Yoga instructor redefines ability and disability

“This isn’t New Age stuff. It is common sense,” says Matthew Stanford, who created his own unique type of yoga for people with disabilities. He’ll teach and lecture on it this week at Studio Bamboo in Virginia Beach.

By Clif Gustafson

Matthew Sanford was 13 when the car accident that killed his father and sister left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Today, he is a leading expert on mind-body transformations for people living with a disability.

“I tried to live with my disability for 12 years, constantly trying to overcome my body,” Sanford said,  “but then I discovered yoga, and I found a new level of sensation that I never knew I had, even before my accident.”

He organized the Mind-Body Solutions charity with the aim to create a new type of yoga for victims of traumatic and disabling accidents.
“When I started, there was no yoga for paraplegic people. Basically, we had to create an entire new routine geared to specific people with specific injuries.”

Sanford’s charity operates a yoga studio in Minneapolis that teaches not just victims of traumatic experiences but their caregivers as well.  His goal is to transform the recovery and physical therapy process by helping people realize the connections between their mind and body.

“This isn’t New Age stuff.  It is common sense,”  Sanford said. “I know in my bones that there is a better way to live with a disability by becoming aware of the mind-and-body connections.”

Sanford and Mind-Body Solutions’ newest goal is to transform the military’s rehabilitation of wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  He will be teaming up with local yoga studio owner Ann Richardson of Studio Bamboo. 

Having been involved with the Exalted Warrior project, Richardson is familiar with the integration of yoga into the military’s rehabilitation program.

“Through Exalted Warrior, I’ve been to Walter Reed, and it was very inspiring,” Richardson said. “Never have I seen a more dedicated and hard-working group of students.”

Sanford will guest-teach three classes Sept. 25 and 26 at Studio Bamboo. Following his visit, he will accompany Richardson to Walter Reed.

“I don’t want to just teach these soldiers, but their caregivers as well,” Sanford said. “These men and women deserve the very best we can offer, and I know I can greatly improve living with their injuries.”

Sanford’s approach includes specific breathing exercises that increase oxy­gen circulation. In work at his studio in Minneapolis, he said he has seen incredible balance and range improvements with veterans he has worked with.

“People need to pull yoga into health care more, and hopefully Matthew can do that,” Richardson said. “It’s uncharted territory, involving yoga into the medical world, so we are really blazing a trail here.”

Taking a cue from Sanford, Studio Bamboo will offer classes geared toward the military in the near future. Richardson wants to cater to the specific physical demands of being in the military, while improving strength, balance and coordination. 

“We all want the best for our wounded warriors,” Sanford said. “What I know has so much potential to improve the quality of life for a person with a disability. 

“I mean, look at me – I’m living proof that there is a better way out there.”

Clif Gustafson, clif.gustafson@gmail.com

Who:  Matthew Sanford of Mind-Body Solutions
What:  Guest-teaching and lecturing about mind-body connections with yoga
When:  Sept. 24-26
Where:  Studio Bamboo, 2861 Lynnhaven Drive, Suite 108
To get involved:  Visit www. mindbodysolutions.org  for information about how you can help veterans living with a disability. Call 496-7444 or visit  www.studiobambooyoga.com  for more information.

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