Award-Winning Yoga Instructor to Visit UB

Matthew Sanford, a paraplegic, has inspired people worldwide by sharing the importance of the mind-body relationship

By Bert Gambini

Release Date: April 10, 2012

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Award-winning author and yoga instructor Matthew Sanford will visit the University at Buffalo April 26 to discuss his groundbreaking teaching methods, which approach the discipline from a perspective that creates new levels of awareness and lead his students down previously unexplored avenues of understanding concerning the mind-body relationship.

For nearly two decades, Sanford, a T4 paraplegic, has taught yoga, not just as a health strategy, but with techniques that he says can move consciousness in ways that have the capacity to change people's lives.

Sanford's 10 a.m. presentation, A Mind Body Approach to Healing and Recovery" will take place in Diefendorf Hall on the South Campus. A reception will immediately follow the free talk, which is open to the public.

Afterward, he will meet with UB students and the Student Affairs Book Club in the Student Union for a 1 p.m. discussion of his book, "Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence." (This event is by invitation only.) Sanford's visit will conclude with "Opening Yoga to Everyone," a weekend training session on the UB North Campus for registered yoga teachers and professionally licensed health care providers.

Information about Sanford and photos of him are available at

His use of yoga as a means of such exploration is the result of Sanford's personal life-changing moment. At 13 years old, he was paralyzed from the chest down in an auto accident that killed his father and sister. Doctors told him that his spinal cord injury had broken his mind's connection to most of his body. But Sanford would discover that yoga established a different kind of connection, one that not only elevates consciousness, but is within everyone's reach.

Following his injury, Sanford said he spent 12 years listening to doctors who were telling him what could go wrong with his body, before he started to understand what was still there and could still go right.

His goal is to get people more involved in the healing process for both physical and emotional injuries while understanding that recovery is as much an art as it is a science. It's a difficult mindset to achieve, but he says understanding that the unthinkable is possible is inherently part of what he knows.

Susan Mann Dolce, assistant director of accessibility resources at UB and an occupational therapist who was introduced to Sanford's work after reading a magazine article, was intrigued, but originally skeptical of Sanford's claims.

"I bought his book, Waking, the day after defending my dissertation," she said. "I may have been tired, but I finished the book in one night.

She talked to occupational therapists and yoga teachers who didn't think Sanford could accomplish what he was claiming.

"I went to the Midwest Yoga Conference in Chicago and took one of his classes," she said. "It was amazing -- 120 people were there taking instruction from Matt as he effortlessly moved into and out of his wheelchair."

Mann Dolce says reading Sanford's book and participating in that class were the beginning of Sanford's continuing relationship with UB, going back to 2008 when the university started its Universal Design Yoga program. Many of Sanford's techniques have been melded into the program, but over the last four years, feedback has been offered in both directions, with Sanford contributing to what UB offers, while the university has informed Sanford's programs about the concepts of universal design.

"Yoga is the beginning of the process," said Mann Dolce. "But we are also interested in creating models for teaching the community how to develop programs in universal design -- programs that are inherently accessible to anyone who wants to participate."

Mann Dolce says the Universal Design Yoga program at UB builds on accessibility by creating a physical environment and an attitudinal environment that is welcoming, safe and comfortable. She points out that universal design concepts have also been added into Sanford's yoga videos, which are now captioned. His yoga classes, meantime, originally developed for people with paralysis are now open to advanced traditional students as well as beginners with physical limitations.

"We all live on a continuum of abilities and disabilities," Sanford says. "The principles of yoga apply to all people, to all bodies."

Mark Shaw, a UB senior in the interdisciplinary social sciences program, who is the Western District board member of the Brain Injury Association of New York State and was also seriously injured in an auto accident, said Sanford is an inspiration and his programs are a great benefit.

"This is how I relax," said Shaw. "For me, the yoga classes take away the things that are bothering me."

Mann Dolce said that point is critical, since stress, along with anxiety and depression, are the three biggest impediments to academic success.

Sanford's UB visit will also provide the final segment of footage for a soon to be released Universal Design Yoga training video being produced by the UB Office of Accessibility Resources.