As part of my ‘trying new things’ attitude, I rather spontaneously signed up for an Adaptive Yoga class with Matthew Sanford at Triyoga in Soho. Last year when I had been googling adaptive yoga classes, I noticed that there are loads of classes in America, but there is a distinct lack of them over here. And then I came across Matthew Sanford.
Matthew Sanford is paralysed from the chest down after surviving a car accident at the age of thirteen that killed his father and sister. Twelve years after his accident, he began studying yoga, and today he is internationally recognised as a yoga teacher, public speaker and author. He also set up Mind Body Solutions, a non-profit adaptive yoga centre based in Minneapolis. On paper he is an amazingly inspiring person… in person he is even more inspiring and I feel so privileged to have met him and taken part in one of his classes.
From time to time he comes over the the UK to run workshops for yoga instructors, and this time around he was running an adaptive class as well. I immediately signed up so that I could experience his teachings first hand.
The class seemed to be a part of his 3 day workshop for teaching adaptive yoga to current yoga teachers. He had obviously spent the majority of the day teaching these teachers, and then they would have a chance to practise what they had learnt with me and the others in the class. There were only a few of us in the class that had mobility problems, which meant that there were about 4 trainee yoga teachers for each of us. I had also brought along my mum and my sister Pip, so there were plenty of people around to help out.
The class was very enjoyable, although I spent most of it in the wheelchair. I would have preferred to have been out of the chair and on the floor, but Matthew was unaware that we were all able to get out of our chairs, so taught a sort of ‘sitting down’ class. He ensured from the very start that we were seated with perfect posture, which involved putting blocks and blankets in place to hold my legs are 90 degrees and keep my back completely straight.
As a teacher, Matthew is extremely relaxed and has such a calming presence. He made me feel comfortable and everything he said made complete sense to me. He heavily focuses on connecting the mind and body, and how under-utilised that connection is within everyone. He kept telling me to try and push down through my legs and down to the soles of my feet. When he asked whether I could feel myself doing that, I told him that I can always feel what I am trying to do with my legs, even if no one can visibly see it. He seemed very happy with my response and told me that that is what it is all about; connecting the mind and the body. It doesn’t matter if I’m not making any visible movements, as long as I am connecting and feeling the movement myself. It is quite hard to explain that properly, but he knew exactly what I was talking about.
Towards the end of the class I got onto the floor to lie down. I can’t remember the exact reasons for the things we did on the floor, but it was so relaxing and was a nice way to end the session.
I absolutely loved this yoga class, and I think that 99% of that is down to Matthew Sanford’s inspiring presence. He seemed to connect with every single person in the class in a different way. The class was aimed at anyone ‘facing loss, trauma or disability’ so everyone had a different reason for being there; brain injury, spinal injury, amputation… and somehow he managed to teach us all the same exercises but in a way that was specific to our needs and capabilities.
Unfortunately his trips to the UK are only for a few days every six months or so, but I will be making sure that I can attend one of his classes every time he is over. And I am definitely now going to read his book (‘Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence’). He truly is one of those people that you meet in life and know that you will never forget.