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 within the corporate world and on Capitol Hill, and created the Light It Up Foundation, which will help 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 listen to more about how he helps others use mindfulness to maneuver 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 enhancing your health?

Keith Mitchell | There is a saying I’m intrigued by: “Speak your truth.” Speaking your the fact is the catalyst to healing — it's, I choose love, I choose me. It’s a choice to let go in order to exercise into a state that will allow me to make use 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 may support healing.

EL | What was your first yoga experience like?

KM | My first yoga experience am intense. I began to feel every hit that I’d ever obtained from training camps to games, that we had compartmentalized. Yoga gave me a relaxation that I’d never experienced before. I feel this every time I practice.

Granted, it had been a bit intimidating because there are a lot of women who practice yoga and never many men. It was also about the feeling that I would have to be susceptible to feel, to try something different and be OK not being perfect. A huge lesson for me. There’s a saying: 90 % of the benefits of the yoga range from 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 have you got for someone looking to take actionable steps toward wellness?

KM | Choose you and also cultivate a love for self — this is the way you reclaim your power. Have a chance to have what you desire; realize consciousness is the strategy and the hustle may be the illusion. You will develop a mindset which will foster talents that you i never thought you had. This is yoga — a growth and development that allows you to be more human with the capacity to perform the unthinkable.