Yoga After Paralysis: One Man’s Mission to Make Poses Accessible for Everyone

Take a moment to try this exercise:

Sit back in your chair, slouch and let your legs splay out. Notice what you feel in your legs—the dullness, the lack of crispness. Now sit up straight, press gently down through your buttock-bones and heels, and lift your chest. Notice the change in sensation—in how, what and where you feel within your body.

This is what I mean by mind-body connection. When we deepen the quality of where and how our minds interact and intersect with our bodies, our consciousness shifts.


The importance of a strong mind-body connection is a lesson that Matthew Sanford learned earlier than most. At age 13, he experienced a devastating auto accident in which he lost his father and his sister and became paralyzed from the chest down. His recovery and process of learning to embrace his limitations has given him a unique perspective on the importance of connecting our minds and bodies.

“The prevalent healthcare notion at the time of my accident was that my body was an object to overcome, something to drag through life,” Sanford says. “And that didn’t feel like a recipe for wholeness.”

When he was 25, Sanford met yoga teacher Jo Zukovich, and together they began adapting poses so that he could fully participate which, in turn, gave him a new appreciation for his body.

“I’ve never seen anyone truly become more aware of his or her body without also becoming more compassionate,” Sanford says.

Sanford started Mind Body Solutions, an organization that offers adaptive training to yoga teachers so they can teach students with disabilities, as a way to share his message and he has since become a leader in the integrative health movement. He has worked widely with healthcare providers, helping them create yoga practice in their own lives with the idea that the techniques will impact their interactions with their families and their patients. His teaching has reached workers at hospice, family birth centers, children’s hospitals and entire business organizations.


“Wonderful things happen a little bit at a time,” Sanford says.

Sanford’s work takes him all over (just glancing at his itinerary is exhausting) and brings people from around the world to work with him. In November, he came to Lake Forest to lead an event to benefit Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA) as it partnered with Forever OM Yoga. GLASA has been providing local adaptive yoga classes for two years as well as more than 15 other sports programs weekly for physically and/or visually impaired participants. In association with Sanford, GLASA is working to bring the messages of power, strength and pride to even more youth and adults.

As a paralyzed yoga practitioner and teacher, Sanford has explored the art and healing of yoga in a way that very few others ever have. Individualized attention and innovative use of props ensures that yoga really is accessible to everyone.

Through experience, Sanford has learned how fleeting and precarious our current state is. In his work with healthcare providers, he reminds them that the distinction between provider and patient is “illusory.” We will all be patients at some point, as will our loved ones, making Sanford’s message universal.

“We all live on a continuum of ability and disability,” he says. “Aging assures this.”

Yoga can help us keep our balance in the face of life’s unpredictability. In the face of adversity, yoga helped Sanford learn the true nature of strength, resilience, and purpose—and presented him with his life’s mission.

“The whole body focus of yoga offers access to grounding and a sense of calm within ourselves,” Sanford says. “It helps us have a depth of presence as we move through our hectic days.”

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