Yoga for All Humanity – A Meeting of the Spines
Jan 14, 2019
New Year’s Day, 2019. I wanted to start this year right so I attended Matt Sanford’s workshop at MindBody Solutions titled, All-Humanity Class. It blended both his adaptive and traditional students and highlighted our inherent connection, or Yoga with a capital “Y”, through increased awareness and better alignment of the spine.
Matt founded MindBody Solutions and teaches people of all abilities to be more present in the body to awaken consciousness and, ultimately, to be a better human – more connected, more awake, more compassionate.
An icy Thanksgiving weekend car crash left Matt paralyzed at age 13. A budding young philosopher now had a complicated and lifelong pursuit of the integration of mind and body. He began to teach adaptive Yoga at The Courage Center here in Minnesota 25 years ago. I found him through research on Yoga for children with special needs and assisted him there for a couple of years before I moved to Chicago in 2004. My time with him greatly informed my teaching.
In this All Humanity class, Matt paired people up to give and receive adjustments. I partnered with Julie. Her son takes Matt’s adaptive class and she was here without him to have her own experience of Yoga.
Matt’s style of teaching is “Iyengar Inspired.” He masterfully weaves the philosophy of consciousness and alignment with the acute precision of poses. Because as Matt says, “alignment increases consciousness.”
We all started in chairs, “to level the playing field.” Philosophical insights woven into felt experience in the body was made accessible and meaningful for everyone in the room, with the full range of ability/disability.
We ended the two-hour workshop with a series of back-to-back moves that sent the spine in all six directions. It’s perfect for children to practice in a kids Yoga class, so I’ll share it with you here.
Sit on the floor (on a folded blanket or Yoga mat). Sit back to back with a partner and hook elbows. Partner one folds forward as partner two leans back, supported by partner one. Partners switch and partner one now leans into a backbend against partner two’s forward fold. Move back and forth with the breath. Find a rhythm. See if you can soften into the flow.
Come back to center and reach the arms out like airplane wings, still intertwined with your partner. Lean off to one side, bottom hand resting on the floor, top hand reaching for the sky into a side stretch. Switch sides and stretch the other side. Go back and forth, breath by breath.
Turn these airplane wings into windmill arms and rotate in swimmer’s strokes. Partner one is doing the front crawl and partner two is doing the backstroke. By now you are looser, more in tune with your own and your partner’s spine – that central channel of energy that connects us to heaven and earth. Feels good, right?
Now, switch the way you have hooked arms with your partner and repeat the whole sequence again. One of you will have had your arms on top, the other on the bottom. Switching this will give you a different feeling – especially in your shoulders.
This simple spine dance is a powerful way to wake up spines and cultivate connection. At the end of class Matt said, “this isn’t the meeting of the minds, it’s the meeting of the spines!” He pointed out how we come into resonance with one another when our awareness of our spines – both the central nervous channel and the energy channel – increases.
Mind Body Solutions is a non-profit organization that does incredible outreach work nationwide. You can support this work here.
The book Matt Sanford wrote about his journey from spinal cord injury in the 70s to internationally recognized Yoga teacher is called, Waking – A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence. This book is recommended to our Therapeutic Applications of Yoga for Children students. Read it to widen your perspective of what’s possible with the mind and body and to better appreciate your spine.
We've also got a spine-focused lesson plan available. In it, the spine is moved in all six directions while we have fun becoming both vertebrate and invertebrate creatures.