In the 12 steps, the success is there, but because of anonymity, there are not enough people willing to share their stories publicly. It was a risk but it paid off for me.

How did it pay off?

Setting up the Trini Foundation was the logical next step after writing the book. I had so many people contact me who became interested in yoga as a recovery tool.

I have two kids—a girl and a boy—and ever since our family focused on teaching yoga and helping other people, our lives have blossomed. It’s been one of the most rewarding things we’ve done.

Wasn’t it a drop in income?

That’s true, but we’re happier than we’ve ever been. We’ve had to make changes—whether it’s the cars we drive or the money we spend on frivolous stuff—but we want to be an example of how people can give back to a community. The U.S. is struggling right now and we’re trying to be part of the solution.

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Nathan A. Thompson is the president of the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia, where he has been based since 2013. He has reported for VICE News, the TelegraphGuardianSlateSalonand Christian Science Monitor both in Cambodia and across the region and currently works in editorial at He writes travel articles, essays and released his first poetry collection, I Take Nothing Strong Only Lightning in 2016. Follow Nathan on Twitter.