With a chair and a walking cane within reach, Ben Miller, of Nazareth, Pa., does a yoga move.
Ben Miller hesitates before reaching out for his yoga mat to demonstrate a few poses.
"This is not going to be pretty," Miller warns as he stretches on the living room floor at his Nazareth, Pa., home. The 440-pound man grounds his feet on the green padded surface. His knees waver and he is forced to use a wooden cane to keep his balance.
The Navy veteran is determined to lose 230 pounds and reach his ideal weight. It is this lofty goal that has attracted him to DDP Yoga.
"It ain't your mama's yoga," reads the motto on the DVD, which Miller plays on his laptop to follow the exercise routine.
The program was developed by former professional wrestler Diamond Dallas Page. It is slightly different from conventional yoga routines. Page crafted the regimen while recovering from a back injury. He discovered that if he engaged his muscles and added resistance while doing the yoga poses, he could make his heart rate go up significantly.
The method has proved effective for people like Miller who need to lose weight but cannot do high-impact exercise. The style has received worldwide attention in recent months thanks to a YouTube video that has garnered more than a million views. The video features former paratrooper Arthur Boorman. Boorman used DDP yoga to transform himself from an obese man who couldn't walk without a cane to a slim marathon runner.
The video inspired Miller to email Page, hoping to accomplish a similar feat.
Like Boorman, Miller has put himself in the public limelight. In 2008, he founded "Donate My Weight," a charity that inspired many to drop weight and donate the equivalent number of pounds in goods for food banks across the country. Miller received pledges for more than 50,000 pounds of food donations and nearly $10,000 in cash.
He gained national attention, and people in more than 40 countries followed his progress through his website. They witnessed as he lost close to 150 pounds. They also saw when he regained the weight.
"I failed in front of all of them," he says. "It physically hurt. It was just a brutal, terrible feeling. And to make the decision to do it again ?"
It takes courage, said Page, who was receptive to Miller's efforts as soon as he read his email. The next morning, he surprised Miller.
"Hey bro, how're you doing?" were the first words Miller heard from the former wrestler when he picked up the phone. "It's DDP, what's up?"
Miller was nervous as he explained his goal of becoming healthy again. He explained his desire to be more active at home and to be more present in the lives of his four children. If he was willing to put in the work, Page told Miller, he would be there to help him out. "Your story is not over," he added.
And it wasn't complete either. While many around the world found out that Miller failed to maintain his ideal weight, few knew that he suffers from two debilitating conditions that combine to make his journey extra difficult: panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
It divides him in two, he says. There's the guy that believes in himself and is willing to tell the world that he will thrive, and the man who is paralyzed by fear and panic attacks.
He would like to choose among the two parts of himself and say that he is only the kind and enthusiastic man who can move masses into doing something selfless. But he must also live with the man who is overwhelmed by what he feels is "unjustified" fear.
The fear is so debilitating, however, that it keeps him from attending family holidays. His wife, Andrea, and their children had to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve last year without him. Miller could not bring himself to leave his room.
"When I am somewhere, I'm never completely there," Miller explains. His brain is always scanning his body and his surroundings. And there is seldom a time when everything is perfect around him and his body feels at ease.
"It always starts in my head," Miller says. "Something won't feel right." Then he gets a hazy sensation over his head and a heavy feeling on his chest. The idea that there's something wrong refuses to leave his mind and his adrenaline surges as if he were in a situation of life and death.
Miller hides during those moments. He doesn't want his children to see him that way. He secludes himself in his room, the television chatting in the background to keep him from feeling alone.
Intellectually, Miller knows that no one is going to hurt him if he goes out with his family and participates in the holiday celebrations. But his brain cannot control the fear.
It wasn't always this way. Miller was once an athletic military man with a thin figure and an exceptional mind; he worked in the intelligence unit during his years of service.
Miller was never in a position to shoot anyone but the information that he provided often led to air attacks in heavily populated areas.
This reality became clear while reading a situation report from one of his recognizance missions in the Balkans. It was a defining moment.
"Missile strikes take out 100 people and they don't distinguish between soldiers and kids and women," he says.
"I go back to standing in that intelligence facility," he says. "I connect the dots."
The realization that innocent women and children died as a result of his intelligence work was so disturbing that it haunted him.
"The day I discovered that," Miller says, "it changed my life and I've never been the same."
After struggling with intense anxiety for days, Miller approached his superiors and offered to relinquish his security clearance. He couldn't do it anymore.
"I just thought I wasn't strong enough to handle what everybody else was," Miller says, "so I ate and I drank, I drank a lot."
Eating and drinking numbed him for some time. Eating offered some emotional solace, but it also took a toll on his body and his self worth. It was a vicious cycle of depression and eating that eventually caused him to get back to 450 pounds.
He stopped drinking in 2003 and has coped with his illnesses with the help of therapy and medication. Exercise also helps him feel better.
In the mornings, Miller is often in good spirits. His wife Andrea prepares his breakfast and ensures that he sticks to the diet. The yellow omelet is imbued with colors from a variety of vegetables. One piece of toast is all that's allowed. Miller has learned to like vegetables. He knows they're the key to achieving his weight loss.
DDP's dynamic resistance techniques have helped Miller to lose more than 20 pounds since he began the program three weeks ago. Page has become personal coach, calling Miller several times every week to motivate him.
Some days he is so confident that he feels that nothing can stop him, not even post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Then that part of me kicks in and says really ? can you beat me?"
Miller accepts the challenge.