By Stephanie Parry

In the new Mobility and Movement class at 425 Fitness Issaquah, the first thing instructor Carl Bennett will do is introduce himself. Next, he’ll introduce his leg.

Not every body part merits its own name, but in this case the name is well earned. You see, Carl is an amputee. (Spoiler alert: Carl’s prosthetic leg is named Steve, after Col. Steve Austin, the bionic main character from the 1970s television series The Six Million Dollar Man.)

Carl’s physicality was part of his identity his whole life. He stands 6’3”, played defensive tackle and nose guard for the University of Texas, and served as a county sheriff for 15 years. But after a drunk driver struck his car in 2007, the life he knew changed. Thirteen surgeries, an amputation, and four years in a wheelchair eventually destroyed his athleticism, cut his career short, and left him unsure of how to get back on his feet – both literally and figuratively.

He started slowly, finding community and support at the gym. During one of his workouts, a young man approached him. Carl was used to people being curious about his prosthetic leg, and was ready to field the usual questions. But this time it was different.

The young man had a proposition: he thought Carl should meet his mom. This was definitely not where Carl thought the conversation would go. Smiling, he remembers asking incredulously, “Who’s your mom?”

The mom in question was Mistilyn Miller. If her name rings a bell, you may have been around when Mistilyn was a regular instructor on the 425 Fitness class schedule. She has taught yoga to hundreds of members, and still subs occasionally. Mistilyn is a dynamic, positive force of energy known for her uplifting and challenging yoga classes. Not only is she a yoga instructor, but she is also a trainer of yoga teachers and a certified yoga therapist.

At first, Carl was skeptical. “First of all, black people don’t do yoga,” he laughs. “I’m a football player! I’m a wrestler! I’m not doing yoga!”

But Mistilyn’s persistence paid off. She and Carl began working together, incorporating yogaposes into his workouts and yoga philosophy into his everyday life. He learned how to adapt poses for his body, using props when needed. He also learned meditation and breathing techniques that helped him relieve anxiety, anger, and stress.

Mistilyn remembers their first meeting. “When I first met him, he could not safely get down off of a bench without falling […] He couldn’t walk straight when I met him.”

After six months of working together, Carl saw gains not only in his mobility but also his mental state. “Yoga is from the neck up,” explains Mistilyn. “He’s learned through yoga therapy […] how to calm his mind and be in acceptance of what has happened.” She had a hunch that Carl was uniquely positioned to share his experience with others navigating their way through injury, with an approach to yoga that not many instructors offer.

She encouraged Carl to get certified in yoga teacher training. In June, Carl completed his 200-hour Yoga Alliance teacher training, and he is now a certified yoga instructor. His Mobility and Movement class, at 425 Fitness Issaquah, debuted in early October.

What can 425 Fitness clients expect to get out of the Mobility and Movement class? A gentle, assisted approach to yoga that incorporates breath, movement, and mobility work. Students can take the class seated in a chair or on a yoga mat. Carl demonstrates yoga poses using props like blocks and straps. He has an easy rapport during class, and is happy to answer questions or pause to help people find a more comfortable approach to a pose.

Carl explains the class format: “It’s for mobility. Better mobility and better body movement, and recovery.” He wants to empower everyone to feel like there is a path to physical and mental recovery from injury and illness. “You don’t have to put all the control of your healing in the hands of a medical doctor or physical therapist. There are things you can do to help yourself.”

Susie White, Group Fitness Manager for 425 Fitness, is excited to be able to offer this new category of class. “The first day I met Carl working out in the gym and he told me the incredible and brave journey that brought him to our gym, I knew that this man was meant to change lives! Recovery from injury or illness, or simply increasing mobility, is key to the fitness needs of so many of our members. Carl will be able to help clients approach mobility and recovery from a place of compassion, empathy, and personal experience.”

When people finish his class, Carl wants people to see a new perspective. He wants to show them how they can take control of their own recovery, how they can improve their mobility, and how integrating elements of yoga into their physical and mental fitness can benefit their overall wellbeing.

He also hopes to change the way they see him. Yes, he is an amputee. Yes, he is a black man. Yes, he’s a former football player and sheriff. He is also a yoga instructor.

The Mobility and Movement class is currently offered on Fridays, from 9:30-10:30, at 425 Fitness Issaquah.

Stephanie Parry is a writer, marketer, and yoga instructor in Sammamish, WA. She is a substitute yoga instructor at 425 Fitness in Redmond and Issaquah.