Keith Mitchell, Master Certified Yoga Instructor, Philanthropist and Former NFL Linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans, and Jacksonville Jaguars, turned tragedy into triumph when a paralyzing spinal injury abruptly ended his Football career. During his process of recovery, he discovered yoga and meditation where he not only found healing but a whole new life.
1) Throughout your work over the last decade as a Master Certified Yoga Instructor, what are some of the differences and similarities between training in sports and training in yoga?
The commitment to be better and do the work is consistent, the challenges of feeling and thinking through the limitations. In a lot of cases, as good as you may think you are, you may not always be able to attach ingrained thoughts and understanding about your play. The last thing is the importance of teamwork. In the conscious world we call this community. The support of community is just as important as the food we nurture our souls with and the physical practices we have. In my opinion, it is the completion of our existence.
2) Stress management is a challenge many Americans face on a daily basis, what is one of your favorite exercises/routines for relieving stress while boosting energy?
I would suggest practicing traditional sitting. If you have back problems, lean against a wall. As you’re sitting focus on breathing from your diaphragm. Focus on the inhale and exhale and see what comes up, as things come up don’t buy into it, be with it, observe your thoughts, observe your mind. To hear yourself is to see yourself. As we continue to breathe, now tension will start to formulate, embrace the tension with the same format of observing it. Don’t over react but observe it. The body’s only way to communicate is through tension, pain. Begin the process of listening to self in order to be exposed to your truths. As you begin the practice of taking all of this in and truly commit to the inquiry, you find your zone and new layers of possibility become accessible to you. In my opinion, stress is the exhausted energy released in holding a stance or defending a reality that is not your own. The body is a vehicle, which has the capability to be manipulated to execute a miracle. As an athlete, I used to think in terms of “I need to get warmed up before I move.” But the fact of the matter is we have 98.6 degrees inside of us, we are simply not accessing this.
3) Are there any principles that you learned as an NFL athlete that have strengthened your practice and teaching of yoga?
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.
4) One of your areas of expertise is injury prevention, please share your advice for athletes to improve both their physical and mental approaches to their sport?
Injuries typically don’t just happen, in a gladiator sport such as football someone can fall awkwardly on you, yes, but typically in athletics injuries are constantly brewing. Remember tension, pain, even has its own level of intelligence, it’s actually the body’s way of communicating with you. We just have simply been holding postures of not listening.
5) You are a champion of a number of noble causes, including mental health awareness and caring for veterans. As a member of a family that has many veterans, I was particularly inspired by your use of Yoga and Meditation as therapeutic tools for soldiers who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and related health challenges. Please elaborate on this important work.
The soldiers practices and relationship to himself have been created by a lot of sacrifice, and through that sacrifice the body has been neglected in the process. Yoga and meditation for the soldiers has been a revelation for healing of the self-inflicted wounds of neglect, brutality, and self-sabotage that we have first put on ourselves through regurgitated rhetoric that has been passed down. We have one life and it’s time we live. We have traditionally neglected the now as if another lifetime is promised but as one of my favorite teachers says “in order to have peace in another lifetime, we have to learn to have peace here, right now.
6) What would you say is your greatest achievement so far?
Creating my reality and going through the process of its development. When you speak of doing things that appear to be against the norm, it can be scary, it can have its highs and lows but to truly trust the process has been what I’ve gotten the most joy out of. The journey is truly the destination and I’m very grateful for the realization of a real faith.
All photos courtesy of Leelu Morris Photography