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This Double-Amputee Became The Most Badass Yoga Teacher Ever

"Veterans often feel so isolated because we think we're damaged or different but yoga can change that because it's all about being connected with the earth and people around you."

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This past week, Nevins was invited for the second year in a row to teach yoga at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.

Instagram: @dannevins / Via instagram.com

The yoga demonstration was a part of the first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign dedicated to solving the problem of childhood obesity and raising a healthier generation. "I got to lead all these kids and it was amazing because last year it was really fun and goofy but this time they got so into it, they were totally in the moment," Nevins said.

Nevins lost both his legs and suffered a traumatic brain injury after an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated under his vehicle while he was deployed to Iraq in 2004.

Instagram: @dannevins / Via instagram.com

After the sustaining injuries in Iraq, Nevins spent 2 years and had 36 surgeries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.. "I initially came out of it with my right leg, but after another year I had it amputated because the pain and bone infections were unbearable — and it was the best decision I've ever made," he said. Nevins is now a bilateral below-the-knee amputee and wears prosthetic legs. "Getting my prosthetics definitely helped my ego because people liked them, kids thought I was a really cool Transformer, and when I went out girls didn't even care that I was an amputee," Nevins says.

Nevins has been an adaptive athlete since 2007 but didn't start yoga until 2014, when he took time off to recover from a surgery and struggled with post-combat stress.

Mark Cubbedge, "Faces of Freedom," / Instagram: @dannevins / Via instagram.com

After rehabilitation, Nevins says played competitive golf, rode his adapted road bike around the country, and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. He also became an executive at the Wounded Warrior Project, which raises awareness and supports injured veterans. "It was great, but what I was actually doing by competing in these ego-boosting, achievement-driven sports was avoiding my invisible, emotional wounds of war," Nevins says.

Two years ago, Nevins had to spend 8 weeks at home recovering alone on crutches, which he says made it impossible to work or take care of his young daughter. "I had never really identified with veterans who struggle with PTSD but I finally got it, things got so dark and I couldn't cope with my post-combat stress anymore," Nevins says. Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide in the United States. "I didn't want to be that statistic, so I reached out to a friend for help — and by chance she also teach yoga too."

"As soon as I got into my first pose, all my negative thoughts stopped and I felt connected with the earth for the first time in 10 years," Nevins says.

Robert Sturman

Nevins says he had never considered yoga before because of what he calls the "man bun and spandex stereotype," but he agreed when his friend offered to teach him because he had tried meditation which seemed to help. "My prosthetics made it very difficult and painful and I got so frustrated that I just threw them off, which I never did in front of people for an entire decade," Nevins says. With a lot of patience and help from his friend, he says he could adapt almost every pose. "I remember sinking into warrior pose and it was like the earth shattered beneath me and my body lit up with energy — I was tearing up and I didn't even understand what was happening, but my entire outlook on life changed," Nevins says. "I knew immediately, I was destined to do this."

Nevins became an instructor so he could connect with more people through his passion for yoga and help veterans who went through similar struggles.

Instagram: @dannevins / Via instagram.com

Nevins says his new positive attitude inspired him to become a yoga instructor so he could help other veterans. "Before my first class I had a panic attack when I took off my prosthetics because I thought I everyone would be distracted or grossed out but afterwards so many people came up to thank me and tell me I was inspiring — I became a teacher two months later," Nevins says. Now he teaches yoga classes to people all over the country and leads events such as the FreedOM festival for veterans and even a huge 1400-person class at Bryant Park in New York City. "Part of the reason I want to teach is because I want to help break down the stereotypes of yoga which might prevent many veterans and other men from trying it."

"Everyone has their own personal wars and wounds that they can work through with the practice of yoga," Nevins says.

Instagram: @dannevins / Via instagram.com

In addition to teaching the practice of yoga, Nevins incorporates a lot of mindfulness, meditation and some motivational speaking into classes so they have a larger mental health component. "I think there's a million more qualified yoga teachers out there than me, but what I can offer in addition to a kickass powerful class is inspire people to work through their invisible wounds and let go of any excuses to not push yourself," Nevins says.

"Yoga means togetherness — it lets people forget about all the things that define us, like trauma or race or religion, so we can breathe and be alive together."

Instagram: @dannevins / Via instagram.com

Although Nevins says he enjoys working directly with veterans and visiting military bases and hospitals, he encourages veterans to try a public yoga class and focus on connecting with other people. "Veterans often feel so isolated because we think we're damaged or different but yoga can change that because it's all about being connected with the earth and people around you." He also says it's important for veterans to ask for help when they are struggling.

"I hope I can inspire people to invite just one veteran to do yoga with them because when I said yes to my friend, it changed my entire life — it saved me," says Nevins.

If you are a veteran struggling with depression or PTSD or you know someone who is, visit the Veterans Crisis Line website or call 1-(800)-273-8255 for support.

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