PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – An Army veteran wounded in battle has a surprising outlook about the injury that left him changed forever. Dan Nevins lost both of his legs below the knee in Iraq.
"I tell people all the time it's really odd for me to say it out loud but losing my legs was the best thing to happen to me," Dan said.
It's certainly a profound statement to say life improved after being wounded in war, but Dan sticks by that. He says it was yoga that transformed his life, and he would like to see other service members transformed by it too.
To watch this wounded warrior work out will likely cause you to never take your body for granted again. The yoga poses Dan can do, requires balance and strength -- hard enough when all of your limbs are intact. He practices them on legs that end below the knee.
"There's nothing easy about finding balance, especially when there's no balance in your life," Dan said.
Dan served in the Army for 15 years, and while in Iraq, he stepped on an explosive. He lost his lower legs, and when he came home, he struggled with the mental and physical wounds of war.
A friend noticed and was able to persuade him to try yoga -- an ancient exercise that connects the mind to the body.
"I said, 'No, I'm a dude. I don't wear yoga pants. I like to blow things up. I like to shoot guns. I eat meat.' She suggested meditation. I had such good results with meditation and she said I think you owe me some yoga. I tried. Three yoga lessons later, I was enrolled in yoga teacher training," Dan explained.
He's now a yoga instructor, but most of his time is taken up traveling around the country, trying to convince other veterans that yoga can help them -- maybe even save them.
"Yoga has been the most powerful tool for me in healing from the invisible wounds of war. Meditation, the idea of being present and focused on this moment keeps me out of what happened in the past. Things that might have been traumatic," said Dan. "So the more I focus on my breath using yoga, it makes my life the best it can be."
Army veteran Andrew Coughlin came back from war and faced the same difficulties as Dan when he tried to integrate into family life. At Dan's urging, Andrew tried yoga.
"For me, when I come to yoga, it's not just a great workout, I mean, I leave yoga sweating more than any workout I've ever done. but also, it releases so much negative energy I had and I feel better the rest of the day," explained Andrew. "I see Dan do it and I'm like, if Dan can do it, I can do it."
Yoga is also something Andrew can do with his daughter. A photo captures the two side-by-side and holding hands.
Dan says one of the biggest obstacles to getting more veterans to participate in yoga is the stereotype some have of the ancient practice.
"How feminine they think it is, or flowery, or rainbows, or unicorns," he said.
But Dan says he reminds them it took a lot of courage to join the military, and walking into a yoga studio is not nearly as risky -- and it just might change them for the better.
"That's why I want to share this with military members, wounded warriors, retirees, because I know the trauma they're living with. I know these tools can help," he said.
Dan urges veterans who feels disconnected from their body, from their mind, from their family, to try yoga as a path to healing. He does teach locally occasionally and posts his schedule on his website.
He's also trying to raise $600,000 to build what he'll call the Warrior Spirit Retreat -- a place for veterans to go and heal. Find more information about the retreat and how you can help.