Trini Foundation's Taylor Hunt is on a quest to save lives

Six months into his sobriety, Taylor Hunt met a woman who changed the course of his life. She spotted him at a 12-step program meeting, and made a beeline for him. “I'm supposed to teach you yoga,” she said.

“I was like, ‘No, you're not teaching me yoga,'” Hunt recalled in a late-September meeting at his Ashtanga Yoga Columbus studio in Clintonville. In his stubbornness, he talked to his sponsor, who asked him what step he was working. And it was number 11: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God.”

“I felt like I had a connection with my higher power, but I didn't have this meditation aspect of this step,” Hunt said. “And right as I began that step, this lady walked into my life.”

After turning her down six times, Hunt finally gave yoga a chance. And he described the second class as the most powerful thing that ever happened to him.

“It was the first time I think I learned how to love myself or felt like I was worthy,” he said. “It was transformational. … I'm still doing it. This is the same train. It's never stopped.”

Roughly 12 years later, Hunt not only teaches Ashtanga yoga — a therapeutic system linking breath with movement — but helps others overcome addiction through the meditative practice. He is the executive director of the Trini Foundation, which provides scholarships to yoga studios for people in recovery, as well as economically disadvantaged individuals.

The organization also brings yoga to treatment centers and prisons, and trains teachers to become trauma-sensitive in their approach. And from Tuesday through Sunday, Oct. 9-14, Hunt will host a series of classes and a forum on yoga and addiction recovery to benefit the foundation.

If divine paths exist, it appears Hunt has found the one made for him. Even in the midst of his alcohol and heroin addiction, he said he knew he was supposed to be doing something different. That gnawing feeling created shame and remorse, which he continuously tried to numb.

“It took me almost 15 years of drinking and using before I got to a spot where I was like, ‘I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired,'” he said. “What I realized is that this disease that I had was progressive and fatal.”

Hunt cites his parents' divorce as an early source of pain. “I didn't have the tools that I needed in order to deal with the emotions that I was experiencing,” he said. “When I took the first drink [as a teenager], I never stopped drinking. … I blacked out the first time that I drank.”

A turning point occurred in his mid-20s, when his ex-wife found him in a drug house. “She busted in the door and she drug me out by my collar,” he recalled. “She put me in the car and then drove me right to the treatment center.”

With the exception of visiting the cafeteria to eat his first real meal in months, he was confined to a room where he weathered withdrawal symptoms. “I got on my knees and I was like, ‘If you can get me out of this one, I'll be willing to do whatever it takes in order to get sober,'” Hunt said. For the first time in years, he had a decent night's sleep, and woke up wanting to live.

“I don't know if it was God's grace. I don't know if it was because I ate the food. I don't know if it's because I got eight hours of sleep. … Maybe you could say it's all of them,” he said. “From that day, I never really looked back.”

In 2016, Hunt published his autobiography, A Way From Darkness. Hunt's wife, Jessica, and yoga instructor Dawn Blevins were on hand to help him with the editing process.

“We sat for hours and recorded his story,” Blevins said. “It was hard for me to sit and listen to the things that he talks about in his past and even really connect that with the person that I saw sitting in front of me. So it helped me to see how someone could really transform their life and leave addiction behind, and then use that as inspiration to help other people, too.”

Blevins assisted the Hunts with opening the Trini Foundation that same year.

“After I wrote my book, I was like, ‘I don't want to be the only person that had this success with yoga,'” Hunt said. Today, the foundation has 50 partner studios throughout the country, and about 50 teachers. Each year, they've been able to raise approximately $100,000 for assistance — a feat Hunt attributes to concern about the growing opioid epidemic.

In addition to forming partnerships with more studios, Hunt would like to see the Trini Foundation get into advocacy work. And he'd like to train more teachers, and see even more lives transformed with yoga.

“Addicts might not see progress in any other aspect of their lives, but when they come in here, they're seeing that their body is changing,” he said. “Instead of panicking when things get difficult, like in a yoga posture, they're able to figure out a way to calm their mind. … It's like, ‘I put in work in the yoga room. … I can translate that lesson that I'm learning in here into the world.'”