Teacher Spotlight: Michael Keighley – Veteran, Yogi, Dedicated

Teacher Spotlight: Michael Keighley – Veteran, Yogi, Dedicated

Michael Keighley is an eight-year Army veteran and former CH-47 Chinook pilot. During his time with the Army, he served with the 10th Mountain Division (LI) as well as the 4th Infantry Division and deploymed to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. 

During his time in the Army and after leaving, he lost five of his friends he met through ROTC at the University of Maine. Three of these deaths hit him incredibly hard, the first of which was the passing of his best friend and roommate, USMC 1st Lieutenant James Zimmerman.  He was killed two weeks into Michael’s deployment to Afghanistan. The second tough loss for Michael came after this deployment, on Memorial Day 2012, when his friend and Apache Pilot, Army Captain Jay Brainard, was shot down and killed in Afghanistan. The third difficult loss happening immediately after Micahel completed the Appalachian Trail, when he learned his friend Army Captain Kevin Ouellette — a MEDEVAC pilot with multiple deployments — had taken his own life. In addition to these unfortunate deaths, Michael has lost several other friends to suicide as well.

In addition to losing so many friends in a short period of time, Michael’s Afghanistan deployment was very tough on him. His unit served in the Kunar river area of Afghanistan — one of the most violent regions at one of the most violent times of the war — and conducted incredibly intense air assaults as well as re-supply missions.

Four days after leaving the Army, he flew to Georgia and started what he hoped would provide six months of closure from the military: hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Although he completed the trail, he discovered in the months after that this hike only helped him touch the surface of the “crap” he carried with him from his time in the Army.

He ended up in Vegas for nine months where he failed at his first civilian job, failed in another relationship, and came as close as he ever had to taking his own life. Fortunately, he had the opportunity to return to the one place he felt “at home” — Maine. Shortly after returning, he attended his first yoga class with the intention to get a workout. Following the class, he was slightly confused because he felt good, but also felt like a “fruit loop.” 

After several months of attending yoga with the same instructor, he reluctantly, but thankfully, accepted her multiple requests to complete a 200-hour teacher training.  Yoga, breath, and meditation have been complete game changers for Michael. It helped him find a solid community of people, develop his identity away from his rank or uniform, and provide him with a purpose — to bring the benefits of yoga to non-traditional populations. From his experience, he believes yoga could save so many veteran lives, “if we could all get past the stereotypes of what yoga is.” Michael now sleeps better and doesn’t wake up at 3 a.m. as often. He’s developed compassion for himself — an incredibly difficult task — and he’s realized that it’s OK to “feel the feels;” doing so doesn’t make you a pansy. He’s also improved at finding that space between reacting and responding which has helped in his relationships and at work.

In addition to yoga, the VA has been an amazing support system for Michael as well. In working with a veteran therapist, he came to realize that despite his opinion, he really did have PTSD. Over the last several years he’s worked with the same therapist who he says, “has been integral to my healing.” For the bad press that the VA often gets, Michael had nothing but great experiences and he attributes much of that to his therapist.

Michael currently teaches at the Travis Mills Foundation, providing yoga to re-calibrated warriors as well as their families. He also teaches at the Kennebec County Jail for men enrolled in their substance abuse program. As this Warrior at Ease says,

I truly believe yoga is for everyone and have witnessed that through some of the amazing people I’ve practiced with. I still find myself falling off the wagon once in a while, but always return to my mat keeping in mind my favorite quote from my TSY instructor, ‘We teach for ourselves, we practice for our students.'”


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