“Looking back, Mathieu says no one had ever taught him how to process his emotions. Or build and sustain healthy relationships. Or express empathy and gratitude. Upon his arrival in Arizona, in 2013, he sought guidance, trying to take control of his life away from football, hoping that might correct his path. He met Donny Starkins, a mindfulness coach and yogi who had worked with the Phoenix Suns and other pro athletes, and said, “I’ve been looking for somebody like you.” He saved the contact in his phone as Donny the Yogi.
Donny the Yogi had played college baseball at Nebraska and Arizona State. He, too, had sustained injuries, endured surgeries, suffered from addiction and sought meaning, identity and purpose. Early in their conversations, he and Mathieu dove deep into an important but elusive concept for the safety: self-love. Donny the Yogi encouraged Mathieu to find his center, first by understanding all the baggage he carried with him, and then through yoga and meditation, which would help him to let go. He tried to disabuse Mathieu of the notion that football alone made him worthwhile and helped him to focus, eliminate distractions, breathe. “Happiness,” he said, “is an inside job.”