Waking Up Through Paralysis
Keith Mitchell is the posterboy for the next wave of yoga practitioners. Keith was an NFL linebacker until his career was cut short by an injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Rather than descending into depression and disease, he was inspired to take up mindfulness and yoga as a path to healing. His practice helped him recover after his paralysis, but also led to emotional healing and what he doesn’t hesitate to call a spiritual transformation. Inspired by his own experience on the path of mindfulness and yoga, Keith is on a mission to share the possibility of personal transformation with people who might never have heard the word ‘yoga.’
What advice would you have for someone who is experiencing these various forms of paralysis?
With the expansion of consciousness, we’re constantly going to have to fight the gravity pull of our conditioning and complacency. We practice, and we have to continue to practice, in order to push ourselves and push our limits. We’re always going to have the impulse to confine ourselves right back into that small way of thinking, so the journey is really for the rest of our lives. If I became liberated, whatever that means, about 10 years ago, that means I lived the previous 30 years unliberated. So that’s 30 years of habits and behaviours that always have the potential to come back if I let them. These habits are a comfort because they’re known to us. And that’s why we need to stay on our practice. This also means keeping the people around us – and keeping what we’re up to – consistent with our practice.
What if someone doesn’t have a practice to stay with, what would you say to them?
Well, we gotta get one! We’ve all been hurt, from the extreme to the subtle. We’ve got all kinds of combinations of hurt residing in us and we have to deal with that. So in relationships, if you don’t have a personal practice to some degree, I don’t know if you can really connect.
So the advice is “Get a practice, it’s needed.” That’s what I’m hearing.
It’s needed. You’ve got to work on yourself and to improve. We see athletes in interviews talking about how they’ve got to improve. Now, they’re developing these skills on the field for a purpose. But I’m suggesting that we develop the same platform as a human being: developing love, patience, compassion, and all these kinds of qualities. We have so much room to develop and grow, but most of us haven’t even scratched the surface yet.
What has been your connection with doing retreat practice? Have you done any retreats?
KM: The retreat concept changed my life. When I was first going through my healing process, I knew about yoga but didn’t actually get into my practice until a year after I was functional. At around this time I went on retreat. Even though I was with these people for only five days, I knew more about them than about people I had known my whole life. And they knew more about me, too. It was amazing! When I was leaving that space I felt like I didn’t ever want to leave. I remember thinking, “This is where I need to stay forever!” It really changed my life. So leaving that space and going to the real world, you know, the Matrix, was a culture shock. I remember craving the retreat, feeling like I just wanted to go back, like that’s how life should always be. It changed my life.
We can train, like athletes, to grow as human beings: developing love, patience, compassion, and all these kinds of qualities.
But maybe we don’t ever have to leave that retreat container, maybe we become that container wherever we go. Then we can share that with others.
I like that. And actually that’s what we’re up to: we hold space. We try to keep those vibrations high and we don’t give energy to things that aren’t serving a purpose. It’s not that we don’t live or have fun or joke around, but we always have the feeling that we want to keep being here and keep being in that space. That was my motivation for organizing the Mindful Living Health Expo at the Coliseum in LA, it was a sort of community yoga retreat-for-a-day.
Did that help people have that present-moment experience?
It worked. We had 7,000 people show up, and that was just our first event, so I can’t wait for the next one. At the end of the day someone asked me to do the same event at the football stadium of Texas A&M. Immediately, I just said ‘Perfect, we’ll do it.’ I’m excited about the model that we’ve created here with these types of things. This is the movement: the next-generation leaders, the business owners, the world leaders. I’m excited about being a part of this and looking forward to what’s to come.
Keith Mitchell is the poster boy for the next wave of yoga practitioners. Keith was an NFL linebacker until his career was cut short by an injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Rather than descending into depression and disease, he was inspired to take up mindfulness and yoga as a path to healing. Keith is on a mission to share the possibility of personal transformation with people who might never have heard the word ‘yoga.’