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Yoga With Paralysis

Matthew Sanford, who has been paralyzed from the chest down since a car accident at age 13, says yoga has helped him "live more vibrantly."

"I was hooked right away," says Sanford, who is now a yoga instructor in Minnetonka, Minn., and the author of Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence.

Sanford recalls his first yoga class: "I got out of my wheelchair and took my legs wide into a V. It was really, really emotional. Tears were coming down my face. I didn't understand how I could feel so much."

Sanford knows some people may question why he tried it. "The answer is it's your birthright. And that's true, whether you're disabled or not," he says.

"Yoga doesn't discriminate," he says. "Yoga will make you feel good. Yoga, at its root, is about bringing more awareness to action and to movement. The more you get in your body, the more connected you are to the world."

Tips for Trying Yoga

Check with your doctor before starting yoga or any new exercise program. And keep these pointers in mind:

  • Choose a style of yoga that suits you. Not all yoga classes are alike. Some are more vigorous than others; others may emphasize meditation.
  • Find a teacher you like. Classes that are billed as "intro" or "beginner" can attract a wide range of skill levels. You can sign up for a private one-on-one session customized to your needs.
  • Go at your own pace. You can modify yoga poses using blocks, straps, and other tools so that you don't overstretch. Ask your instructor for help and for modifications that suit your needs.
  • Listen to your body. If you're forcing yourself into a position that's painful, that's a signal to stop.
  • Don't compare yourself to others. It's not about being as flexible as everyone else -- or as the people you see in yoga magazines who have been practicing for years. And always remember, there's room for you, too.

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