Speaking of yoga and football. Keith Mitchell, NFL linebacker-turned-yoga teacher is a prime example of an inspiring transition, and transformation, like whoa. In the late 90s, Keith Mitchell became a promising NFL defensive linebacker playing for the New Orleans Saints, the Houston Texans, and finally the Jacksonville Jaguars, where his career ended abruptly at age 31. When an injury sent him into early retirement in 2003, it was yoga and meditation that picked him up, dusted him off and patted him on the proverbial behind to send him on his new path. Now he’s found his true purpose, bringing the practice of yoga a meditation to at-risk youth and veterans across the country.
A few years ago the NFL put out this short video on Mitchell called, ‘NFL Films Presents’ Yoga and Football, which told his story of how he came to yoga after suffering a major spinal contusion injury during a routine tackle. Relatively speaking, it was a freak accident, if you consider getting hurt when slamming 200+ pounds of body weight and equipment into an equally massive person/concrete wall something of a surprise. The paralyzing injury left Mitchell with limited movement and a deep sense of defeat, but his decision to stay away from prescription pills led him to healing inside and out through the alternative methods of yoga and meditation.
“I made it a point because I had an intuition if I went down that road of drugs or certain medications, I knew I wouldn’t come back from it … I guess I was always wanting to be in control of my senses, my elements of myself,” Mitchell told Fox News in a recent interview.
He was also able to side step the emotional depression many retired NFL players go through once their careers are over, especially so suddenly. Not only did he heal physically, the daily meditation and yoga practices “created a refreshing sense of self-awareness and fulfillment which surpassed his love for football,” as his website says. Those are some strong words.
When talking about yoga and meditation, though, Mitchell sounds like he truly had to dig deep and, when he did, he was able to come out on the other side a renewed person.
“The nature of an athlete is to sacrifice oneself for the sake of something outside of self … then judge when it’s not up to par,” he said. “For me, I had to go through a whole revelation of forgiving myself and my body and trusting myself.”
“It allowed me to not only deal with my physical body … but my emotional, psychological body. I was like, ‘What the heck is that all about?’ That’s when [I] began to see that body,” he said.
At 40 years old, you can now find Mitchell bringing yoga to at-risk youth and adults, veterans, and families in need through his Light It Up organization. His intention is to bring yoga and meditation to people who might not have attempted it otherwise because they don’t know about it, they think it’s not for them, or it’s, yes, perhaps still thought be too “girly.” (We know, we know.)
“I’m looking for that person, the people who have never tried [yoga],” he says.
In addition to his organization, Mitchell has also worked with well-known meditation advocate congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio). The two are teaming up to tour the country bringing yoga and meditation to veterans this spring. Mitchell knows he may not be able to reach everyone, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
“Like water boiling, [we’re] going to drop an ice cube in the whole thing and diffuse it a little bit and create more balance in this world,” he said.
Every little bit counts. We expect to be hearing even more about the NFL and yoga very soon. With the power of rehab and, maybe more importantly, prehab and injury prevention, Mitchell is hoping to inspire other players to pick up on the practices. But, when asked by Black Fitness Today about how NFL principles may have informed his yoga practice and teaching, Mitchell knows it goes beyond the physical:
The best way to answer this question would be “if I see you in the same uniform as me I recognize you with likeness, but if I see you in a different uniform, I recognize you as the opposition.” This plays out in our conscious and even more in our subconscious because if you think of all of the uniforms such as color, religion, school, rich to poor, smart to intelligent, homeowner to homeless, it causes the physiological disconnection.
Next up for Mitchell is the Mindful Living Health Expo & AltaMed 5K he put together for the community and 5,000 local LA school kids with free health screenings, activities and community events, as well as performances from Common, India Arie and others, Saturday, Jan. 31, at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
image via keithmitchell59.com