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NCHPAD - Building Healthy Inclusive Communities

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Community Voice: SCI - Reconnecting the Mind and Body with Yoga


Matthew Sanford doing Iyengar yoga, Matthew Sanford and family
Matthew Sanford doing Iyengar yoga, Matthew Sanford and family 

Matthew Sanford, 41, experienced a car accident at age 13 in which his spinal cord was severed, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. Matthew had been an athletic child, and after the accident he was encouraged "go be a wheelchair athlete." He felt that the doctors and rehabilitation professionals were encouraging him, and other patients, to shift focus to the mind or upper body after paralysis, ignoring the lower body, but Matthew disagreed with this view. After 12 years of rehabilitation aimed at "overcoming" his paralysis by concentrating on his upper-body strength, Matthew decided this was not effective. He felt as if he had become a "floating upper torso," and missed feeling a complete a mind-body connection.

Matthew first began doing Iyengar Yoga with Jo Zukovitch at age 25. Iyengar Yoga is a form of hatha yoga that focuses on structural alignment of the body and incorporates the use of aids such as belts and blocks to help with postures. Matthew decided to try yoga in an attempt to become more connected to his body. He says that yoga caused him to feel energetic sensation in parts of his body that he had been told to forget about, and he experienced immediate physical and mental effects both directly related to disability and otherwise. His paralyzed body had not stopped talking after the car accident; it had only changed its voice, and yoga helped him find it again. Matthew experienced drastic improvements in balance and the ability to tell when his bladder was full, and could detect surges of energy throughout his body. Yoga helped him maximize the healing process of paralysis when typically the only sign of "cure" would be walking.

The premise of yoga involves both physical activity and mindfulness. Its effects, especially on someone who has a mind/body injury, can be amazing. Other individuals can and should benefit from similar mind-body connections, such as the aging population or persons with spinal cord injury (SCI). Specifically, those with SCI can be more vulnerable to secondary conditions; therefore, if they are more connected to their body, they may take better care of it. With a little searching, anyone can find a compassionate yoga instructor willing to work on developing the mind-body relationship through exercise, rather than overcoming the body with the mind in order to perform exercise. Most favorable is an integration of the two, and Matthew encourages everyone to explore how much presence one can regain in the body, whether or not a specific disability is present.

This emerging field of mind-body integration is up-and-coming, though slow to catch on in the rehabilitation world. Matthew intends to do something about that.

About Matthew:

Since 1998, Matthew has been teaching adaptive classes at Courage Center, a renowned rehabilitation center in Minnesota that provides services to people with disabilities including cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, brain injury, and paralysis.

Matthew also teaches workshops around the country in addition to instructing weekly yoga classes at Mind Body Solutions Yoga, the studio affiliated with his non-profit organization Mind-Body Solutions (http://www.mindbodysolutions-mn.org). This organization offers programs not only in his studio but throughout the community, as well as in the workplace and corporate environments.

Matthew has received acclaim for his work, such as the 2003 Karma Yoga Award given by Yoga Journal magazine. Additionally, he plans to use winnings he received as part of the Judd Jacobson Memorial Award to create a series of yoga DVDs for people with disabilities. He is also the author of the autobiographical book, Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence, which is featured in the Book Corner of this month’s newsletter.

"We all live on a continuum of abilities and disabilities. The principles of yoga apply to all people, to all bodies."


For more information about Matthew Sanford and/or his non-profit organization, Mind Body Solutions, go to http://matthewsanford.com/ or http://www.mindbodysolutions-mn.org or contact info@mindbodysolutions-mn.org or 952-473-3700.


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