It’s Sunday morning, and after F and I had just woken up, he turned on the radio. I was a little annoyed at first because I’d been thinking I might go back to sleep, but we heard the most remarkable story on NPR, an interview with Matthew Sanford, a yoga teacher and writer who’s just published a memoir, Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence. In the interview, he had so much energy and joy, and everything he had to say really resonated with me. And about ten minutes into our listening, we found that Sanford is also in a wheelchair because he’s been paralyzed from the chest down since he was 13 years old.
Sanford was talking about the mind/body connection, and we missed the first part of the interview, but I think he was saying that it’s possible and good for anyone to deepen the connection between mind and body. He mentioned how, before he found yoga, he thought of himself as a disconnected torso, but now he’s totally rooted in his body, even the parts he can’t feel. His work on the mind/body connection has led him to some interesting realizations.
The interviewer read a line from Sanford’s book about how he’s never met a person who, after deepening his or her mind/body connection, didn’t become more compassionate. This was one of the things that really resonated for me, because it’s something that I’ve thought about and experienced, just not in those terms. Just a few months ago I was thinking about how I’m less able to tolerate violence in TV and movies. At the time I attributed the shift to the fact that, being immersed in yoga study and yoga philosophy, that the concept of non-violence and being one with all beings was seeping into my consciousness, bringing my spirituality forward in a different way. Sanford would say that I’d been deepening my connection with my body – he feels that when a person is truly present and connected to the body, that person feels more connected to others as well. And it’s true, throughout my yoga teacher training I became much more aware of and connected with my body. What an interesting way of looking at it.
Sanford seems to be really good at reversing common modes of thought. The interviewer asked about how people will often say things like “My body is failing me”, particularly as they age and find their skin sagging, vision blurring, and muscles not working the same way anymore. Sanford looks at it in a completely different way. For him, the body isn’t a machine that fails and needs repair – a classic concept we use to separate our minds from our bodies. For him, the body is always working, always striving to keep you alive. The body will keep on living and healing, even through the worst injury or illness, for as long as it possibly can. From this viewpoint, the body is your partner and your friend, capable of remarkable things.
I was so inspired by what I heard that I pretty much had to get up and write a blog post right away to share this with you. Sanford is truly inspirational in so many ways, and I can’t wait to read his book. Hearing this interview also deepened my desire to work with differently abled people. As a yoga teacher, Sanford teaches able-bodied people and also adapts yoga for those with disabilities and injuries, military veterans, everyone. And he does it from a wheelchair, or from a mat where he can’t move around. Sanford talked about the adaptive power of yoga, how yoga can be modified and adapted so that anyone can do it. It’s not about doing the “perfect” pose, it’s about doing the pose you can do and learning from it. There’s just so much power in yoga to help and to heal.
You can hear the entire interview here at On Being’s website, and learn more about Matthew Sanford and the work he’s doing.