After suffering a career-ending spinal injury in a football game at age 31, former NFL linebacker Keith Mitchell discovered how conscious breathing, meditation, yoga, and nutrition could transform his mindset. He has since become a certified yoga instructor, led mindfulness events in the corporate world and on Capitol Hill, and created the Light It Up Foundation, which helps war veterans, first responders, and trauma survivors. “When you realize you can participate in your own healing,” he says, “you are no longer the victim.”
We caught up with Mitchell to hear more about how he helps others use mindfulness to move into a healthier mindset.
Experience Life | After your injury forced you into early retirement from football, you spent a lot of time healing — both physically and mentally. What change helped you make the most progress toward improving your health?
Keith Mitchell | There is a saying I’m intrigued by: “Speak your truth.” Speaking your truth is the catalyst to healing — it is, I choose love, I choose me. It’s a choice to let go in order to move more into a state that will allow me to reap the benefits of new experiences. I reference this as my energetic diet, so the conversations, music, readings, people, and food had to consist of a frequency that could support healing.
EL | What was your first yoga experience like?
KM | My first yoga experience was so intense. I began to feel every hit that I’d ever taken from training camps to games, which I had compartmentalized. Yoga gave me a relaxation that I’d never experienced before. I feel this every time I practice.
Granted, it was a bit intimidating because there are so many women who practice yoga and not many men. It was also about the feeling that I would have to be vulnerable to feel, to try something different and be OK not being perfect. A huge lesson for me. There’s a saying: 90 percent of the benefits of the yoga come from the simplest 10 percent of the practice.
EL | How do you coach meditation to beginners or those who’ve struggled with it in the past?
KM | My approach to meditation is all problems are solved by questioning and answering. My mantra is, “It’s not good or bad. It just is and from what is, we build.”
There’s no healing in denial, so the things we have tried to sweep under the rug — go get that and come to conclusions with it in order . . . for trauma to dissipate.
EL | With the new year upon us, what advice do you have for someone looking to take actionable steps toward wellness?
KM | Choose you and cultivate a love for self — this is how you reclaim your power. Give yourself a chance to have what you desire; realize consciousness is the strategy and the hustle is the illusion. You will develop a mindset that will foster talents that you never thought you had. This is yoga — a growth and development that allows you to be more human with the capacity to do the unthinkable.