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This Olympic Diver Experienced Chronic Pain—Until He Found Yoga

The physical precision and mental focus that Leon Taylor brought to diving serves him as a yoga teacher.

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“I was a pain as soon as I was born,” jokes diver Leon Taylor. He refused to sleep, wouldn’t play with his toys, and was always climbing on the furniture, demanding constant attention and interaction. His parents discovered that physical movement was the best way to wear him out, so they got their diapered ball of energy involved in swimming.

Swimming evolved to diving, and by age 11, Taylor was the best diver in his age group in the United Kingdom. By the time he was 26, he was a three-time Olympian, competing in the 1996, 2000, and 2004 Games. He and his diving partner Peter Waterfield won silver medals in Athens in 2004.

But working out at this elite level took its toll on Taylor’s body: By 2008, he had undergone four reconstructive shoulder surgeries and was plagued by chronic lower-back pain. His medical team was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to walk properly by the time he reached his 40s. They recommended he stop training and abandon his dreams of another Olympic competition. His doctors and physiotherapists also suggested he try yoga to help alleviate his chronic pain symptoms.

See also: How Breathing & Meditation Help Relieve Chronic Pain

After six months of regular Bikram Yoga practice, Taylor was finally pain-free. He also found his impatience, hyperactivity, and obsessive-compulsive athletic drive had been tempered.

“I made a decision then that I would always practice yoga,” he says. “I just know that if I had discovered this years before, it would have made such a difference to the quality of life during my time as an athlete, and especially during the times of challenge.”

Inspired, he traveled to Arizona in 2009 to learn more about yoga—both the physical practice and the spiritual philosophies. In 2010, he registered for a teacher-training program in Morocco led by Allie Hill, founder of U.K.-based studio Yogahaven. They eventually became a couple and welcomed their first child in June 2020.

Throughout the pandemic, Taylor has been mentoring young athletes in the England Talent Diving Pathway program and educating the next generation of divers on the benefits of yoga practice for competitors.

“It fills me with such joy to be able to share what I’ve learned over the past decade or so with younger athletes,” he says.

See more:

How Yoga Helps This Olympic Fencer Feel in Sync

Olympian Cortney Jordan Truitt on the Connection Between Swimming & Yoga

How Yoga Helped This Athlete Make Peace With Her Body—And Her Mind

Yoga Fine-Tuned This Olympic Swimmer’s Out-of-Water Routine