The nearly 16 million Americans who practice yoga live by the principle of connecting the mind and the body. If you can't physically feel your legs, can you still make that mind-body connection?
"It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 1978, and we just hit ice going over a bridge, and our car tumbled down the embankment. My father and sister were killed," said Matthew Sanford.
Doctors told Sanford he'd never feel his lower body again.
"They know my spinal cord has been severed," said Sanford.
He devotes his life to proving them wrong.
"That level of sensation is present in the mind-body relationship. It's not going to make me walk again, but it's crucial to a full recovery," said Sanford.
From his wheelchair, Sanford has become a certified yoga instructor - teaching others just like him and showing them how to feel their bodies once more.
Samantha Drost was paralyzed by a wave while swimming. Traditional therapy taught her to forget her legs and focus on what she had left. Yoga helped reconnect her brain to her body.
"I was more aware of where my feet were and my legs were, and the people that were helping me noticed they didn't have to lift as much," said Drost.
To put some science behind his work, Sanford took part in a Rutgers University study. Doctors took MRI scans of his brain. As they squeezed his ankles, his sensory cortex lit up in the same way it would in a non-paralyzed person - meaning the brain recognized the pressure.
"My paralyzed body still has an energy that flows through it. There's still a life force there," said Kevin Bjorklund, who practices yoga.
Bjorklund fell off a tractor at age 3, and he's been paralyzed from the chest down ever since. He said yoga helps his breathing and eases fears of falling.
"There are universal principles in yoga that don't discriminate," said Sanford.
Sanford started a non-profit company called Mind Body Solutions. He travels the country training other yoga instructors and speaking to health care leaders about incorporating yoga into traditional therapy.
WHAT IS YOGA: Yoga not only involves stretching, but it is more about the balance between mind and body, a balance that nearly 16 million Americans strive for. Yoga's main goal is creating a balance through strength and flexibility, and this is done by performing a variety of poses and postures that have different physical benefits. The poses can be done quickly back-to-back creating heat in the body, or they can be done slowly to increase stamina and perfect the alignment of the pose. Yoga is ever changing, not the poses, but the way different people perform the poses. There is always room for improvement and development in yoga, both physically and mentally. (SOURCE: Iyengar Yoga Resources)
PARALYZED YOGA INSTRUCTOR: Matthew Sanford, a yoga instructor, has been paralyzed from the chest down for 30 years. He cannot feel the tickling of his toes, but if you squeeze his ankles very hard he will sense it. Michael preaches that we can live more fully in our bodies with a stronger mind-body connection. Michael finished school with a graduate degree in philosophy. When he was 25, he met a yoga teacher who took him to the local martial arts studio and helped him get onto a mat. Sanford had miraculously spread his legs wide. It changed his life, and now Sanford teaches yoga at conferences around the country. He has won many awards for his pioneering ideas in medicine and now speaks at business conventions and tries to use the power of yoga to inspire those who are not disabled too. (SOURCE: Lifebeat)
PARALYZED YOGA: It's an adaptive yoga class where some students stay in their chairs, while others take mats on the floor. The regular yoga poses are modified to benefit the people who stay in the chair. Sanford usually teaches from a mat on the floor, however, he does teach in his chair as well. He teaches standing positions too, that he cannot do, yet, he understands how to do them just as well as any other teacher. Sanford believes that it's not how you look in a pose, but how you feel in it and how present you are while doing it. Sanford can now put himself in a "V" position because he has come to know his body, balance, and flexibility so well. (SOURCE: azdailysun.com)
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