Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Yoga and the Mind/Body Connection: On Being’s Interview with Matthew Sanford May 6, 2012

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.

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Reading Yoga Journal March 27, 2012

At the end of my teacher training (and beginning of my pregnancy), I started to get a little burned out on my yoga reading, so I have a pile of Yoga Journal back issues sitting around that I’ve been trying to work my way through. I recently read the December 2011 issue and was pleased to find some articles related to things I’ve been blogging about here lately, so I thought I’d share.

The first thing that really caught my attention was a short article about teaching yoga to Deaf students, since that’s a topic I’d never really thought about, but a Deaf person could walk into my yoga class anytime. There are some simple things a yoga teacher can do to make a class more accessible for a Deaf student, like making eye contact, demonstrating poses, and using touch to guide. These are easy things to do that wouldn’t disrupt my usual teaching rhythm at all but that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own, so I was grateful that this article broadened my awareness. Definitely tore that one out for future reference, and in the future I’d be really interested to learn more – the DeafYoga Foundation offers trainings and presentations on how to make simple adjustments that really help Deaf students, and I’d love to attend one.

There was an article on Chair Pose that I really appreciated, since Chair is one that I struggle with a bit (see the comments here and my write-up from last year here). They describe the alignment bit by bit – getting the top half of the body aligned correctly, then getting the lower half aligned, and then putting the two together for the full pose, which is an interesting bit of yoga dissection. I can see myself coming back to this article for reference later, since they give some good tips.

This issue of YJ also includes a moon salutation sequence as an alternate to sun salutations, which I found really interesting. I haven’t tried it yet, and it could end up being a little flowy for me, but it’s definitely something I want to try. I’ll keep you posted!

I was also really interested in the article on yoga and religion. Regular readers will recall that this is an issue I’ve done some serious thinking about here on the yoga blog. I really appreciated that YJ put together a panel to discuss this. After reading the article, I went back to the March 2012 issue that I’d read a few weeks earlier, and there were several letters from readers about this article, some of whom really liked it. One reader noted that the article might have had more depth if the panel had included some actual religious leaders (priests, nuns, rabbis), rather than just yogis, which was an interesting point. I was glad, though, that Brooke Boon, the founder of Holy Yoga, a Christian ministry group, was included on the panel. I’m really interested in the intersections of yoga with personal faith, and the article gave me some new perspectives and talking points. I wish YJ made its back issues available online.