Success Stories

Disabled Yogi Triumphs

In 1978, Matthew Sanford and his family were returning from the Thanksgiving weekend when their car skidded on ice and careened into a ravine.

Disabled Yogi Triumphs
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Sanford, 13 at the time, awoke from a three–day coma to devastating news: His father and sister had been killed in the accident, and he was paralyzed from his chest down. Told to forget about the lower two–thirds of his body and concentrate on strengthening his arms, Sanford longed to live in his whole body. That moment came when he was introduced to yoga by teacher Jo Zukovich and felt a spark of reconnection. Now 42, he teaches yoga through Mind Body Solutions (, a nonprofit he founded to help trauma victims regain confidence. A recipient of Volvo for Life's Quality of Life award and author of the memoir Waking (Rodale, 2008), Sanford spoke to us in New York City.

What was the most difficult change to accept after your accident?
The hardest part was feeling absent from parts of my body. I felt shut out of my life. I wanted to feel whole again.

In what ways did yoga help you?
In my first session, my teacher had me widen my legs while seated on the floor, and it was very emotional. I had never moved my body that way, and the shift in energy was amazing. For the first time I realized my body was capable of more.

As a teacher, how do you help others experience the benefits you discovered? I teach my students that yoga poses are a way to distribute consciousness in the body. As you become more present, you feel a wider range of sensations. This helps you appreciate little things like a deep breath, the taste of water, or a moment of silence.

What else have you learned about experiencing life to the fullest?
Feeling more is a source of strength. I want to help people feel connected to themselves. Discovering a deepened level of sensation in your body can help you feel more hopeful about other aspects of life.