Jill V. Mangino: As a former NFL pro football player, how did yoga help you break free from your identity as a “pro” athlete?
Keith Mitchell: Well, first meditation helped me break out of the character of an athlete. Mainly because the athlete had died and Keith Mitchell needed some attention.
The dichotomy of “yoga” and “athlete” is very interesting because one is to nurture and the other is to neglect. Maybe that’s the real balance. We have misplaced ourselves for roles such as “business person,” “athlete,” “success” – even for things. I learned through my journey that things will pass, so if I attach myself to things that constantly decrease in value, then where is my true self-worth? I’m not saying things are wrong to have, or even to aspire to have, but what I’m saying is that external labels don’t make me, nor do they affect the way I view myself.
JVM: Why is it important for you to empower and educate athletes about the restorative, healing and prescriptive power of yoga?
KM: When we neglect our bodies, we compromise ourselves and in this alone is a practice. So we come back behind this with a caring, affectionate component to smooth out some of the abuse with tenderness and love. Plus, athletics is a big part of my life and I feel the need to serve my fellow alumni, because I have been through the hurt and know what it feels like.
JVM: How can the internal process of meditation and conscious breathing improve our lives?
KM: In sports, it’s “the zone.” In the yoga world, it’s “Zen.” In this state, all is well. As people we have an opportunity to share space, which means so much more. It’s living life with a committed purpose, and not just barely getting by or just making it.
JVM: In 2015 you are producing Mindful Health Expos for today’s youth. Is it important to downplay the “spiritual” aspect of yoga, versus the health benefits, to make it more mainstream?
KM: Well, I think this shows how twisted our thinking is and how tightly conditioned we are, because music, art, science – everything that we experience on a day-to-day basis is spiritual. We are spiritual beings, period. The fact that you grow your hair – you can’t explain how, but you do it anyway.
JVM: Are you comfortable talking about breaking “stereotypes” within the yoga world?
KM: I am comfortable even when I am uncomfortable.
JVM: What do you mean by that? It sounds like something Yogi Berra would say.
KM: I’ve learned through my experiences that life happens, and no matter how or what we do to try and control it, twists and turns are unforeseeable. I’ve learned to swim with the current and not against it. Be in the moment, for the taste of it, because it’s beautiful and we have been granted the opportunity to be here in this game of life.
Keith Mitchell is a former NFL pro-bowl linebacker who played for the New Orleans Saints and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Injured on the field, he found himself permanently sidelined; suffering paralysis, he was later diagnosed with spinal contusion. He now advocates for and speaks about the healing benefits and restorative power of yoga. For more information please visit: http://kmitchell59.com