As Matthew Sanford pushes and pulls himself along among the Castleton College students, he instructs different postures and poses for them to practice.
There’s the downward facing dog, the mountain pose, the spread eagle and then back to downward facing dog.
“I dare you to feel more than less,” said Sanford encouragingly.
Although Sanford describes the exact sensations that are induced while stretching, he himself is paralyzed and in a wheelchair, and cannot feel any of it.
Or can he?
Sanford is a nationally recognized yoga teacher and author, as well as an expert in mind and body awareness. When he was 13-years old, he tragically lost his father and sister in a car accident. His mother and brother survived, but he teetered between life and death from his injuries.
He recovered and Castleton’s Soundings Committee invited in to come tell his story and give a basic yoga lesson. But Sanford made it clear early in his talk on Nov. 5 night that he didn’t come to speak or even write his book to explain his life.
“I wrote the book not to explain my story, but to let the reader find their story,” he said.
Sanford teaches about transformation and that the ground of transformation is in the mind and body. He explains the connection between the mind and body saying your body is part of your consciousness. He encourages people to get more comfortable with their bodies even though we are taught to not believe in them.
“The culture gives a message biased against the body,” said Sanford.
“You only get one body, I took advantage of mine for too long,” he said.
Although this seemed like a relatively heavy topic to teach in less than a couple hours, students said they were able to relate.
Freshman Eric Cerra recently lost his father, who was also a paraplegic.
“I personally couldn’t relate to the sensations that he described, but my father told me being in the position he was in life, he had the amazing opportunity to connect his mind to his body, which allowed him get the satisfaction of the ability to physically feel the sensations run through his body even though he would never walk again, like Matt,” Cerra said. “Overall his speech was amazing.”
Students who did not have such an extreme situation in life, but simply just practiced yoga, also related to his lesson. Sophomore Pantira Ratanapratum has practiced yoga since high school, and was intrigued with Sanford’s lesson.
“I really got a lot out of it, especially the one where we put our feet against someone’s back. That was great,” she said of a second yoga session Sanford led on Thursday,
Sanford, a native of New Mexico now living in Illinois, has worked with a variety of groups including Navy Seals who have come back from Iraq with PTSD and with people suffering from serious eating disorders. He travels around the world educating people and says his work is driven by the 13-year-old boy who transformed that day of the accident.
“I became an adult at 13 … I still have the innocence of a 13-year-old,” he said.
Sanford told a story about when his only son was young, he was watching Sesame Street, and was naked from the waist down. He described how his son decided to hang upside down off the couch, completely free and comfortable and he thought to himself, “Oh my god, he’s figured it out!”
Sanford understands that not everyone is going to be able to “figure out,” or appreciate what he teaches, but if anything, he said he wishes people will simply trust time, trust life, and trust their bodies.
“I hope more than anything you felt something,” Sanford said.