An Iraq War veteran uses yoga to help others prevail over injury and trauma.
To say Dan Nevins has been through a lot in the last 12 years is an understatement. He served in the US Army in Iraq in 2004 and was severely injured by an improvised explosive device, losing his left leg below the knee and sustaining damage to his right leg. Then he lost his right leg below the knee to infection; since 2004, he’s weathered 36 surgeries and a divorce.
Today, Nevins, a passionate advocate for the Wounded Warrior Project and a sought-after professional speaker, is also an international yoga instructor. Becoming a yogi wasn’t easy, however. After the loss of his lower legs, Nevins, a consummate athlete, initially took to adaptive sports with a vengeance. In retrospect, he says, he was using competitive achievement as a Band-Aid to avoid the deeper pain festering under the surface. One day in 2014, while Nevins was recovering at home after a surgery on his right leg, PTSD finally caught up with him. Negative memories of combat flooded his mind.
In despair, he phoned a friend—who happened to be a yoga teacher. “She told me, ‘You need some yoga in your life.’ I thought it was the stupidest advice ever,” recalls Nevins. But after exploring meditation for a few weeks, he agreed to three private classes.
During the second class, something momentous happened. “My friend was telling me to root down and rise up, and I was thinking, ‘What? She’s talking all existential and weird,’” he says. He also felt his prosthetics pinch his knees, and the pain triggered a deluge of emotion. So Nevins made the snap decision to take off his prosthetics, something he’d never done in front of anyone. Once he removed his prosthetics, he had a life-changing revelation. “I had lost my connection, literally, to the earth,” he says. “Now, the earth sent me this surge of energy, like lightning. It felt like it was saying, ‘Where have you been for the last 10 years? Welcome home.’” By the end of the third class, he could modify poses and make transitions without his prosthetics.
Several weeks later, Nevins went to a Baptiste Yoga level one teacher training, not because he wanted to teach but because he wanted to deepen his own practice. But then one night shortly after his training, he did end up teaching—an impromptu class in his living room to a military buddy. Talking to his friend, Nevins says he could tell something was wrong. His friend told him that two days earlier his wife had found him in a closet with a gun in his mouth, seconds from pulling the trigger. “Literally, the only thing I could get out of my mouth was, ‘You need some yoga in your life,’” Nevins says.
So, Nevins took his buddy through some poses. “It was enough to get my friend out of his head and into his body,” he says. After a month of yoga at a studio, his friend told Nevins, “Yesterday was a bad day. I went to get my gun, but I got my yoga mat instead.” It was then that Nevins knew he had to teach. He signed up for level two and three Baptiste trainings. Nevins’s classes are not just for vets and active military, however. He’s discovered that everyone is fighting some type of war: “If the whole world had to declare whether they’d experienced trauma, we’d be hard-pressed to find one single adult without that label. Yoga is for every body.”