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Taylor Harkness’ Happiness Plan

Kathryn Budig talks with this popular young teacher about wellness, happiness, and the future of yoga and medicine.

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Taylor James Harkness is one of my dearest friends, my personal assistant, and frequently hits the road with me to assist in my classes. (Join us at the Play Your Asana Off demo at Yoga Journal Live! New York later this month.) A former paramedic, he came to yoga via the sport of rock climbing, and has been inspiring yogis like me ever since. He is adored by his students and social media followers alike for his steady doses of inspiration, laughter, and honesty. I can’t think of anyone better for a #findyourinspiration post.

Kathryn: What’s it like being a male in the yoga world who is unafraid of embracing grace over strength?

Taylor: I feel like grace and strength are two sides of the same coin and both are needed for balance in our practices and in our lives. But for a lot of men in the yoga world, we’re conditioned to think we have to be Handstanding or Forearm Planking to be doing yoga. We all have parts of the practice and even certain poses that suit our body types differently—mine just happens to be flexibility, and so I embrace it. It’s easy to hide your gifts and play small, especially when most other fish are swimming the other way, but I’d rather shine bright than keep my head down and play it safe. Grace for me means the same thing both on and off the mat: It’s the ability to accept the inevitable stumbles and fumbles, but roll with them and flow them into mindful, purposeful action. We’re so quick to fight challenges, that we lose ourselves in the struggle. We could all use a little more grace in our lives.

KB: You use the phrase “shine on” regularly. What does this mean to you?

TH: I hear the words “shine on” and I always think of the song, “This Little Light of Mine.” It’s so easy to get caught up in what society and the media define for us as attractive, successful, sexy. Shine on is a simple reminder to seek what you love both in life and about yourself, embrace those things, and let them guide you to your happiness. We can all keep chasing our tails trying to live up to impossible standards and beating ourselves up when we don’t reach them … or we can carve out new paths that fit each of us and design the lives we want by letting our lights shine. There will be rough days, that’s totally unavoidable. But use those times to fuel your fire, burn brighter, and push you toward your goals.

KB: At 25, you’re a full-time yoga teacher, a recent pre-med graduate, and had a past life as a paramedic. What are your goals in the long run?

TH: It’s a blessing to have started both a medical and a yoga career at a young age because I’m so passionate about both. A dream that I am working toward is to one day combine primary health care with yoga, diet, and nutrition. It’s going to take a lot of work, and my next step is preparing for medical school. But in the interim, I’m going to spend some time committing to the yoga world and finding my roots in my teachings over the next few years. Wellness is complex, it’s integrative, and we can combine many avenues to round it out. I’m excited beyond words for what the future holds.

KB: You always seem happy. Is that possible?

TH: I’ve witnessed a lot of heartache and poor living conditions for people—not just around the world, but here in our own country as well. As a paramedic, I saw the worst of the worst; things I don’t even care to discuss. I found myself at the point where I had to make a choice: I could either allow this negativity and sadness to eat me up, or I could use it to refocus my perspective. I think happiness is a lifestyle and a practice, not just a temporary mood. There is ample research that shows your brain works in habits and patterns: The more frequently you look to the positive, the easier it gets to see the glass as half full. The sticky part is that the opposite holds true as well. Don’t get stuck in the negative. When you feel yourself going dark, stop. Breathe, and spend a few minutes thinking and listing in detail all of the things for which you’re grateful, and smile for each one.

KB: Will you share your top 5 tips for cultivating happiness?

TH: The first would be to come back to gratitude, regularly. Every time I get a tinge of the blues, I shift my perspective to focus on the miracles in life: I’m breathing. Check! I have friends and family who love me. Check! I’ve got food in my belly and a roof over my head. Check! As long as those bases are covered, come heck or high water, I know I’m blessed, and that is something to be happy about.

#2: Surround yourself with good people. Feeling blue? Take a look around. Are your friends encouraging you to be bigger, better, brighter than the current version of yourself? Are they stimulating you? Seek like-minded folks who want to foster growth and happiness. Hint: You’ll know the type because you will feel good just by being around them.

#3: Eat good food! I love food, it’s no secret. I can devour my own food and probably everyone else’s leftovers at the table. The trick is to have a solid baseline of healthy stuff. As long as you’re keeping it clean, then the occasional cupcake, doughnut, croissant, hunk of bread and olive oil, slice of pizza—whatever—won’t hurt and you won’t feel guilty about enjoying it.

#4: Find an activity you love, get up, and get outside! I like to play with all kinds of things: yoga, rock climbing, biking, swimming, paddle boarding, hiking, just playing in the waves at the beach, and recently, even sky diving. There is research mounting in an area called “green exercise” which shows that people who exercise outside, in nature (walking, biking, running), obtain more health benefits than those who do the same exercises indoors. Get some fresh air, leave your cell phone, and enjoy what’s around you. I feel so much better even after a 10-minute walk in the park near my house.

#5: Rest when you need it, and we all need it. My life is super active, so I sometimes have a hard time peeling myself from the couch when I get the chance to rest. I make sure to get my green exercise, but then I also make sure to pop in a movie, or have a marathon of my favorite shows back to back. Reading a book on the porch is nice, and so is setting up a hammock and taking a nap. Create a quiet place where you can regularly decompress and find rest.

– By Kathryn Budig

Kathryn Budig is a yoga teacher behind AIM TRUEis a regular writer for Yoga Journal and presenter at YogaJournalLIVE!.