NFL Star Athlete Keith Mitchell #59, a former linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans, and Jacksonville Jaguars, was at the top of his professional game when he ascended into the 2000 Pro Bowl.
Without warning, his football career suddenly ended after being confronted with a paralyzing spinal injury during a game, resulting in the agony of early retirement by the young age of 31.
Unwilling to surrender to the plague of emotional depression and physical defeat he often observed in many NFL peers facing similar traumas, he channeled his energy into the practice of yoga and meditation for healing.
By great surprise, he discovered that these two daily practices not only helped him physically recover from his injury but created a refreshing sense of self-awareness and fulfillment which surpassed his love for football.
After experiencing a profound life-changing transformation from daily yoga and meditation disciplines, Keith developed a desire to share his liberating encounter with others, soon realizing that few urban, minority, and male audiences had yet been exposed.
Compelled to address this need, he chose to speak out, leading by example. Today, Mitchell is a respected pioneer Master Certified Yoga Instructor with more than 10 years of experience. He is committed to inspiring self-empowerment transformations in the lives of millions through his movement which now reaches multi-cultural fans beyond the confines of traditional yoga studios.
Furthermore, Keith passionately teaches individuals to become liberated, first within the mind, working from the inside out in order to achieve complete fulfillment.
Before I met with Keith Mitchell, I discussed his story with my own yoga teacher and former professional dancer Carla Chernencoff and together we laid the foundation of my interview with Keith.
I encourage you to watch the video before you read the interview.
INTERVIEW WITH KEITH MITCHELL
Dirk Terpstra: Coach Ditka says that you always played hard on the field. What drove you to always play your best? What was your inspiration?
Keith Mitchell: I have two mentalities – I have an understanding of what I know now and I have an understanding what I knew then. Back then, it was all more centred around anger and validation and now I understand the reasons why.
Erich Fromm was a very inspirational writer, I studied a lot of his work and I teach from his book “The Art of Loving”. Fromm talks about why we are all born narcissist, because we learn love without having to work for it. So, in the development stages of finding that consistency of the love that we received as children, we find a niche to create our validation and create a consistency of that love. Whether it be your looks, your brain, your athletic ability, whatever you find your niche in, you will find your way to excel in that to get your validation.
Dirk: You were just mentioning anger. Where does anger come from?
Keith: Anger can come from the extremes to the subtleties – It can be things you don’t understand and you don’t have a concept of expressing it and the little things as we know, add up to big things. It can be the slightest things that we carry with us, like people at middle school telling us that we were not attractive, we have big lips or we have this or that and we still hold this insecurity inside of us.
A lot of what I just talked about is also related to the people who made us – our parents. In my life for example, I saw this building and it came to a point where my own father, who was my motivation, told me: “I don’t think you can do this, I don’t think you should focus on sports, I think you should focus more on the academics”. That was my boiling point I guess. It was so weird for me because I wasn’t even playing sports at this point, I was in the process of convincing my mother to let me play. That’s really me, forward thinking, I wasn’t even on the field yet, I wasn’t even good yet. I guess it was me manifesting. So I guess we have to be mindful in passing on the fears that we have to not install those in our kids.
Dirk: What do you mean by “An Athlete feeds on doubt and set goals fuelled by fear”?
Keith: Because there’s always that fear in the back of our mind and I guess in some cases it’s inherited and it comes up because being an athlete is so incredibly competitive. These guys are the best of the best and they have to perform at these high levels, especially the more money they make, the more things are on the line for as winning. So the dynamics are fear, everyone has it, until you find that zone, you have this fear and it builds up until the first hit and when the hit goes… it’s real and it goes away. It’s weird but it just happens. It goes on in every athlete from middle school to the pros and it never seems to go away.
Dirk: I heard you saying “It was embarrassing to lay vulnerable on the ground as a tough NFL linebacker.” What did you feel?
Keith: What I was speaking about at that point, is that you are really a gladiator in this game and your mindset has to be: “I can conquer all, I am the alpha male”. So you are this machine, you are performing and the next second you are helpless on the ground, that’s such a big difference. I had never been in this position, so I didn’t really know what to do. I had never been hurt and I had never been laid on my back and added to that, I had no feeling, I couldn’t move. Then you think: “What’s wrong with my body? Will I be able to walk?” What came to my mind is: “This is embarrassing, get me out of here”. I saw these movies in my head like “Kill me, I am helpless”.
“Yoga not only helps heal the physical, mental and emotional damage we have put ourselves through, but replaces it with love, compassion and patience.”
Dirk: How does being vulnerable feel to you now?
Keith: It feels amazing Dirk. First and foremost, vulnerability to me is being open, open to experience. The things that stop us from having the experience or embracing what is truly inside of us and not suppressing it, is to let go and be able to absorb it all. What happens a lot of times through our conditioning is how we have been made to see ourselves and perceive ourselves. We resist the softer stuff because our society has made vulnerability into a weakness, but it’s not, it’s an empowerment. It’s about being open and the only way that we can understand and have empathy is related to being vulnerable, they go hand in hand. You can’t understand empathy without understanding vulnerability. When I am looking at our fellow men, it gives me an inclination of understanding, why there’s a disconnection from men to men, from person to person and from culture to culture.
It’s all about the real connections and when I started to grow in my life and peeling the onion, I started to recognize something – My parents for example have been married for 38 years, but the real connection is to be able to speak the truth. I think that is difficult for people, they just don’t do it, like in relationships, whether it’s intimacy, whether it be just the real truth about marriage. We say we love these people in our circles but we give them no information for creating the best opportunity to excel in life, we give them no truth about life.
Dirk: Football and yoga are two completely different worlds and cultures. In the video you mentioned: “My journey truly began after that injury happened and I see life on a whole different spectrum”. How did you discover a new identity in your life when everything you thought that mattered was gone?
Keith: I think the concept of me, which wasn’t really me, was the role that I was choosing to play as an athlete and when I really discovered me, I also had the opportunity to nurture me. I was telling you earlier that we find these roles to create a niche to play in and to create and sustain this validation – The character that I played was a football player and how everybody perceived me while I was performing. But Keith was isolated, Keith was malnourished and then when the football player died, I was left with Keith. I had to build Keith up and understand what Keith liked and to figure out who this guy was. Our challenge is that when we talk about roles and characters, is not to get lost in those things.
I teach people now that something can be a characteristic of you, but it does’t define you. You are the deity and everything that you are will attract these characteristics but they don’t define you. All these things depreciate, they fall away, we spend money, we lose money, but you’re going to sustain, you’re going to be here but if you have yourself worked in those things, as they go so are you.
Dirk: When yoga was first suggested to you as a therapy choice after your accident, what did you think yoga was all about?
Keith: I took a yoga class while I was playing in New Orleans and I didn’t like it at all, I thought it was weird. That was one class. And then, coming around, when I was in the hospital and meditation was being introduced to me as a practise of conscious breathing – a healing breath – for some reason I gravitated to that. If you can imagine being locked in a pit and someone throws you a rope, that was the rope that I held on to, the meditation and the conscious breathing of healing myself, I figured this is gonna save me. I had belief in the Creator, but I believed this was the tool he has given me so that I could save myself and I held on to that and it was my practise.
Dirk: Do you remember the moment you truly felt drawn to yoga? Was it something you read or was it one particular practice on the mat?
Keith: I was in that space of vulnerability, when you want to heal, you want to heal, and it was resonating with my body and I was connecting with my body on a whole different level then before and it was channelling into nurturing myself – the conscious breathing is nurturing yourself with every breath that you take. I have a philosophy: We have 21,000 breaths a day and an opportunity to nurture, heal and massage the organs, 21,000 chances every day!
All the internal trauma that we have in our first, second and third chakra, is something we can heal by connecting to movements – you create another twist, you got the spinal twist, you’re extending… it’s like a towel that is wet and you kind of wringing it out. These components made sense, it was an alignment and I just flowed with it. I am still flowing [laughing loud now].
Dirk: “We are all athletes playing the game of life and trying to find our niche.” What is your niche in life right now?
Keith: Well, my niche and what I see as my calling is to share and to serve. I started working in developing a holistic wellness facility for athletes and now that I met congressman Tim Ryan, I see a perfect fit for this facility to work with the Veterans Bill and I also created Mindul5K which is a wellness expo that we are going to do for kids and educating them with our tools. Here in LA I have the opportunity to take a kid from Beverly Hills and connect him or her with a kid from South Central and they can stay connected, they can meet each other, they can connect through social media, can go through high school together, through college together and the continuation of this network is unlimited.
There’s also a way that conscious companies can come together because they need support as well and they can create a network between themselves and then connect with the media to help people understand they exist. Meditation reclaims the mind, Yoga reclaims the body and this, in my opinion, reclaims and builds our community.
Dirk: What would you say to those who are trying to find their niche in life?
Keith: In regards to the Mindful5K we have a component for the adults as well and we like to explain to them what we’re doing and getting them excited about it. We have a 5K run (or walk) and hopefully their experience will be so great that they want to come inside and try to experience what we’re serving them.
The interesting thing is, I am really drawn to men and I think we can create a nice movement with people like yourself, with all men and connecting them so they can still hold this masculine presence but also embrace the femininity.
When we consider what we’re made of and that we’re just functioning on this for 50%, we have another 50% that hasn’t been explored yet. What if we bring some of that in and then look at the dynamics. We can change the man which changes the relationships from father to son, from father to daughter and that trickles down and suddenly we change the whole dynamics of the family – the son who is not stuck in his masculinity anymore, the daughter who is going to really date her father. Now she’s got an open understanding of what love is and it’s not just a ‘heart love’, that it’s also a compassionate and patient love as well. I think that’s a beautiful thing.
I really love that niche and I am not isolating the women here, the women are open already, they are already participating and they are the leading part of the market of yoga right now.
For more information, please visit Keith Mitchell’s website: KeithMitchell59.com
INTERVIEW BY: DIRK TERPSTRA
This is part 2 of my inspiring interview with India.Arie. In case you have missed part 1 of the interview, please find it here.
Dirk: In ‘Just do You’ you sing: “I heard a voice that told me I’m essential, how all my fears are limiting my potential”. Where did most of your fears come from?
India.Arie: India laughs a bit and says: “That’s a good question”. You told me about showing both my sides — there’s a quote by Maya Angelou that I use in my SongVersation and the quote is: “There’s no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you”. The flip side of having such a public life is those secrets feel like they have more power over you, but I didn’t set out to be courageous and show both sides, but what I set out to do is to be me and I could not any longer bear the consequences of not fully being myself.
I knew what it felt like, I had the health ramifications and stuff, like having ulcers and just feeling generally horrible 90% of the time, just feeling bad, feeling tired and exhausted, I just wasn’t willing to accept all those consequences anymore, so I really don’t see it like a courageous thing but I saw it as a necessity — either I was gonna give up being a public person, give up my music or be real and I decided to be real. I don’t think that there’s anything I’m afraid to say and if something comes up in the moment and it’s true I will say it.
But those fears come from me, and I used to think that the people around me were usurping my power and I was giving it away. Then I started looking at what else am I doing that I’m thinking other people are doing to me and I realize now that people say things and having their opinions and try to scare you because they’re scared and they’re worried about not making enough money when I sing about the things I want. Everybody has their own agenda. I used to buy into that because I was afraid that my life wouldn’t work if I didn’t say “yes” to their fears. I wasn’t even clear on my own agenda, it was me saying yes, it was me being afraid and it was me thinking it was not gonna work and once I realized that, I realized being afraid is okay. But it’s not okay to let the fear stop me from living a life that feels like my life, not my mom’s life, not the record label’s life, not India.Arie the public person’s life but the real me, living my life and letting India.Arie and me be the same person.
Dirk: One of my favourite songs on your album SongVersation is ‘Break the shell’: You cannot touch the sky from inside yourself, you cannot fly until you break the shell. How did you manage to peel back all of the layers before you could really fly?
India.Arie: It’s about getting to a place where I can be really honest with myself about myself. I told you that’s why back in 2009, I just tore my whole life down because I couldn’t see myself and that scared me because I was always really in touch with how I felt. I lived inside of my emotions and then all of a sudden I didn’t know how I felt and I didn’t know what I wanted and I didn’t know who I was and so I spent all these years being honest with myself and having a relationship with myself and expressing that with the song ‘Life I know’ was that my muscle was stronger in that way, so deciding to dive in back into that pool was a familiar place. So I would break the shell, allowing myself to go numb to any parts of my life. I look at things and I deal with it and the cumulative effect of that is the life I’m living today.
I am of course still finding things about myself — I’m in that dating phase, like being open to date and now all these men are coming out of the woodworks all over the place. It is fun practising breaking the shell in that way too, like I just remind myself to be myself. It’s so easy to not be yourself when you’re first meeting a man and all those things, but you know… I guess living a life of having the shell broken and continuing to break all the little pieces that try to attach themselves to me under all the new circumstances that are happening like doing interviews… I think it kind of happened in this interview, I was about to say something that wasn’t true and I reminded myself: “That’s not really true”. To me, that’s breaking the shell, just in every moment, being honest. But I also look forward to being 85 and knowing what it feels like to have lived that way, you know, for four decades.
Break the shell was actually inspired by actress Cicely Tyson. In her I see a person who is a walking symbol of values — She walks into a room and you think of all these things, you feel it coming of her and that’s what I want to be. I want to be a person who can be felt by people when I walk into the room and you can’t do that with a shell.
Dirk: Your lyrics are very sensitive and you express yourself so beautifully and balanced. However, we know that many artists often have trouble to find a balance between the public appearance and their private lives. They can be even very lonely and depressed. How do you deal with this?
India.Arie: Especially by being myself. Yeah, just being myself. I tell people the truth and people are almost never mad at that. It’s so cool to be honest. It seemed so hard to be and now it’s hard to imagine not being honest.
Dirk: In Break the shell you affirm that “So much disappointment to finally understand, that there’s no such thing as perfect, we’re all simply doing the best that we can”. Isn’t that already perfect India? Isn’t that ‘perfection in the moment’ for you, doing the best you can?
India.Arie: Yes, that is perfect and I think that in the song lyrics I was referring to the unrealistic goal of perfection and looking for that in other people, in stead of looking at the perfection people already are, including yourself. Everyone is perfect.
Dirk: Love plays a crucial role in your songs and in your personal life, but I know that this love is much more refined, deeper and spiritual than an average love song out there. What does love exactly mean to you?
India.Arie: I see love as the energy that comprises everything and I see it as the most powerful energy in the Universe. I see love as the only thing that there is, which makes it hard to not be it and hard to not be doing it, or maybe even be impossible. But on an interpersonal human level, I feel that the highest form of love is acceptance without exception. Of course it all starts with me and I accept myself fully and I love everything about me!
Dirk: ‘I am moved by you’ India! You’re our Super R&B Soul!
For more information, please visit India.Arie’s website: soulbird.com
INTERVIEW BY: DIRK TERPSTRA [ARTICLE APPEARED FIRST ON OMTIMES & SOUL LOVE]
Not so long ago, I enjoyed an incredibly exciting and very personal conversation with R&B singer/songwriter India.Arie. But before I share Part 1 of my interview with India.Arie, I’ll give you some more background information about her journey and the creation of her latest album.
Sometimes you have to step back to move forward. Coming to that realization—let alone taking that crucial first step—can be a daunting endeavor. Now on the other side of a self-imposed four-year hiatus, India.Arie returns with the most illuminating album of her career: SongVersation.
“This is where I’ve been for the last four years,” reflects the singer. “I’ve struggled most of my career to feel comfortable with how things were, how I was treated, the politics of the music industry. I needed to pull back from the public eye to ground myself and rebuild my life and career. It’s a process many of us go through: spiritual maturation, spiritual awakening, clearing out the old and starting anew.”
Her inner renewal pulsates throughout SongVersation, starting with lead single “Cocoa Butter.” The mid-tempo groove and image-rich verses mirror the soothing balm that is the song’s namesake. “Your love is like cocoa butter on my heart … I show you my burns you show me lessons learned,” sings a re-energized India.Arie.
The singer exudes quiet power on the non-apologetic “Life I Know” as well as the empowerment-themed “Just Do You.” With its spare instrumentation, honest and engaging lyrics framed by melodic R&B, SongVersation finds India.Arie coming back full circle to the basics that captivated a global legion of fans on debut albumAcoustic Soul.
But underscoring those basics now is a fervent spirit born out of epiphanies, health imbalances and hard decisions that occurred over the past four years.
“On my last two albums, I felt like I was fighting to grow,” says India.Arie. “And that was dehumanizing. Everything became and sounded more complex, instead of me just being.”
No more. As India.Arie sings on the album’s centerpiece “Break the Shell”: “Child, it’s time to break the shell Life’s gonna hurt but it’s meant to be felt You cannot touch the sky from inside yourself You cannot fly until you break the shell.”
“Putting spiritual and empowerment ideals into music concepts … that’s always been the core message of my music—and it seemed I was talking to others …” says India.Arie. “But the truth is that it was my message to myself because I was yearning to know the peace of a self-defined life.”
Interview with India.Arie
Dirk Terpstra: The spiritual message in your music shines so much light on humanity ‘Angel India’. Where does your spiritual inspiration come from?
India.Arie: First of all, thank you for calling me an angel [laughing out loud…]. It’s funny because when I do my shows, I tell the audience: “This is not called a concert, this is called a SongVersation, because I say the things that I want to say and sing about the things I want to sing” and I tell the audience that I believe that the way human beings are angels for each other, is when someone shows up for you and says or does exactly what you need, exactly at that right moment and so I think that one of my favourite things about my career is when meet people who tell me: “I don’t know how you knew that about me but it’s exactly how I felt or that expresses exactly how I felt about someone or what I’ve been through”. That always makes me smile.
It’s truly my mission to give people a voice to my music because I always pray the intention, I literally pray the intention into my music that people will see themselves in it. But your question about where my inspiration comes from…
[India is quiet now and thinking about it.] I am not exactly sure. First of all, my spiritual inspiration comes from all the things that happen in life, but the reason why I’m a person who’s spiritual life is often the centre of others’ lives I don’t exactly know, I think I’ve always been like that. Now that I’ve been in the public eye for almost 15 years and I meet people who know me from middle school and high school, they often say: “I knew you were always like that”.
I do remember in my early 20’s though, I’m having a turning point because I felt like I was just getting ready to turn into the music industry, I was just getting ready to start living my life outside of being a kid and I remember saying the words: “I’m flying blind” and that’s exactly how it felt, I was just flying blind and I wanted to know how to be connected to a greater wisdom. I grew up going to church but I didn’t see that as a religious thing, I saw it as just another language or something, like learning how to tap into something that’s there.
I remember the first time I ever really, really got down and really prayed, not the way you are doing in church, but to Spirit and you know that you are in the flow with something — I remember crying really hard because I felt this profound something, I didn’t even know what that was, but it was a very profound feeling. I remember being on the floor, like literally on my face and just in pain and I don’t even remember what I was in pain about. I think it was the general feeling of being lost and I remember that being the day that I really asked to understand to be into fellowship with the spiritual world around me. I remember that I was saying a prayer that I didn’t have to suffer to grow anymore. I don’t mind having hard times but I don’t want to suffer, we’ll see if that prayer gets answered.
I was probably 22 at that time and I’ve just worked towards a relationship with Spirit and that’s where my music comes from, that’s why I see the world like I do, that’s why I make the kind of statements I’m making in my music. I guess that the inspiration just comes from life itself.
Dirk: When I watch you perform ‘Break the shell’ for Oprah or during the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam with Raul Midon, I can feel your emotions so clearly and beautifully. How has your spiritual journey affected those emotions in you?
India.Arie: I used to be really controlled by my emotions. When I felt something, I could be completely immersed in my emotions and just as I mature spiritually, I understand that there’s more of a message and less of the reason for life. It helps you to understand how you feel, where you are and what kind of changes you need to make. I’ve read things like that in the different spiritual books and I understood it intellectually but to me it was like “What do you mean, how you feel is how you feel, there’s no way to get over how you feel”. But then I began to understand that my own journey has taught me that your feelings are a guide, they’re not the destination.
About 4 years ago I took a hiatus and I had set a lot of intentions, but the main thing was that I wanted to have a baseline feeling of wellbeing because I always felt like I was under the bar and I would peak up some times and then just go back down to this place of feeling low. It was always something — I was always hurt about something or struggling with something and I decided to have a closer look at my life. My main goal for the hiatus was to just look at myself and tell myself the hard truth, because other people can do that for you but they don’t really know you. That’s why I wanted to really look at myself and the most beautiful thing that came out of it was that once I was willing to look at myself I knew that I didn’t want the way I was acting. I was like what people call ‘being the witness’ and now I was willing to look at how bad it hurt and how much pain I was in.
I didn’t have a profound ‘Eckhart Tolle moment’, I’ve had a shift as profound and I felt just like being a whole different person by seeing clearly how I was feeling. I am now less afraid of showing my emotions, I am not afraid of hurting sometimes, I find myself crying with people more often and telling things to people I wasn’t used to, because I’m not afraid of the pain anymore. It’s hard to explain but I have a much different relationship with my emotions now.
Even when you saw me singing Break the shell on Super Soul Sunday, I was really excited to be with Oprah and to be singing one of my new songs and excited to be back on television, but I forgot about all that when I was singing this song. Oprah was sitting there too and that made me nervous initially, but as soon as I started singing I forgot whoever was in the room. What I really cared about was how it felt and I wanted to live in that moment, fully and feel and sing.
Dirk: You have this beautiful capacity to both show the bright and angelic part in you: “My life is full in some of the most important ways…”, but also the darker and more insecure side of you at the same time: “…but empty in the core at the end of every day”. Is this your story? Where does the emptiness come from?
India.Arie: All of my songs are my story and the emptiness comes from, I guess what we just talked about. When you live a life like that for so long it takes a while for the big ship of your life to turn and so a lot of the things in my life feel much more like a real grounded real life, but there are also certain sacrifices that I made — I’ve been travelling around the world and singing and sacrificing a lot of the regular things already since I was 22, most my adult life, so the emptiness comes from the parts in my life where I haven’t caught up yet: Wanting to have children, wanting to be married, wanting to have a grounded family home life. It’s not like the biological clock thing, I always wanted to have children and to have a family. That’s also a part of my life and I feel like that with this song because I realize it’s happening a lot later than I ever expected. Not that I’ve been waiting for it all these years – I just looked up one day and it was like “Oh I could have done that a long time ago” [laughing now].
Dirk: How cool is that, that you can express those feelings in your songs!
India.Arie: Yes it is, but it was also the hardest song that I’ve ever written. Not because I thought that people would hear this at some point, it was hard because it took me a long time to get to a place where I could see that in myself, like the first line of the song says: “I’ve kept the secret for myself for far too long”. I just didn’t know that I felt that way and I didn’t know that that was feeling empty. I just didn’t know. I kept thinking of musician Joni Mitchell and how much she tells in her songs, and then I thought “If she can do that, then I can do it.” But it hurt so bad, writing this song and I was hurting for a good three to five days after that. But then, what they say: “When you shine a light on your fears they dissipate” — I didn’t understand that until I started shining a light on my own stuff and after I wrote it I thought: “Okay”, I was still watching those things, but it didn’t hurt and I don’t have this unidentified empty thing inside me anymore. It is so cool that I have music to help me understand myself like that. So cool!
You can find PART 2 of our conversation with India.Arie HERE.
For more information, please visit India.Arie’s website: soulbird.com
INTERVIEW BY: DIRK TERPSTRA [APPEARED ON OMTIMES AND SOUL LOVE FIRST]