Matthew Sanford —
The Body's Grace

An unusual take on the mind-body connection with author and yoga teacher Matthew Sanford. He's been a paraplegic since the age of 13. He shares his wisdom for us all on knowing the strength and grace of our bodies even in the face of illness, aging, and death.

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is author of Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence and the founder and director of the non-profit organization Mind Body Solutions.

Pertinent Posts

A musician from the shores of Lake Superior sings a haunting melody that speaks to the spaces between your cells.

Video Interviews with Krista Tippett

In the Room with Matthew Sanford

[video, 64:16]

Watch complete, behind-the-scenes footage of Krista's in-studio conversation with Matthew Sanford. The video also includes clips of Sanford teaching students with disabilities.

SoundSeen (our multimedia stories)

The Presence of Silence

View a series of images of Matthew Sanford's life before and after the accident.

About the Image

Matthew Sanford gives instruction during a yoga session.

Photo courtesy of Mind Body Solutions

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Every time I look in the mirror the "darkness" (or aging) is visible to me and I am not sure how to deal. Can't say that I am connecting, just running away hoping to stay one step ahead.
Matthew's story has inspired me to take a look at how to embrace my aging and the pain I experience from that and fibromyalgia. I have felt pretty lost lately, but want to learn to find the joy in everyday experiences. It is cliche to say that we only have one life, but how true, and I do want to make it the best.

I was enthralled by your story about Matthew Sanford. I went to school with a young man who studied, and then taught, karate. When he was 28 years old, he had a diving accident that left him a quadraplegic. He continues to teach karate at a schoolin Connecticut that he started with his wife. The last time I saw him, several years ago, we talked, and he said some of the same things I heard Mr. Sanford saying, about the mind and the body. I have provided a link to a three year old story in a local newspaper about Bob.

Hi Alison, do you know this person's name? I am interested in reading more about his story.

That is a great question..... I would like to know as well. Thanks in advacne for the answer...

I had been practicing yoga for about a year when my mom was diagnosed with Alzhiemer's. My life became conusmed with caring for her and taking over the rumming of her life. At the time I probably needed yoga the most I dropped it from my life. Two weeks after my mom passed away I walked back into the yoga studio and back to my teacher who is amazing. I will never forget the first pose of surrender and the unlocking of the pain and tears that my body held. As the strong one in my family I had used my will and strength to take care of everything. In this quiet space, where my mind and body could be together in darkness, silence and surrender...I began the process of healing.

There are many silent spaces in my life. In 2003 I had a reaction to an antibiotic that were grand mal seizures. I had never had a grand mal seizure before in my life.
the seizures seperated and literally destoyed my humerous bone and part of my right arm. It took a long time to find a surgeon. At that time I lived in Virginia. Eventually, one was found and a "successful" surgery took place. But, my arm was always in pain, the ma=etal never felt right. It hurt and m body was teling me something. Two years ago I underwent surgery at Mayo Clinic and massive infection was found and the metal was removed. The surgeon was surprised that I was able to tolerate such pain fro so long. I guess our bodiies adapt. I am right handed and our bodies do adapt but, the pain is back and I wonder what my body is saying now. Silent

I did much yoga in College and I miss it. I know that adaptive yoga exists and adaptive Tai Chi as well. Listening to Matthew Sanford's program was motivating but, I never made it out the door. There seem to be too many inhibitions or something standing in the way, perhaps ...Silent Space.

The darkness is part of a daily routine but light does come through with each day. the sun manages to overcome it with insightful words of wisdom and reading, my writing and holding on to hope in any tangible and intangible way that I can. some days are easier than others. I have learned to take it some days one day at time some days one second at a time. If that is what gets me through then so be it. I have made a concerted effort to stay focused in a prayer life even if it is a private one. I have also learned that the darkness that I have so much feared for so long is a part of me, a part of this culture, the world and have come to accept and even embrace it.

Anne Scherer

I hope you read this 5 years later! Your words struck me so deeply because it is a beautiful description of learning to live life in a brand new way. (most of us, as you know, don't do it willingly:) Namaste

A friend told me about Matthew Sanford's book and interview with Krista Tippet. The conversation and ideas described so poetically by Mr Sanford, in tandem with Ms Tippet's attunement to the subtler aspects of his experiences and sense of presence move me greatly.Her questions guide their conversation in a seemingly effortless way. They help reveal the depth of his work and spirit . Mr Sanford's reflections on surrender, healing and the power of breath are reflected in a poem I wrote in recent years while recovering from various injuries. I share it below.

For All of the Healers

I Listen

I listen for your breath.
The sound of your breathing, like sonar,
so that I may locate you from behind closed eyes.

You hold my heart
and the wild beating slows,
the throbbing at my temples melts.

You hold my heart, silent, steady. I become
the sea becalmed at low tide, glassy still.
Awash with release, the horizon endless.

And still
I listen for your breath.

-Bracha Leora Fenster from
Sown in Tears Reaped in Joy/ Poems and Images
c. 2010

Legal Name/Suzanne R Fenster

Your appreciation was Beautifully expressed and your poem is Beautiful too, Bracha! :). Thanks for sharing and Blessings on your journey, Tom

I feel like one of the most important things I took away from this broadcast was something that Matthew Sanford had repeated a few times. He doesn't consider his experience "uncommon" just "more extreme." In experiencing the car accident at 13 which caused him to become a parapalegic he was thrust into a new life that called for a greater sense of awareness.
I have a friend who was abused as a child and later suffered a spinal cord injury as a young adult. We have often talked about how other people comment on "how strong" she is to have gotten through those traumas and how much it really has nothing to do with how strong one particular person is, but rather the ability to adapt. Developing this different awareness that Matthew Stanford seems to talk about seems to be the key to having a healthy attitude about yourself, your ability, and your peace.
What was most refreshing in this interview was how easily Sanford was able to relate his traumatic experience with those of us who have not had such traumatic experiences, but simply experience aging. He spoke of learning to listen to his body and accept the body it had become now looking at the strength and ability it still had to offer through quieter sensations than what he experienced when he was younger. It seems like we waste a lot of time worrying about what we have lost as we age which just leads to frustration and discontent. Sanford mentioned being patient a couple times. I think patience is a very difficult attribute to achieve, but usually has the best reward. As Matthew Sanford shows, having the patience to allow your body to speak to and connect with your mind instead of fighting against each other, opens the door to a wholeness filled with peace, pride, and possibility.

What Matthew has learned I too have learned, except that I have not had the trauma he has had. Therefore it took me 64 years to arrive at the same point. The mind and the body connection, the aging process, the peace that comes with the knowledge that the body changes constantly over your lifetime and the acceptance of it. Matthew can put it into words so succinctly. I have felt it without being aware of it. Thank you, Matthew.

I'm blind and Matthew's commentary on inner silence, light, darkness, life, death & (dis)ability pointed me to these words of Sufi Saint, M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen:

O Man!
You think that you can come to know
the nature of all things found everywhere
solely through your investigation.
There is however
a Truth that governs such knowing.
That Truth is as follows:
The State of Silence will be invaluable to you.
Let the Form of Divine Luminous Wisdom grow
from within that Inner Silence.
Realize yourself as the Consciousness
within the Form of that Divine Luminous Wisdom.
It will appear as One.
That Form is That.
And That is You.
That State is One.
It is That which resplends everywhere
as the All-Pervading Radiant Effulgence.
That is not contained
within the divisiveness of religions.
It is beyond the beyond.
It is Silence in the Form of Consciousness.
This State is extremely rare.
One who has realized this State is also rare.

M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen
From The Resonance of Allah

I was very moved to hear the story of Matthew Sanford. Recently I met a young woman with a wonderful aura who was in much the same situation as him. She 'ran' in her racing wheelchair in the Boston Marathon raising money for others. It was an extraordinary accomplishment. Such people show us walkers what the human spirit can accomplish. Thank you for introducing us to all the interesting people that you bring on your program.

i was disconnected from my body from emotional trauma as a child. i was physically active, i dabbled in tai chi/qui gong, but was not disciplined. i started biking after cancer & chemotherapy at 55. i loved it and continue to do strenuous rides at 75 I do pilates regularly for cross training. matthew Sanford's attitude, quick mind and generous spirit are infectious. i'm going to share his interview with friends who are disabled/challenged---as we all are to maintain a commitment to our physical well being. matthew is a hero! krista's interview is a 'keeper' as always.

Matthew is an amazing man! What an awesome teacher he has become. Reading his book, I realized I am not connected to my body. I am stuck in my mind as a 15 year old girl - even though nothing as tragic happened to me. (I'm 44 now.) Also, Matthew made me want to learn how to do yoga. My husband and I delivered stillborn twins in 2004. I felt my heart go out to him and his wife when they lost their son, William, and delivered their son Paul. How he wrote about losing William was beautiful. I wish only the best for Matthew and his family.

wonder... inspiration...delight...

L'histoire de Matthew Sanford, j'ai été vraiment touché, je me suis rendu

“The place you can’t see in your body, is peaceful”. Yoga is always the way to help me knowing my body,

Changing relationship of your body is the job for everyone. Doesn’t mean the muscles and bones need to be very flexible, but means know you body and play with it. Everyone will get a lot of challenges during their yoga practice, but we need to insist. Like Matthew Sanford lose his father and broken his bones, but he was never give up either the life or yoga. During the yoga practice, the body will communicate with our mind, the thing we need to do was listen the body language relate it to our mind, even they are usually change.

I really enjoy doing yoga. Matthew already practice yoga for 15 years. Yoga is not just an activity for him, but a partner, a soul mate. I wish I could insist to practice yoga in the future. My body should be my partner to learn yoga.

you offer such powerful and truly connective insight- thank you.

It's very awesome to hear Matthew's story. For myself, each posture of the yoga practice depend on everyone's personal experience. They don't have a specific ruler to measure which way is right and which way is wrong. I will prefer to do the practice by my own way and find the suitable posture/point for myself. It is interesting to image out your body's activity during my practice. Feel each part of my body, think about what the practice bring to them. Are they feel happy, stressed or comfortable. Practicing, thinking, feeling will be a good way for my yoga practice in the future.

I have stayed (by choice), in a very controlling relationship. I am a free spirit and the physical toll it has taken is more apparent as the years roll by. I am continually distraught about what was or how it will be if I continue on this path. Yoga brings me to the moment: the moment, the one thing I can actually control myself. It helps me to focus on me and to challenge my mind to be still. As soon as my body is still, my mind races. It is a big obstacle. This mind/body connection centers me. I have to keep practicing so I can be in this moment. I am always afraid.