Tag Archives: adapted yoga

SCI Superstar: Matthew Sanford


When Matthew Sanford was 13 years old, his entire life changed. He and his family were traveling along an icy road at Christmas when the car skidded, killing his sister and father. He, his mother and brother survived, but Matthew was left with a spinal cord injury.

Matthew however hasn’t let a diagnosis of paraplegia confine him, especially when it comes to his body. He is one of the most well-known, if not the most well-known, yoga teacher with a disability. From founding a successful yoga non-profit to being one of the most dynamic speakers you’ll ever meet, read on to learn about the Zen-filled yogi, Matthew Sanford.

Why he’s fearless

The journey of discovering the healing power of yoga with the mind-body relationship didn’t happen overnight for Matthew. When he was finally able to, he moved out to California in the 1980s, and that is where he met Jo, a yoga teacher that would transform his life. Matthew at first didn’t even think yoga would be possible for him, but Jo proved him wrong, showing him how to open himself up to the teachings, and yes modify poses along the way.

Soon Matthew was doing his own yoga practice at home, but he wanted to share all of the yoga amazingness he was experiencing with other people with disabilities.  So after moving back home to Minnesota, he began to teach adapted yoga in a now famous Monday night class (that’s incredibly hard to get into btw) at the Courage Center, a huge rehab facility for people with disabilities in Minneapolis, MN.

And even though it’s 20 years later, Matthew is still teaching that very same class, showing people of all disabilities, from vent-dependent quadriplegics and stroke survivors to newly-injured veterans and amputees, the amazing things that can happen when you home in on the mind-body relationship through yoga.  Watch his class at the Courage Center

Matthew’s studio, Mind Body Solutions, has also partnered with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, creating some very cool how-to videos on adaptive yoga so they can be shared online. Adaptive yoga is hard to find in most cities, even in NYC and L.A.  Matthew and his studio even created a 1 hour in-chair yoga video, Beyond Disability, thanks to help from the Reeve foundation.  Watch a clip

And in 2008, Matthew was the winner of the Volvo for Life award, where he won $100,000 to improve his nonprofit, and improve it he did.  The studio has exploded in recent years with yoga teachers and healthcare professionals from all over the world flying to learn from Matt and learn the principals of adaptive yoga.  Matthew wrote a book, Waking, where he documents his journey with discovering yoga.

What’s next?

Other than staying busy teaching yoga to both disabled and traditional students at his studio in Minnetonka, MN, Matthew flies all around the world speaking on the topic of the mind-body relationship and how it’s often overlooked by the medical field.  He is slowly changing minds one speech at a time. Check out his site to learn more about his speaking

What I love most about Matthew, as someone who’s taken classes from him personally, is how he pushes you and understands exactly what you’re going through.  He believes in the healing power of yoga, perfecting the internal pose/not the external, and boy is he right. And when it comes to people spinal cord injuries, we can understand this notion completely.

Have you tried adaptive yoga? What are your favorite poses?

Watch the videos!

Matthew Sanford in the Volvo for Life Awards Documentary

Interview with Matthew Sanford from Conscious.tv

Matthew Sanford speaking on the importance of yoga for the Reeve Foundation

Clip from Matthew’s yoga DVD Beyond Disability

SCI Superstar: Chanda Hinton Leichtle

Perhaps the biggest supporter of alternative therapies with a spinal cord injury, Chanda Hinton Leichtle has been on a mission the last 9 years to bring alternative therapy to the world of disability. She is the founder of the amazing non-profit, the Chanda Plan Foundation.

Injured when she was 9 years old, Chanda was accidentally shot by a 14 year old relative. They had an argument over which color Popsicle to take, and he pretend shot her in the neck, not realizing there was a bullet in the gun. Chanda, as a result, has been living as a C5-6 quadriplegic for the last 21 years.

Why she’s fearless?

When she was first injured, her body, despite being paralyzed, was doing great. She went back to school, then went on to graduate with a degree in communications, but once she hit her early 20‘s, everything changed. All of a sudden she was living in a chronic pain nightmare. Every morning she was waking up with intense pain in her abdomen and lower back, and her doctors were stumped. After dropping to a super low 58 pounds, becoming bedridden because the pain was so bad, Chanda knew she had to find a new way to heal herself.

Spurred by her sister who was a yoga teacher, she began to try out alternative therapies – acupuncture, massage and chiropractic. After her first session of acupuncture, she was pain free for the first time in 3 years. After that she was hooked. Within a few years, she had gained back all of her weight and had a new lease on life.

The amazing thing about Chanda is that she didn’t sit on this knowledge. Yes, she discovered that massage therapy was awesome, helping to promote blood flow and prevent skin problems, and acupuncture was great for digestion and easing pain, but she wanted to share with the world what a revelation these therapies were. She founded the Chanda Plan Foundation in 2007, with an official mission of bringing integrative alternative therapies to people with spinal cord injuries.

But over the years Chanda grew frustrated, wishing insurance would cover these therapies too so that people with disabilities didn’t have to rely on organizations like hers to solely to get these therapies. So she spearheaded a pilot program through the state of Colorado, with the help of State Representative Nancy Todd, where the state’s Medicaid program will pay for alternative therapies for a few dozen people with spinal cord injuries in CO for a limited time, to see (to prove rather) that alternative therapies can truly save Medicaid money (Chanda Plan’s argument).

This was how I first found out about Chanda. I’m a big fan of adapted yoga, and the Chanda Plan promotes adapted yoga big time (they even received a grant to do a 9 month adaptive yoga course for veterans with spinal cord injuries). I met some yoga teachers from Colorado, and they mentioned Chanda and her foundation. After Googling her and realizing what an amazing supporter of alternative therapy she is, I’ve loved everything about Chanda since.

What’s next?

With the pilot program in full swing, Chanda is (as is everyone else) eagerly awaiting the results (in 2014, the findings will be shared with Medicaid). Also, since Chanda has gotten healthy, she’s dabbled in several sports you can only do in Colorado. with the disability recreation group No Barriers USA, one of the coolest adapted rec programs in the country. This is also where she also met her husband (pic). Check out this video of her going rock climbing with the group.

If you have a spinal cord injury and would like access to alternative therapies, definitely contact the Chanda Plan (link). Thanks to their tireless work, amazing healing is being seen in people across the state of Colorado, and hopefully one day, the entire country.

Has the Chanda Plan helped you? Are you a proponent of alternative therapies?

Watch the videos!

TEDx Front Range – Chanda Hinton Leichtle – Choosing Challenges

Overview of Chanda Hinton Leichtle and her foundation

Chanda Hinton Leichtle rock climbing the Eldorado Canyon Summit with No Barriers

Chanda Hinton Leichtle speaking at The Wave, a Nat’l chiropractic conference