SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) — On the day before Memorial Day, a special yoga class in Santa Rosa was offered to help show veterans and their supporters that even life’s most difficult problems can be overcome–the man leading the class was living proof of that.
Sgt. Dan Nevins’s California National Guard unit was deployed in Iraq in 2004 when a roadside bomb blew up under his armored vehicle.
“I grabbed my helmet and it came apart in two pieces in my hand,” he told a group assembled for the community yoga class at Santa Rosa’s Courthouse Park.
Besides a brain injury, Nevins lost both legs and his life was plunged into darkness. But the Wounded Warrior Project helped him get back into life, encouraging him to participate in sports like golf and mountain climbing. But it was his reluctant exposure to yoga, with all its mental discipline, that really changed how he coped with the world.
“That voice that popped up into my head that thwarted, limited and constrained me in my whole life happened right there,” Nevins said. “And if I could address that voice on my yoga mat, then I can address it out in my whole life. And it was a huge game changer for me.”
He became a yoga instructor and his community class on Sunday–just like his life–took a sudden turn when rain began to fall. But keeping with his theme of resilience, the group moved to a nearby studio and carried on.
“So lift all 10 toes off the mat…spread your toes…” he said as he circulated among the group straining to hold a pose.
Nevins says yoga was able to calm his psyche, something that many veterans have a hard time doing. Sonya Straub operator of the PTS Fitness and Rehabilitation Clinic for veterans, says that after training their minds to be constantly on guard for danger, something called “hyper-vigilance,” they can’t turn it off and end up feeling disconnected from civilian life.
“Their experience of death and danger is much different than ours,” Straub said. “So, really, the ‘readiness’ is where you’re going to get the jumping and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress and the triggering.”
That’s why a way to calm one’s nerves is so vital. These days, besides teaching yoga, Nevins serves as a motivational speaker, inspiring others to push past adversity. He did, and now he says he wouldn’t trade the life he loves even if it meant getting his legs back.
“Hey, this accident, this terrible tragedy got me to this place,” he said, “and this place is where I’m meant to be.”
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