By: Gina Miller
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — If you have interviewed as many football players as I have, you will ultimately hear players say they’re “Going to war in the trenches with their teammates”.
If you have taken just one yoga class in your life, you will hear teachers espouse the principles of peace, love and compassion.
It’s not often these two worlds intersect but with Keith Mitchell, they have.
Mitchell grew up in Garland, TX, not too far from my home in Dallas.
He was a star player at Lakeview High School before playing collegiately at Texas A&M.
He played linebacker for the Saints from 1997-2001, earning All-Pro honors in 2000 before spending 2002 with the Texans and 2003 with the Jaguars.
It was a routine tackle, though, against the Buffalo Bills on September 14, 2003 that changed his life.
“I got into yoga a year after my accident after suffering that injury in Jacksonville that left me suffering paralysis for about a 6 month period,” Mitchell told me at Wanderlust Yoga in West Hollywood.
Mitchell had a spinal contusion which effectively ended his football career but introduced him to a new one: yoga, meditation and mindful breathing instructor.
“My identity, the football player was disappearing,” he says. “I was doing everything I could to hold onto it.”
To help heal physically and deal with the frustration of losing his NFL and being forced into early retirement, Mitchell channeled his energy into his new-found passion.
“I allowed myself to heal from those wounds that I went through from playing football, not just the physical but the mental and psychological,” he says.
“I am able to appreciate it and understand for that time in my life it was what it was but now I’m on a different path,” he added.
That path now is one of helping others transition.
Through his Light It Up Foundation, he is focused on teaching yoga and mindfulness to at-risk youth, veterans, retiring athletes and families in need. He taught at the Mindful Living Health Expo at LA Coliseum in January and just returned from a yoga and meditation retreat in October.
He has connected with yoga experts across the country, like Wanderlust Yoga founder Jeff Krasno, who are impressed with his ability to shred stereotypes.
“He breaks down the walls,” Krasno told me.
“I think a lot of people out there associate yoga and meditation with a sort of guru sitting on the field with a crystal. Keith is a guy who can relate to much more modern life and issues, whether you’re looking to sleep better, reduce stress, reduce anxiety to perform at a more optimal,” he added.
Mitchell sees the dichotomy of aggressive football player turned peaceful yogi.
“When I played I would have never thought, in a million years, I would be doing anything like this,” Mitchell adds.
But that’s the thing about life’s journey. Many times, you don’t know where it will take you.
His ultimate goal? He has many but when it comes to yoga, it’s clear:
“I believe we can create a platform through a mindfulness practice to create the change that we really want to see in the world.”