FORT WORTH, Texas — Dan Nevins wasn't always open to the idea of yoga.
"I was the guy for so many years that said no to yoga because I was a guy," Nevins, 46, said.
He spent years identifying as an adventure athlete and competitive runner.
"If there was something new and stupid to do, I was first in line," said Nevins, a tough and rugged guy with the silver lining of charm and compassion.
Nevins is a guy who shows cutting horses in Fort Worth and calls himself a "closet cowboy."
"I'm a for-real cowboy but nobody really knows that," Nevins said with a chuckle.
He is also a guy who served in the U.S. Army.
"I was in a unit called Task Force Tacoma," Nevins recalled. "We were attached to the 1st Infantry Division, and we were the ones kicking in doors and chasing down bad guys."
In 2004, Nevins' bulletproof attitude changed instantly.
"I really didn't know what was happening in those moments," Nevins said.
During an early morning mission in Iraq, his vehicle came in contact with an improvised explosive device.
"I could feel and hear the truck disintegrate around my body," Nevins said quietly, his eyes looking off in the distance as though he had time-traveled back to those precise moments.
The attack cost Nevins both of his legs.
"I opened my eyes and I realized I was ejected," Nevins said. "I was laying in the dirt, and my legs were still caught in the twisted and burning metal that used to be the floor board. They were still attached, but I couldn't get them out. They were pinned in there."
He was grateful to be alive, but life as he knew it – as a husband at the time and a father – began to unravel.
"I didn't know what to do," said Nevins, a man who found himself desperate for answers. "I was spiraling out of control, and I couldn't sleep at night and I'd wake up with nightmares and I'd take a handful of Benadryl and chase it down with whiskey just kind of hoping I wouldn't wake up."
With the physical and mental wounds of war catching up to him, he decided to give meditation and yoga a shot.
"I got a yoga mat and was just like, I can't believe I'm doing this. [I] show up to my first class, I have my prosthetic [legs] on... and then I'm super unstable – rocking back and forth in a warrior pose. I can't find my balance," Nevins said, detailing his initial frustration with the process of learning yoga.
"In the military, we never talked about yoga," Nevins said. "Even when we did our physical training, even when we did stretches we’re like – 'this is dumb.' It just wasn’t the culture. It’s changing now-- which is great. But in my day it was just like no absolutely not.”
His first and second classes were neither easy nor enjoyable.
"I was like, why is it so hot in here? And why is this lady making me breathe like this? And I was just mad. And upset. My body's not moving how I want it to move, and I got so frustrated I just said, can I do this with my legs off?"
Nevins' question stunned the instructor.
"She just looked at me," he said. "Her eyes are like, 'Nope.' But her mouth said, 'let’s do it.'”
So, he did. It was a shift that transformed his yoga practice and his life.
"I remember taking my legs off and taking them to the side," Nevins said. "I moved my knees apart on my mat and I’m saying to myself, 'What is this bull crap she’s saying? 'Root down to rise up.' So I started visualizing roots growing from my legs into the ground.'"
His tears reappeared as did the moment in his memory.
"The planet sent this jolt of energy up through my body and it lit me up from the inside out and I was on fire," said an emotional Nevins. "I felt eight feet tall."
Over time, he has learned how to adapt the movements for his body.
"It is amazing for the physical body and the mind-body connection," Nevins said, now sold on the practice. "And by the end of my third private lesson, I was enrolled in teacher training."
Now, a Baptiste certified instructor, Nevins crisscrosses the country teaching and motivating the masses.
"Everyone is living with the invisible wounds of some war: family, or upbringing or relationships or body image... you name it," Nevins said. "I think the real power of yoga is to help with all the wounds you don't see."
Nevins' purpose now as a veteran, a yoga teacher and a motivational speaker is to help build communities – and families – wherever he goes.
"The message I want to leave is, invite a veteran to yoga," Nevins said. "Bring the veteran into the yoga class who is next to the school teacher, who is next to the lawyer, behind the doctor, in front of the accountant [...] it might just save their life."