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Army veteran, motivational speaker, yoga teacher, and double-amputee Dan Nevins shares his go-to, must-practice poses for staying grounded, focused, and connected to his body.
When you call Dan Nevins on the phone and ask him, “How are you?” He answers, “I’m living the dream!” Nevins is a yoga teacher and motivational speaker, who also became a double-amputee 11 years ago after an IED exploded under his Army vehicle while he was serving in Iraq.
In June 2015 at Yoga Journal LIVE! San Diego photographer Robert Sturman took a powerful photo of Nevins in Warrior II (above) with his prosthetic legs, which has become iconic. While he says the photo is cool, he also points out that it’s not accurate. “I don’t do yoga with my legs on,” he says. After the explosion, which also caused a traumatic brain injury, Nevins did amazing things like climb Mount Kilimanjaro. But after his 36th surgery, he slipped into a deep funk. While in recovery, he was bedridden and not allowed to do anything physical. “I couldn’t lead my team at work. I couldn’t ride my bike. I couldn’t play golf. Every other weekend, I couldn’t even take care of my then 3-year-old daughter.” That was when he understood how deeply stuck and depressed his fellow veterans can become. He knew he needed help but was afraid to ask. A close friend insisted he try meditation and then talked him into three private yoga classes.
“I tried yoga with my legs on, and it was painful. It was pathetic,” Nevins says. “She’d tell me to get strong on my foundation, but with prosthetics, it doesn’t work the same.” During the second private session, he asked if he could do yoga with his legs off. “No one ever got to see me with my legs off. They were my favorite part of my body, and they were gone. But if I was going to feel my foundation in yoga, I had to take them off.” He went to the mat, showing his teacher his true self, and did a Warrior I. “I’m on my base, which is my knees. I’m rooting down and rising up. I’m stable and not flopping around all over the place. I physically, mentally and energetically connected my foundation to the earth with what was left of my legs. This massive surge of energy shot through my body into the ground. Something lit me up. Light was exploding from my fingertips.” He says that was a transformative experience on his mat and in his life.
Yoga was a saving grace for Nevins during his recovery and beyond. So he decided to study up to Level 3 with Baron Baptiste and now teaches all over the world. He just taught for the Africa Yoga Project, is heading to Qatar in June to teach at the Al Udied Air Force Base, and is leading an upcoming retreat in Mexico. His schedule is packed—on the road 200 days a year. So home practice is crucial to him. “Home practice eliminates all of our excuses that we don’t have the time, space or money to practice yoga,” he says. “You just need your body.” He recommends dedicating a space to your practice and committing to a few minutes a day. “What’s great about home practice is that you have an opportunity to be in actual personal discovery of yourself. If you need extra time or support to get into a pose, you can do it. Poses can take a few minutes to figure out. What you are giving yourself is options. Show up for yourself on your mat. Have the mindset of being in discovery.”
Here, Nevins shares his go-to poses for staying grounded, focused, and connected to his body.
Dan Nevins’s Top 10 Yoga Poses
“I always start in Child’s Pose,” Nevins says. “I use it to set my intention every time I practice. Right away, this pose is my cue to start building my inner fire and really land in my body. It helps me get out of my head and into my body.”
Try this pose at the beginning of your practice to center yourself and bring your awareness into your body. Take 5 deep breaths.
See alsoFind Comfort in Child’s Pose
Sun Salutation A
Surya Namaskar A
“In this sequence of 11 poses, it’s very important for me, from the very beginning, to connect my movement with my breath,” Nevins says. “Each breath gets a pose. This helps you set the pace and tone of that day’s practice.”
Try this flow at the beginning of your practice to connect with your breath and set the pace for your practice.
Sun Salutation B
Surya Namaskar B
“In this sequence of several poses, you start to create fire and heat,” Nevins says. “These are about awakening the body. It’s a full integration. Plus, to me, the commitment to Sun Salutations A and B are physical manifestations of honoring the traditions and ancient origins of yoga.”
Nevins suggests practicing Sun Salute B just after Sun Salute A to continue connecting movement with breath, which helps you stay out of your head and in your body.
Crescent Lunge Twist
“Crescent Lunge, adding the twist, is the most powerful pose in my home practice,” Nevins says. “It’s strong and anatomically good for your body. It’s important to teach the hips to be square. When you add the twist, you create a balance of firmness and ease, which is called sukha. Your lower body is rock solid. You’re hugged in skin to muscle to bone. The twist massages your inner organs.”
Use this pose after you’ve warmed the body in sun salutations, taking 5 breaths on each side.
“It’s always important to add a balancing pose to a home practice,” Nevins says. “What we search for in our whole lives is balance. It’s a reminder that balance is not just for my yoga mat. It’s for everything in my life. Tree is about equanimity. It’s about finding peace and balance in the posture and in life.”
Try Tree Pose after a strong, challenging standing pose like Revolved Crescent Lunge to recenter yourself.
“Triangle is an opportunity to begin to create openings,” Nevins says. “You create a connection grounding down, so you can create a lot of space in the front body. It’s about being grounded with the hint of opening up.”
Add this expansive standing posture to the middle of your sequence for grounding and opening.
“This pose gives you a full-on open heart, Nevins says. “Your inner fire will be stoked as high as it’s going to get. This is about igniting your heart and your fire.”
Use Camel as the climax of your sequence to open the whole body physically and energetically.
“We need stability because everything we do as human beings for the functionality of our bodies starts with our core,” Nevins says. “With a strong, stable core, all movement becomes easier and less labored. From picking up a bag of groceries to doing a Tree Pose, we’re better at all of it with a strong core.”
Add this essential core-strengthening pose to your practice at the beginning to wake up your core or at the end for a final shot of strength.
“I do Frog because it’s uncomfortable, and life is uncomfortable,” Nevins says. “Your home practice should be a reflection of life. It shouldn’t be sterile. In frog, you create an opening. This is the first real time in the sequence that you surrender. It’s an active surrender. It’s an opportunity to release prana, or energy, stored in our hips. We may think we’re not good enough or not worthy. When we open the door to release those things, we’re not holding onto them anymore energetically.”
Use this pose toward the end of your practice to let go energetically as you open your hips, inner thighs, and groins. We’re treating our joints with care and compassion by giving them an opportunity to release and open up.
“Experience release,” Nevins says. “Legs-Up-the-Wall releases residual tension and begins to rejuvenate your body. Give up control of your breath. Surrender to everything you just did. It’s that break you needed from thoughts, anxiety, regret or whatever it is that’s on your mind. It’s the moment you let your body take over. Let what you just discovered actually sink in.”
Use this pose as your final relaxation or as a passive inversion before Savasana to give your body a chance to release and rejuvenate.