matthew sanford: the body’s grace on ‘speaking of faith’

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My favourite radio show, Speaking of Faith (public radio’s conversation about religion, meaning, ethics and ideas) have rebroadcast their 2006 interview with the highly inspiring yoga teacher, Matthew Sanford. I believe the show will be broadcast on public radio in the US on Sunday morning (May 30), but it’s available on their website as well.

Matthew Sanford was in a car accident when he was 13, breaking his back – among countless other bones in his body – and losing the use of his lower body. He later discovered, and went on to teach, yoga. He also published Waking, a memoir about his experience and teaching. Krista Tippett, the host of SOF, is a wonderful interviewer and she draws the best out of her subjects. They talked about the mind-body relationship, grieving, the languaging around “disability” and “ability,” and the core silence in all of us.

This is what she had to say about the experience in SOF’s weekly newsletter:

For over a quarter century, as a result of a car accident that killed his father and sister, he has been in a wheelchair. Yet I’ve rarely sat across from a person so alive, a body so palpably whole and wholly energetic as his. He has knitted his mind and body back together again over a quarter century, wresting wholeness through layers of cultural denial.

As we speak, Matthew Sanford makes me aware of the seamless cooperation of my mind and uninjured body, a synergy most of us take completely for granted. I stand up and walk as soon as the desire crosses my mind; I gesture with my hands to illustrate an idea I am passionate about; I shake my foot as my own engagement in conversation rises.

This kind of fluid connection was severed in Sanford. Yet as he struggled to come to terms with his body’s new realities during years of recovery and violent corrective surgeries, he encountered another kind of mind-body connection that our culture practices instinctively, reflexively. We celebrate those who battle adversity, triumph over obstacles, beat the odds. We love the 80-year-old man who runs a marathon, the injured hero who never gives up pursuing the technology that will enable him to walk again. This is the mind-body connection translated as a battle of will over matter.

Listen to the radio show here.
Check out some extras here.

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this link. It’s such an inspiring story!

  2. Yes, I love ‘Speaking of Faith’ too. And that interview is incredible. The book is good, too.

  3. I am so inspired by Matthew Sanford. His book “Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence” is very well-written and gives a glimpse into his perspective of mind-body connection. When I’ve mentioned him to other people, more than once I’ve received the response “How can he be a yoga teacher if he’s in a wheelchair?”. For me, his understanding of the mind-body experience is so much deeper than I can even begin to understand. Being able to cultivate that experience despite physiological obstacles is astounding. Yoga teachers sometimes ask people to feel their tail bone – unless someone has injured their tail bone, this is usually a foreign concept. If Mathew Sanford is able to feel his heels grounding into the earth, then damn it, I can feel my tailbone! His descriptions of his practice support the idea that yoga is what happens on the inside, not what our postures look like from the outside. As a yoga teacher who can’t necessarily pull off “Yoga Journal”-cover-worthy asanas, he provides a beautiful role-model of the true requirements to be a teacher: to be willing to dive deep within, to be willing to communicate to the best of our abililties, to create a safe space where each person can find their unique experience of each asana (and funnily enough, when we each find our unique experience of a posture, we experience a deeper sense of connection with each other than when we try to copy the version that we see on our teacher or those practicing alongside us).
    Thanks for posting about one of my heroes : )

    • whoa, I have been curious about this guy for a while- and your description (and Roseanne’s article!!) has cinched the deal.


  4. hi r,

    i linked to this article today on my blog (and talked about my favorite SOF interview of my own 🙂 )



  5. We just read this book for Namaste Book Club. It’s one of the most moving books I’ve ever read. Highly recommended.

    We also saw Sanford at the Lake Geneva Yoga Journal Conference last year and he was a real standout in a panel of famous Yoga people.

    Thanks for this link. I love this program, too.

    Bob Weisenberg

  6. Thank you so much for bringing Matthew Sanford to my attention. I watched the interview yesterday and am very very touched by his words and would LOVE to practice with him. Going to go buy his book.


  7. Hi!

    I am such a huge fan of the work of Matthew Sanford. I was introduced to him over a year ago when I piloted yoga for combat veterans at my outpatient mental health agency where I was working with combat veterans with PTSD as a psychotherapist. This program was what led me on my own personal/professional quest to merge mental health/trauma work with yoga because of the profound impact of the work. One of the yoga teachers working with me on the program had done training with Matthew and he was actually gracious enough to give myself and the patients at my center who were doing the yoga program all signed copies of his wonderful and inspirational book. IT meant so much to them and his empassioned work meant, and still means, so much to me. He is truly a symbol of what is possible in all of us–how passion and yogic perspective can be profound and bring someone through the emotional and physical pains that life can bring. His work is amazing and I only hope my own work can be informed by his–the restorative nature of yoga for all painful experience is embodied in his work. Thank you Matthew and thank you for highlighting his work!

    There is so much inspiration out there and it is great to have someone like Matthew brought into focus!

    Teresa @ and

  8. Oh man, I’m getting all teary… 🙂 I love how you mentioned the language issue surrounding ‘abiltiy’ and ‘disability’. I am fascinated by how words shape our perceptions of people, ideas, etc. The interviewer makes the point that culturally we love and celebrate those who triumph over adversity, and yet our every-day language still prejudices against their success.

    And, people with special needs have it a lot better in our countries than in most of the rest of the world, where there are few or no services available to them (at best), and they are objects of shame or hidden away from the world (at worst).

    Thanks for this post!

  9. This is fantastic! Love his insights into trauma and corrective trauma. His insights provide much to contemplate and allow us to probe our personal traumas to discover the silence and befriend the darkness in order to truly heal.