Interview #18: Taylor Harkness

This is part 18 of our traveling yoga teacher interview series. Each week we will release a new interview of a different traveling yoga teacher. If you know someone who would be a good candidate – email us at TheYogaNomads@gmail.com. 

Taking Taylor’s class, you will move and be moved. Passionate about human anatomy and the physical body from his medical background, Taylor’s experiences on and off the mat fuel his teachings in a big way. He’s teaching yogis all over the world with his next two retreat in Costa Rica! The retreats start June and look awesome! Here are the details.

Reminder: Comment below with additional questions for Taylor!

You began your career as an EMT/Paramedic. Please share with us how that experience has impacted your teaching and personal practice.

The job was exhilarating and I gained a lot of experience about how to communicate with people. I learned a lot about the body, how it works, and what can happen when it doesn’t work. I even keep up all of my licenses and medical skills in case of a zombie apocalypse. Unfortunately though, I also saw a lot of heart ache, abuse, injury, death, and truly toxic living conditions.

Being surrounded by all of that darkness sort of hardened me. I owe it to the yoga community for helping me back toward compassion and empathy. The anatomical influence from my medical background is really strong in my teachings. As for my personal practice, I am still trying to find that sweet spot between anatomy and the deeper, spiritual components. It’s hard because I’m not wired to speak that language, so it’s first a practice for myself, but then a practice in adding a layer to my teachings. It’ll come in time.

 

Being surrounded by all of that darkness sort of hardened me. I owe it to the yoga community for helping me back toward compassion and empathy.

 

Taylor-Harkness-Rockstar

 

You’ve taught all over the world and have had students from all walks of life in your classes. Do you have any practical tips for new teachers to instruct to the ‘midline’?

Awesome question. Teaching all of the fancy or hard stuff can alienate a lot of people. I try to teach to everyone by offering modifications. Those who want more will take it deeper. Those who don’t are cued through safe exploration of what they can do. Encourage the usage of props. Sequence in a way that starts with an accessible variation and then offer to students the chance to either stay and breathe, or to continue deeper. Also, really focus on technique, not just the postures. What can a student learn in a less intense back bend that will help them if/when they get to a deeper backbend? Steer the ship in that direction.

 

Yogis today spout pseudo science about the benefits of yoga, what have you learned on the bio-psychology and neuroscience path that relates to what you know as yoga?

Thank you for mentioning this. The rampant pseudo science in the yoga world is a much bigger issue and a topic for another time, I suppose. But I have learned that there are a lot of really interesting truths out there that yogis might want to tout instead. Some of these stem from ancient wisdom and are now being backed up by modern neuroscience and medicine.

We know that yoga increases strength and flexility in ways unique from most other exercises. We are also learning for example, that physical yoga and meditation have been shown to decrease levels of stress, and increase focus, even better than a lot of pharmaceuticals. Altering and influencing the layout of neural connections (as we mentioned above) with yoga and meditation is also possible and have been shown to elevate mood, relieve tension, and stimulate creativity. It is important to remember that a lot of independent, well designed research must take place before any big claims can be made. So as a general rule of thumb, I am cautious when hearing unsupported claims.

There are a lot of weekend trainings for yoga teachers in things like detoxification, weight loss, PTSD, etc. My whole body cringes when I see these 20-30 hour trainings because there is no regulation and perhaps it’s just my opinion, but I think physicians, nutritionists, and psychologists should be involved in such trainings before yoga teachers attempt to help students lose weight or deal with emotional trauma.

 

Physical yoga and meditation have been shown to decrease levels of stress, and increase focus, even better than a lot of pharmaceuticals.

 

Taylor-Harkness-Forearm

 

Tell us something about neuroscience and psychology that the average person wouldn’t know.

I could nerd out all day long, so be careful opening this can of worms! A fun fact is that the average adult brain has approximately 86 billion neurons and weighs around three pounds (1.3 kilograms). For a long while, we thought that number was closer to 100 billion, but sadly, we were wrong. Actually, many textbooks and sources still use the outdated numbers. Our brains are not the largest in the animal kingdom. That trophy belongs to the sperm whale at a whopping 18 pounds (8 kilograms).

 

We can actually manipulate and influence the wiring of those neurons with our patterns of thought.

However, humans do have the highest concentration of neurons in a part of the brain called the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for higher level thinking including inhibitions, planning, reflection, and all of the things that make us well, human. Another very cool fact (told you this train would be hard to stop) is that we can actually manipulate and influence the wiring of those neurons with our patterns of thought.

 

What has helped you build a social media following?

Being real and learning not to give a damn. I used to post yoga pictures because I thought I had to in order to be a good yoga teacher. Whaaaat? When I realized it was draining me and wasn’t aligned with my message, I thought “who needs this stress?”. I now post photos of friends, meals, DIY projects, the occasional yoga photo when it calls to me, and a lot of snuggly times with my dog.

Being real and learning not to give a damn.

I think you have to offer people something to look at and read, and I love expressing my thoughts and putting words to what I’m feeling. But I would like to see teachers focus more on bettering their teachings, practicing what they preach, being a good person, and focusing less on growing some fake number on a screen. It’s a good day in my life when I don’t have to look at my phone and I can be present. That’s what I’m aiming for now.

Learn how other successful yogis build their online presence!

 

 

Taylor-Harkness-Scorpion

 

How do you find balance amidst a hectic travel/teaching schedule?

Good friends, good food, good drinks, good books, good love, good sleep. When I am not on the road, those are my priorities. I don’t answer emails or look at my phone/laptop before 9am and I cut all work after 5pm. I focus on my home and the garden. These things help me recover from travel and I believe they make me a much better, well-rounded teacher.

 

Learn more about Taylor’s upcoming retreat in Costa Rica

Video by the amazing Emily Whitaker

What are you most grateful for to date?

My man and our dog. Martin supports me in all of my crazy ideas and actions, believes in me, and helps me. He is the best partner I could ever hope to have. Our dog, Jake, is a rescue and keeps me laughing, reminds me what unconditional love looks like, and gives the best slobbery kisses whenever needed.

 

What other mindfulness practices are important to you?

I have really had to work hard at making a habit of not being tied to my cell phone. It’s brought such relief and I can actually feel a big difference in my nervous system. I am less reactive and my mind is more clear. Another BIG one in our house is dimming all of the lights after the sun goes down and being off of electronics about an hour before bed. I’ve never slept better.

 

Connect with Taylor

Taylor-Harkness-BIO

Taylor is a yoga teacher bent on moving people both on and off the mat with skillful action, an open heart, and gratitude. His motto is “Shine On”, a reminder to be your best self through honesty, vibrance, and compassion – while encouraging others to do the same. Inspired by his medical background which fostered his passion for anatomy and the complex workings of the body, these passions influence the way he teaches his students to liberate themselves within asana. You can practice online with him at YogaGlo or see his travel schedule at here.

 

Connect with him on his website, Facebook and Instagram

 

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