Living Yoga: 8 questions for Taylor

I am proud to have an amazing interview partner for this month’s “Living yoga” feature. Taylor Munholland is my absolute health and happiness idol, and I am so grateful that she agreed to be interviewed for my blog.

I have hardly ever been as impressed and inspired by someone as I am by Taylor. The first thing I noticed about her when I came across her Instagram feed and blog two years ago was her infectious smile and the positivity she radiates in each and every picture. Up to this day hers is still one of my go-to feeds when I need some uplifting and inspiration.

Taylor’s personal story is nothing short of incredible. A trained dancer and aspriring actress, she came across yoga more than 10 years ago and fell in love with the way it allowed her to connect with herself and her body on a much deeper level than she had ever experienced with any type of intense workout. From then on, she decided to make yoga a regular part of her life and enjoy what it taught her on and off the mat.

Taylor was all set for a successful career in acting, modeling and arts when in 2012 her life was suddenly turned upside down. She was diagnosed with the chronic autoimmune disease Interstitial Cystitis, also known as painful bladder syndrome, and she had to undergo numerous treatments to restore her health. And of course, being a true warrior, Taylor transformed her life through her yoga practice, her spirit of unperturbable positivity, and her clean eating and healthy living regime. Today she embraces life to the fullest, treating herself with love and mindful kindness, and inspiring others to do the same.

Taylor, how and when did you find yoga? Was it love at first sight for you?
At the age of 16 I became very obsessed with my body and dance training. I wanted to be the ultimate athlete and honestly I was a bit of a fitness binge junkie. I loved exercising. It made me feel great, it helped release both excess physical and mental energy. At the time I was doing 30+ hours of dance training a week along with working with a personal trainer, who trained Miss Oklahoma contestants, and in my free time I was working out at the gym on my own. I was called “the machine” at my gym. This was because I would come in and I would burn 1,000+ calories on the elliptical in 30min time, plus doing 500+ sit ups and pushups, plus lifting weights… I was the energizer bunny. What I did not realize was that I was doing more than my body could keep up with. One day during a dance rehearsal for an upcoming show I got this striking pain in my left foot followed by my foot going numb. I was told I had tendinitis due to over exercising, needed physical therapy, and to stay off my foot. Instead due to the show I decided I would dance on. I remember being carried to the stage, removing my foot wrap, dancing my heart out, and then carried back to the dressing room because I was in a significant amount of pain. I didn’t want to let my fellow dancers down and I wanted to perform. Following the show I did take the time for the rest and did weekly physical therapy but my foot was not getting any better. After several trips to different doctors without any answers I finally was able to get in to see a specialist who told me I had damaged a nerve in my foot and it was going to take a lot of time to heal. I had to stop dancing and exercises which needed the use of my foot. Without dance and rigorous exercise I felt very lost and went into a dark place within myself. I was sad and angry, I was also losing confidence. My Mom one day told me that she thought it would be good for me to try something new, she had recently visited a local yoga studio where the studio owner had also been a dancer. The first time I walked into the yoga studio I felt a sense of peace and belonging. I sat down with the yoga teacher and we talked about the work it took to be a dancer, my need to exercise, and how I felt a disconnection with my body without it. She told me our work would be reconnecting with my body; where I would gain confidence and also love. I began taking privates with her, for at the beginning she wanted to make sure I would learn the practice safely for my foot. We learned what my body was able to do without pain and what modifications needed to be made. Most importantly though I learned not to feel that need to be competitive, not so much with others but with myself. The best me didn’t mean I had to be the one who was the most flexible or the strongest… The best me was having the knowledge and power to listen to my body, to befriend my body, and to be at peace with where I am at in this moment in time. This was the greatest gift I could receive. I know if I would have began taking yoga without learning this I would have been that girl looking at yoga as pure fitness, all about the workout instead of the work in. I have been practicing yoga for eleven years now. I can’t hold a handstand. I can’t do several of the poses you see in the yoga magazines. I haven’t been able to work as much on the physical practice due to struggles with my health. Instead I have worked on further developing the mental and mediation practice, along with caring for my body in a daily yin yoga practice. I study and listen to my body on a daily basis. I work to continue to love myself, to love others. To look at the world with more acceptance and awareness. This is my yoga practice.

What’s your favorite type of practice, and what do you love about it?
I absolutely love active Vinyasa Yoga. I find the movement exhilarating, powerful, while at the same time I feel this grounding in myself within the movement. I often practice with my eyes closed, especially when I’m in the classroom setting. I love experiencing the movement in my body and with my breath. And then of course I’m a huge fan of yin and restorative yoga for the healing and rest proponents. Incorporating both stillness and active, yin and yang, keeps the ultimate balance within my body and mind. I can’t have one without the other.

What or who inspires you?
My older sister, Jennifer Munholland, my “Sisy” is the greatest inspiration in my life. I can easily say she was the greatest big sister I could have asked for. From the time I was born she was always there looking out for me. She took on the job of “Sisy”, Big Sister with the outmost proud. Unfortunately life can be rather cruel and unjust. When I was 12 years old my sister, 17 at the time, passed away in a car accident. My sister was a huge light in my life. She never judged others for what they looked like, where they came from, she was always king and open. One of my favorite stories I like to share shows how incredible of a person she was. On my first day of kindergarten she was a fifth grader, so top of dog of eliminatory school, my parents asked her to hold my hand after school and walk me home. A lot of fifth graders might have been embarrassed to have to walk hand and hand with their little sister but she took it with so much proud. Five years laters on my last day of eliminatory school I came out of the school and started on my walk home. All of a sudden I hear my sister’s voice calling behind me “Tay Tay! Tay Tay!”. I turn and see my big sister coming from her high school, on her last day of 10th grade, running towards me. I was very shocked to see her since I expected she would be hanging with her high school friends now that summer had begun. I asked her what she was doing here and she looked at me, smiled, and grabbed my hand as she said “I walked you home on your first day of eliminatory school, I’m going to walk you home on your last day.” and she did. We walked home hand and hand the entire way. That was one of the greatest moments in my life. I always knew we were great sisters who loved each other unconditionally but I knew then we were also best friends. I hold onto my sister’s memory with me everyday. She is a light in my life that will never dim or go out.

How do you integrate yoga and mindfulness into your daily life?
Yoga and mindfulness is part of everything in my daily life. I have always said Yoga is a LIFE PRACTICE. My yoga practice is both on and off the mat. My mat practice is a couple hours most days and then the remaining hours are all dedicated to my off the mat practice. This doesn’t mean I’m sitting around like a monk all day meditating or doing sun salutations in the grocery store. When I say I’m always practicing I’m saying I’m working to be fully conscious in all my day to day activities. I focus on kindness, change, awareness, confidence, love… as you will see to the answer to my next question, it’s not always easy to be a good yogi in every moment and every situation. It’s a non-stop practice, working to be the best you you can be, without causing harm to others or to yourself.

What do you struggle with in your practice, and how do you deal with it?
I see my practice of yoga as a life practice. Know the saying practice off the mat? I take that to heart. So where I struggle with my yoga life practice is in my driving. People who have just met me would never believe the road rage I have. Now you have to be a confident driver if you are going to survive LA traffic, sometimes in life you even have to be aggressive, but when the curse words start flying and the middle finger is raised in the air, that’s when you know you’ve gone a little too far. My mom who has been the main witness to my road rage will often tell me in the moment “Breath. Find your yoga. Let it go”. But since my mom lives in OK I don’t always get to have that lovely reminder. It’s usually after I get home, that I think “Well that could have been a lot more zen.” It’s a practice I’m working on, which I can’t say I have great success yet… but I’m working on it. I’m reminding myself, yes it’s ok to get angry at the idiot driver to cut me off but it’s not ok to let the fire rise up and take over me. Feel the anger and then let it.

What was the biggest lesson yoga has taught you?
The biggest lesson yoga has taught me is to live for each and every moment. So many of us pass through life without any awareness. I live to take everything in. To always learn and grow. To live life to the fullest.

What was the best experience you ever had on your yoga journey?
Oh there have been so many… So many wonderful connections, the lessons from the practice, using mediation to be able to pass kidney stones without pain medication (that was a big accomplishment lol)… but I would say the what has been most amazing about my yoga journey is how much I have learned about myself. How I have found this sense of peace, belonging, acceptance, and awareness within myself. With this learning and growing of myself I feel as if I have become more open to help others, to make an impact in this world. It such great gift to be able to make a difference.

If you could give new yogis an advice, what would it be?
I would say to any new yogi that every yoga practice is different. You don’t have to be super flexible as you see in the magazines, you don’t have to the strongest or the most graceful… you don’t even have to do sun salutations everyday if that’s not for you. Yoga is a life practice and as we know, no two lives are the same. Find your individual practice, find the part of yoga that brings light in your life. That is what yoga is all about, it’s about finding a deeper awareness in Self. It’s about developing yourself to reach greater heights and uncovering parts of yourself you never knew were there.

Always live healthy & happy!

Follow Taylor’s journey here!

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