Matthew Sanford - Inspiration From a Paraplegic Yoga Teacher

by kajohu

Matthew Sanford was paralyzed from the chest down when he was 13. Now he is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher and motivational speaker about the mind-body experience.

Matthew Sanford, who has been paralzyed from the mid-chest down from a horrific car accident at the age of 13, has a unique perspective on the body-mind connection and how people react to trauma, pain, and suffering.

He's a yoga teacher (certified in the Iyengar Yoga method), public speaker and author, and the founder of Mind Body Solutions, a non-profit company "dedicated to transforming trauma, loss and disability into hope and potential by awakening the connection between mind and body."

Matthew Sanford -- Inspirational Speaker and Yoga Teacher

The Mind-Body Connection

I had the pleasure of attending Matthew Sanford's very moving keynote address at the Iyengar Yoga Midwest Yoga Conference in Chicago, September 15 - 18, 2011.   He inspired all of us with his story of recovery, and how his practice of Iyengar Yoga, starting at age 25, has helped him to deal with the trauma he's been through, and to live as a more fully integrated person even with his disability.  

Of course he can't do yoga poses in the same way that an able-bodied person would, but he uses the principles of good alignment, as taught in the Iyengar Yoga system, and as they apply to his own body. He follows these same principals when teaching yoga to disabled and able-bodied people.  

Yoga and Healing Trauma

A Yoga Journal Interview With Matthew Sanford

What inspired me to write this article, besides listening to his keynote address, was a four-minute video I watched of Matthew Sanford talking with, Yoga and Healing Trauma, in which he discusses how practicing yoga poses can help people move through trauma, pain, and sadness.  I encourage you to watch it for yourself!

Matthew Sanford says, "The body is the best home your mind is ever going to have", and that the body is a powerful vehicle to help support the mind as it deals with trauma and sadness.

An example he gives is of someone with painful arthritis of the hand who might become overly focused on the pain they experience in that hand.  They're afraid to do much with it, because they know it will hurt.  Their awareness is narrowed down to this experience of a painful hand, and Sanford says this contributes to an enormous loss of freedom in our life.

The practice of yoga helps us to distribute our awareness throughout the whole body, so we are more than just that painful arthritic hand.  We can live more freely, and deal with more pain and discomfort, both physically and emotionally, if we can focus on our whole being and not just on the discomfort.

Our body, when we use it well, can help steady our mind, so that even though the pain and discomfort is still there, we aren't completely ruled by it.  We can maintain more of a sense of equanimity in the face of hardships.

Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence

by Matthew Sanford

Read about Matthew Sanford's journey through life, from the terrible car accident that killed his father and sister and left him as a paraplegic, through his painful rehabilitation, his introduction to yoga, and then on to become a yoga teacher and the founder of Mind Body Solutions, and an inspirational speaker.

I loved Waking -- it's a thoughtful and well-written book that shows how important it is to nurture our mind-body awareness so we can live more freely in our lives, no matter what our problems and disabilities are.

Adaptive Yoga -- Working With Disabilities

Mind Body Solutions offers adaptive yoga classes to people with disabilities, as well as "traditional" yoga classes for able-bodied people.   This non-profit organization also leads workshops for rehabilitation professionals and caregivers so they can learn practical mind-body techniques that will help the people they care for as well as themselves.

Mind Body Solutions has the new DVD, Beyond Disability: A Yoga Practice with Matthew Sanford, which is created for people of all abilities to experience the benefits of yoga in seated positions.   Matthew guides each section, while people with spinal injuries demonstrate.

Proceeds go to Mind Body Solutions, to help improve the lives of more people living with disabilities.

Matthew Sanford Teaches Yoga

Watch video

Watch Matthew Sanford as a yoga teacher (click on image or link)

paraplegic yoga teacher

You May Also Want to Read...

You may also enjoy reading Matthew Sanford - Paraplegic Yoga Teacher, inspired by an interview of him that I heard on Krista Tippett's Speaking of Faith (now called On Being) on NPR in the spring of 2010.

Updated: 01/19/2014, kajohu
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kajohu on 12/16/2012

Hi Jean,
Matthew Sanford is indeed very inspiring, and I like his smile too :-) You can do yoga with scoliosis -- Elise Browning Miller is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher who specializes in yoga for scoliosis. I know she has a good video out for yoga for scoliosis, although I haven't watched it. Stiffness and lack of balance can also be dealt with! You can use a wall or chair for support, and other props to compensate for stiffness. I recommend looking for an Iyengar Yoga teacher, and maybe starting with a Gentle Yoga class if you can find one in your area.

JeanBakula on 12/16/2012

I was interested in this piece when I saw the beautiful smile on Matthew's face, despite his circumstances. His spirit just shines right through! I also would like to do yoga, but have scoliosis and have some balance issues and areas that don't move that well. I would like to look into this more. Thanks for the wonderful piece!

kajohu on 08/06/2012

Hi Mira,
I can't post the video on this page, because it's not a YouTube video. I'm glad you enjoyed the page. Thanks for your comment!

Mira on 08/06/2012

What a great message Matthew Sanford and yoga has, to live in your whole body! Why not post that video of him on this page as well? (I clicked on the image and saw it that way.)

kajohu on 02/15/2012

I'm glad it's inspiring to you, katiem2! He's an incredible guy. I'd suggest that when you start back to yoga, you start back slowly, in a gentler class, or with a gentler practice than what you had been doing before, just to see how it goes. You can always move up and do more as you're ready.

katiem2 on 02/15/2012

WOW this is inspiring. I've been in therapy for 7 months for head and spinal trauma. I've been hoping to get back to yoga this summer, now I feel totally inspired and know I can do it. Thanks for the hope and making my day.

kajohu on 01/18/2012

I'm glad you found someone to share this article with, Sheri. Matthew Sanford is inspiring in so many ways. Thanks for commenting.

Sheri_Oz on 01/18/2012

I just had to share this one with my friends.

Kris_Heeter on 01/14/2012

What an inspiring story! Exercise, in any form, can have such an amazing healing power, both in mind and in body, if we let it. Great article.

ohcaroline on 12/05/2011

He's certainly an inspiration to everyone. We can all gain from having his perspective on life. Great article.

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