Keith Mitchell was a Pro Bowl Linebacker in the National Football League. Between 1997 to 2003, Keith played with the New Orleans Saints, the Houston Texans, and lastly, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Like many players in the league, Keith had been playing football since he was a kid - and by the time he reached college, his talent had soared. At Texas A & M, Keith was the key pass rusher of a daunting defense known as the “Wrecking Crew.” His fire for the game never wavered, but then, in the second game of the 2003 season, he suffered a spinal injury that temporarily paralyzed him. Keith shared with _PRACTICE his incredible journey from top NFL pass rusher to certified Yoga Instructor.
Football was my escape. It was my sanctuary. It was place where I found friends - a group that accepted me. We became brothers and we all had a common goal.
Football is fueled by fear -- the game forces you to face it. I didn’t understand that aspect of it when I played. I was like a lion smelling blood...
Fear is something that we are all faced with everyday. But in life outside of sports, you don’t have to particularly take it all on at once or even at all.
In sports, we have certain things like anticipation, reacting, making decisions, going 100 miles an hour, not hesitating and thinking 'Oh, I may make a mistake,' just trusting in our intuition. That’s just the circumstances on the field.
It could be your contract year. You could be in a position battle. You could have just been picked up by a team. You could have family issues. Obviously, there are a lot of other things going on than just the game on the field.
Sports put the dynamics of fear in a tangible experience and you are forced to trust. Trust yourself, trust your team mates, trust the game.
In my seventh season in the NFL, I suffered a spinal injury, lost mobility in my body from the neck down, due to the fact of the sensitivity of the injury. There was no rehabilitation because my mobility was limited to non-existent. I was in south Florida and my doctor connected me with a physical therapist who shared with me meditation - teaching me to simply breathe from the diaphragm.
This changed my life.
It allowed me a tool, to battle the fear of not walking or being functional.
It gave me HOPE.
Now the traditional, physical yoga practice didn’t come to me until about a year after getting mobile. The physical practice added conflict to my meditation. With this, it made my emotions tangible so that I could see them.
For men, this is a new space because we were not conditioned to express feelings. I had to deal with anger, anxiety, doubt, ego all of these in a ninety-minute period.
On top of that, I had to process through the physical practice - and that was hard - due to the fact over half my life I've abused my body for a living.
Yoga was my chance to reclaim, salvage and allow my body to restore.
For me, in my daily practice, there’s an intention that is set. And in everything I do I'm growing and I'm learning. Obviously this is more than an exercise -- this is my lifestyle.
Yoga is good mind medicine.
I believe an athlete is even more prepared for yoga. Most people don’t typically come in with an extreme physical and mental discipline when they begin. But no matter how we get there – it’s such an amazing way to see the world, to love, to share, and to treat one another.