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‘Michael Jordan of yoga’ touts its healing powers

Updated April 6, 2024 - 4:39 pm

Yoga is an ancient practice deeply rooted in Indian philosophy. What began as a spiritual practice is now also considered a practice for physical and mental wellness.

The primary focus with yoga is typically on breathing techniques, physical postures and meditation. It also has countless benefits such as helping individuals with chronic illnesses manage their symptoms, relieve physical pain, improve general wellness and effectively manage anxiety and depression. Yoga is a practice suitable for almost everyone.

I recently caught up with a man whom many in the Southern Nevada yoga community refer to as the “Michael Jordan of yoga”: Dray Gardner.

Gardner has done a lot for the yoga community, most recently making history by helping to bring yoga to the Strip during the Rock ’n’ Roll Running Series Las Vegas. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Dr. Sheldon A. Jacobs: Please share your journey.

Dray Gardner: After years of playing football in high school and college, along with being involved in several car accidents, one thing I realized was that I was not looking forward to my golden years because I started to have this numbing back pain that ran down my legs. In 2006, I got checked out and the medical professionals were telling me I needed back surgery, and I was like “No.” So, I started doing research on how to heal my back, and the two things that came up were hot yoga and acupuncture.

A friend of mine took me to my first class and I walked in with a cane. I sat in the back of the room and I cried. I looked around the room and I saw all different ages, sizes, nationalities and religions all struggling together. And I said right then I was coming back. I ended up doing 60 days straight of yoga and I never knew anything about it. I thought yoga was the softest thing that I ever heard of, but little did I know it was really the most beautiful struggle that I had ever been involved in. The longer you are on the mat the more you will learn about yourself and the better you will feel mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

Why did you become a yoga instructor?

I want to help the disenfranchised, the marginalized and people of color, because when I got into yoga, there was nobody for me to look up to or seek out. There were no Michael Jordans or Mike Tysons. It was then that I realized I had to become the spokesperson for people of color. Particularly in the Black community, we are the most underrepresented group of people on the yoga mats. We (Black people) focus on so many other things except for our health, and it is hard for me to see, so I am really trying to change that.

I often hear you refer to yoga as medicine. Can you explain what you mean?

Yoga is a meeting with yourself. It gives you a chance to experience you. And it is medicine. Yoga saved my life. After I became a yoga instructor, I completed teacher training, and things were going well. Then one day, I had a seizure behind the wheel of my car. I had an MRI done and it was discovered that I had a cyst on my spine, so I had spinal surgery along with injections. The doctors said they basically did all they could do. They gave me my papers for physical therapy. I did not go to physical therapy. I went back to my yoga mat. Because of my spinal situation, I became an epileptic. I’ve had five grand mal seizures, and each time I have a seizure, I lose my practice. I go back to my yoga mat and I rebuild myself.

How was the experience of having yoga on the Strip?

There were five to 10 locals that were also involved in the planning. They asked me to share some opening remarks, and when I spoke, the crowd seemed to be touched by my words. It was an incredible experience that was life changing. I feel truly blessed to have been a part of it because I am trying to normalize yoga, trying to normalize therapy and self-love. We need to learn to fall in love with healing.

For additional information, phone Dray Gardner at 702-371-4425 or go to yogadg.com.

Dr. Sheldon A. Jacobs, Psy.D., LMFT, is a licensed mental health professional based in Las Vegas. Contact him at drjacobs10@hotmail.com. Follow @drjacobs33 on X and Instagram.

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