Rached Maalouf

In late September, 2012, Rached Maalouf left the parking lot of a yoga festival in Joshua Tree, California. He doesn’t remember what happened next. He was on his motorcycle; a car made an unexpected lane change. Rached was found fifty feet from his ruined bike. The car that went through him was wrecked.

According to the police report, there were no drugs, texting, or alcohol involved. It was just an unfortunate accident.

Rached spent ten days in the hospital being treated for traumatic brain injury with severe fractures to his skull, mandible, jaw, and eye orbit. Doctors put six metal plates and twenty-six screws in his face.

His $800 helmet had done its job, as had his Kevlar motorcycle suit. Other than a few stitches on his knees, the rest of his body came through unscathed.

But Rached credits one surprising thing with saving his life: yoga.

At the time of the accident, he had been practicing yoga for fifteen years and had been teaching at his own studio for ten.

“Yoga literally saved my life by helping to deal with this accident. The meditation is like exercise for the brain.”

When you break your arm, he explains, you can’t use your arm until it heals. When you break your head and get the brain injury, the brain still processes but it processes differently. He credits his years of brain “exercise” — the meditations of his yoga practice — with keeping him really healthy until the accident, and helping him deal with it much better than he otherwise would have.

Even his doctor agreed: “Thank God for yoga,” she said. “You should not be alive.”

That’s not to say it was easy. Despite remaining conscious through the ordeal, Rached has no memory of his ten days in the hospital.

His wife, Darlene, was at his side during those days. “He was confused about place and time,” she says. “He always knew who he was and he knew who I was. But he’d be confused in the night. He’d get up at 3am thinking he had to go to school to pick up our kids.”

The doctors had him on Dilaudid, a strong painkiller, as they waited for brain bleeding to subside before they could perform the facial surgeries. His jaw was locked for seven weeks and he drank all his meals through a straw. Medication for anxiety and depression were prescribed.

But in spite of all that, he went back to taking yoga classes one month after the accident. After two months he went back to teaching at his Sattva Fitness Yoga Center.

His practice is the same now as before the accident. He teaches three styles of yoga — Indra Devi, Synergy, and Ashtanga — along with Russian kettlebell and TRX suspension.

He first discovered yoga back at Gold’s Gym in 1997. “A friend said let’s go do yoga. I took the first class and never stopped.”

Discussing Rached’s recovery, Darlene (who works in hospitals as an occupational therapist) explains that ‘habil,’ the root word of ‘rehabilitation,’ means “to make whole.”

“Yoga looks at not just the body,” she says, “although it’s more well known in this era for fitness. It really is full body, mind, and breath. And that’s rehabilitation: body, mind and breath.”

Rached surely feels the same way, but there’s one thing he’d like to emphasize even more as his final word for the story:

“Please drive carefully,” he urges. “Don’t hit motorcycles.”