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 Matthew Sanford ...

"Jo Zukovich is the first and best yoga teacher I will ever have. Our work together over the last sixteen years has transformed me from a struggling, disembodied paraplegic graduate student to a yoga teacher, author, and founder of a non-profit. This would not have happened had I not met Jo, had I not encounter a caring, deeply committed, and profoundly creative yoga teacher. Together we have explored how the principles of Iyengar yoga travel through my paralyzed body. This pioneering work is now the foundation of our efforts to both make yoga more accessible to people living with disabilities and to transform current medical and rehabilitation practices." 

Matthew Sanford
Author of WAKING: A MEMOIR OF TRAUMA AND TRANSCENDENCE, and founder of Mind Body Solutions.

Greetings MBS Adaptive Yoga Community Newsletter:

The true beginning of Mind Body Solutions was the third Saturday in April, 1991, when Matt met his teacher Jo Zukovich for the first time, 12 years after his accident.  What follows is their reflections on their initial yoga session and the impact it has had on their lives.... 

Ode to Jo
by Matthew Sanford

I met a fantastic yoga teacher the first time I tried.  I got so lucky.  Jo Zukovich possessed extraordinary knowledge.  She was thoughtful, considerate, supportive, intuitive, and empathic.  She met me person-to-person, eye-to-eye.  She made me feel – in my bones – that I belonged. 

The relationship between Jo and me is the intuitive cornerstone of Mind Body Solutions.  The dynamic I encountered – the nourishment, the respect, the validation, the patience, and the support – created the conditions for me to flourish.  Despite all the things that  I “could not” do physically, her grace allowed me to fall in love with yoga.

This wisdom is the foundation of all that we have created at Mind Body Solutions.  The vision is simple.  I hope that any student coming through our doors, or coming to anyone we have trained, receives even a glimpse of what I received when I met Jo.  I want everyone to be as lucky as I. 

Jo remembers:

When asked to write something about some of my 1st meetings w/ Matt.  I had a rush of memories.... a very strong one is the moment we met.
I had just finished teaching a class and was kind of spent and not sure about this private session I had set up w/Matt and then in comes this smiling spark of life! I liked him immediately!  We chatted a bit about yoga and about how much or how little we thought he could do. Then I asked him if he was willing to get on to the floor, he was! I could tell he was a special person and very receptive. We worked on alignment sitting in wide legs he got the idea, then we started talking about the props...  oh boy, next thing I know it's several sand bags, a block or 2, and a couple of belts!!  I could tell we connected..... he loved the idea of working with his body, and we are both looking forward to the next session!                        
I thought about Matt a lot over the next week and what we could do.  One of the things I did do was to try a lot of things myself.  Most of my own practice kind of turned into trying things with Matt in mind.    
I did not try to fix him but I did try to practice as if I could not use my legs.   The really hard part was when Matt said to me "but you are using your abdominal muscles".    Oh, now that was hard or impossible not to do.  I also broke the poses down to very small bits....  so he could do those pieces of poses.     
The truth about "fixing" anybody is we can only suggest things or be an example.   The only person you might fix is you, right?    This is a big topic, it is possible there is too much trying to “fix”,  I try to let people find their own way. I love the part when the student "gets it".  Now how do we put this together?       And that became the story of MindBody Solutions.
Looking back on this is very amazing to me.  Matt and I have a very long relationship now and I am so glad we met that day.
Jo Z.

Matthew Joyce, "Gone, but Not Forgotten", June 29, 1983 - April 7, 2008

"My name is Matthew Joyce, a.k.a. Worm.  I have Cystic Fibrosis and received a double lung transplant in November of 2000.  I came to Jo Zukovich, about a year after my operation, asking for help with breathing techniques to help while surfing and other activities.  Jo has taught me several ways to help open airways and stay relaxed.  It's a proven fact that being more relaxed, and more intuitive with your mind and body, the easier it is to breath.  Jo has donated her time to meeting with me on a regular basis to go over the different techniques that she has taught over the years.  I really think she has helped me get through the ups and downs of my breathing, and has definitely improved the quality of my life."

Matthew Joyce
Big Worm's Cystic Fibrosis Life Foundation


Dino Andino ...

"I have to first start by saying I met Jo about ten years ago, I was going through some very difficult times both physically and mentally, and through Jo's workings and believing that I could and would heal, which by the way she helped instill in me, I got through it and have been healthier since.  So thanks a million Jo!!!!!!!!!!!!  On that same note, when I think about Jo's voice, it is like having her enlighten me all over again.  I really start thinking of how special her knowledge really is.  Jo, you are a blessed person and you are the chosen one to do the GOOD work out in the world.  How you teach physical movements through Yoga, I personally think that it is more then just physical and it actually had a spiritual impact in my life.  Thanks for sharing your knowledge with the world and more importantly, caring.  Keep in touch.

Dino Andino
Professional Surfer, Surf Academy and Billabong


Margaret Westley ...

The first moment I laid eyes on Jo Zukovich, I had an "aha" moment.  I had flown to a yoga conference to work specifically with her and her student, Matthew Sanford.  Haven continued a yoga practice after losing my left leg to a traumatic bus accident four years prior, left me hungry to learn as much as possible about adaptations I could make to my personal practice.  What I received from that weekend far surpassed my expectations.  Not only did I gain insight to how I could modify traditional asanas, but for the first time since beginning my practice I encountered the presence of a person who challenged me to step out of the norm and begin to "feel" the pose as if I were contorting my body into a fine piece of art.  Embodiment is a concept I think about every time I have the privilege to work with Jo.  When she is teaching, her love of yoga emanates from her very soul; stressing the importance of breath and personal inquiry as one practices.  Jo never fails to help as many of her students as she can; digging around the prop room (while continuing to teach!) to see if there is a belt, block, sand bag, or tinciest piece of cloth that will help the individual's experience.  Jo's classes are challenging.  Uplifting.  And, most importantly fun.  Never failing to suggest we smile while we hold our fiftieth down ward facing dog!  More then anything.  It's been a blessing to share the very space with her.

Margaret Westley

Janet Langley ...

"When I first started doing yoga, I went to classes to escape what I realize now was a low level depression. After meeting Jo, and becoming her student, I learned to appreciate all aspects of my life and the world -- even the difficult parts -- as I learned also to appreciate how my body works, and how my mind, thoughts and body interact. Thanks to Jo’s diligent guidance, infectious love of life, and unwavering devotion to yoga, I found the courage to live fully with my eyes open."

Janet Langley
Certified Iyengar Instructor, owner of Rose Yoga Center, Medford, Oregon


Jeff Pastore ...

"After a few false starts at taking up Yoga, I was introduced to Jo Zukovich and her flavor of Iyengar Yoga.  Having visited several studios I'd been introduced to a variety of styles and teachers.  Jo was by far the best. Why? you may ask ...  It was her unique ability to put into words what others couldn't.  Jo not only demonstrated impeccable form, she was able to communicate the intangible and seemingly esoteric aspects of the art that made it click for me.  That and her positive vibe and wealth of knowledge of the practice just make it a joy to go to Yoga.

Thanks Jo!"

Jeff Pastore


Ann Clark ...

"A casual student of Yoga for many years—off and on—I came to the SD Yoga Studio in 1976. I was converted immediately to being a regular student.   Jo and her wonderful instructors, including hubby Mike, were the most skillful, empathetic, and eclectic group I had ever encountered.  By eclectic I mean all wonderfully skilled in the Iyengar method and poses, extremely committed, good teachers, and each unique in his or her own style and method. It made for a constantly challenging regime of classes. Classes with Jo herself, however, were always the most challenging.  Later, Jo did a series of lunch-time seminars for my company’s corporate clients and she was a huge hit.  She is especially skilled at taking people just where they are — no matter how chubby, out of shape, stiff, etc. — and making them feel like that is a perfect place to start yoga.  Not an easy feat in a corporate setting over the lunch hour!

In all these years she has not changed.  She is incredibly skillful as both a practitioner and teacher, passionate and committed to her own practice of yoga,and a wonderfully compassionate human, being and doing.  My last comment to her was that she should put more pictures of herself on her website as she is beautiful to watch as well as to learn from.  I hope that anyone reading this will jump at the opportunity to experience Jo Zukovich in class, through her website or as a friend.  Those of us who are lucky enough to have her in our lives are truly among the most fortunate, and the most blessed."


Dr. Ann D. Clark
CEO and Chairwoman of the Board
ACI Specialty Benefits


Vicky O'Riordan ...

After studying with Jo Zukovich for the past 8 years I can say she is an extraordinary teacher. Her dedication to the practice of Yoga, to her own teacher B.K.S. Iyengar, and her students is the motivating force in her teaching. Her classes are instructive, enlightening, powerful, intense and fun. What makes Jo such an authoritative and influential teacher is the way she communicates to her students what she has personally learned through her 30 years of doing yoga. Jo brings this active and ongoing knowledge to every pose she breaks open for her students. Her deep love of yoga shines through as Jo examines each pose with both joy and enthusiasm. Jo continually searches out the best way for her students to personally realize their own poses.

As a teacher Jo pulls together all the classical modes of learning in a meaningful way. Jo combines the actions of seeing, hearing and doing so her students can come to understand the pose on the deepest level. In addition she often recounts stories of the Hindu gods who have inspired certain poses to give her students yet another level of understanding of the pose itself. Jo constantly encourages and inspires her students using multiple forms of engagement. As she demonstrates a pose Jo will discuss the finer points of alignment as well as the essential mode of the pose; heavy, light, large, small, masculine, feminine, etc. and in this way her students begin to understand the asanas as both physical and mental.

Her extraordinary ability to inspire her students to be the best they can is matched by the subtleness of her individual instruction. Sometimes towards the end of a class she has given her students information on so many different and insightful levels that a light touch of her finger will cause her student to realize a profound shift of the muscle here, the skin there. Jo is truly an amazing person and teacher.

Vickie O'Riordan, Images Curator
Head, Technical & Digital Services
Arts Library, University of California, San Diego
Vice President, Visual Resources Association

Sarah Eberst ...

There are so many aspects of Jo's workshop in Portugal to recommend --- the camaraderie, the wonderful classes, the great food and beautiful setting to name just a few. But I think I had two experiences as a result of the workshop that I want to share. The first was during the week itself. By about Wednesday, I noticed a difference in my savasana. For the first time, in over eight years of practice, I think I really experienced the pose. Being away from work, the internet, the television and radio and having the chance to practice with Jo twice a day allowed my brain and body to really experience the relaxation that the pose offers. It was a pretty cool moment of discovery. The other aspect was what I discovered once I returned home to San Diego and my regular life. You know how so often we come back to work from a vacation, and within a couple days we find ourselves right back at the same level of stress? Well, not this time. The sense of peace and well being I had during the workshop has stayed with me, and I find myself, five months later, still enjoying the benefits of that week at Casa Mimosa. I can't recommend the workshop enough.

Sarah Eberst

Lori Magana ...

I had the good fortune of meeting and studying with Jo Zukovich during the summer of 2008. After having been inspired by Matt Sanford, and realizing a new vision for my work as a physical therapist and yoga teacher, I knew I had to learn and study Iyengar yoga. Matt suggested I study Iyengar yoga with someone "kind and loving". A few weeks later, I flew to Minnesota to meet Jo, when I took my first weekend Iyengar workshop with her at MindBody Solutions.

Even though I have taught hatha yoga for 5 years, Iyengar was new to me, and the thought of this new experience was frightening. Jo immediately put me at ease! In an instant, I felt at home with her and her teaching. She created a safe place for me to explore and grow. I felt so comfortable with her, I wanted to study with her more intensively. So, during the summer of 2008, I flew from West Virginia to San Diego to study with her on two different occasions. I combined all levels of Iyengar classes at SDYS with private lessons with Jo, so that I could understand better and experience the principles of Iyengar yoga and alignment, knowing that this would translate into my work with those with disabilities.

I learned so much! Because of my time with her, my personal practice has changed, my teaching has changed, and I feel more confident in my ability to teach yoga to all bodies.
Jo's wisdom, kindness, and open heart have inspired me. I am lucky, not only to consider her one of my honored teachers, but also a friend.

Lori Magana
Physical therapist, certified yoga therapist
Charleston, WV


Matthew Sanford - of Jo's many students:

LA Yoga Magazine; Graceful, Light and Tuned In, By Yvonne Pesquera, March 2007, Vol. 6/# 2,   ...

Teacher Profile: Jo Zukovich

A teacher once told Jo Zukovich: “You won’t understand the value of teaching until you’ve been teaching for 20 years.” At the time, Jo couldn’t imagine what fruits her teaching career would bear in the future. But now that she’s been teaching for 20 years, Jo understands. She sees the nature of our physical beings, and describes our bodies as tiny universes, as beautiful and vast as the outer universe we live in.

The practice of yoga has been a steady companion in Jo’s life. She remembers practicing in 1968 – the year her first child was born, and the year Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were both assassinated. She embraced the practice of yoga as an art form, so she became a serious student and started teaching full-time.

Jo acknowledges that yoga classes were simpler in those days: they usually consisted of only 12-15 poses and were held at a YMCA or in someone’s living room. But Jo’s unwavering dedication to practicing and studying placed her firmly on the path to becoming a certified Iyengar teacher.

“Fifty percent of what I know I’ve learned from my students.”

On one of her first trips to India to study with B.K.S. Iyengar, Jo was struck by the realization that yoga is a wide-ranging subject. She thus returned to India several times to continue studying with the Iyengars.

In 1990, Jo and her husband, Mike Zukovich (also a yoga teacher), opened the San Diego Yoga Studio. This was at a time when yoga studios were not part of the local business landscape. In fact, the landlord was so cautious; he wouldn’t rent to them until he first visited one of their yoga classes.

As Jo’s teaching career matured, new students streamed into her life. Even though all students impact the teacher, one student, in particular, taught Jo the most she has ever learned about yoga.

Matthew Sanford was a graduate student at the University of California Santa Barbara when he was first introduced to Jo. He had been paralyzed from the chest down at the age of 13 in a car accident. Reminiscent of how yoga was taught for thousands of years, Jo worked with Matthew on a one-on-one basis.

Matthew recalls that Jo would practice as if she were paralyzed in order to visualize the core of his pose. As the teacher of a paraplegic student, Jo was compassionate, open and creative – without trying to “fix” his disability. They didn’t work on perfecting poses, especially since some (such as standing poses) are impossible for Matthew. Instead, Jo helped him cultivate a presence within his body through awareness, breath and attention.

“Jo’s instructions reverberate throughout the studio like a low hum under the breath of a yoga practice.”

Without question, teaching a student who is paralyzed from the chest down requires thinking about yoga and teaching at a different level. It requires a teacher who knows the deeper practices of yoga. Matthew found that Jo had enough awareness to allow him to proceed at his own pace and that her ego was not invested in his progress. Matthew was so inspired by Jo’s grace, joy and respect that he decided to teach yoga to people with disabilities.

About this process, Matthew says, “You have to feel that yoga doesn’t discriminate. Iyengar yoga allows us to see the components to adapt (at the core), so you can have a mind-body relationship. Jo’s very good at letting yoga be a process. Over time, yoga unfolds benefits. If I hadn’t learned that [from Jo], I wouldn’t be able to teach students with disabilities today.”

Matthew wasn’t the only one unchanged by the experience of working together. “Fifty percent of what I know I’ve learned from my students,” said Jo. “[I’m reminded,] I have so much to learn, work on and practice. I’m never bored.”

The students in Jo’s regular group classes know they are in the presence of a master teacher. Not because her class is “better” than anyone else’s. It is because her teaching approach is light and graceful, yet always tuned in. Her words are ideals that inspire students and uphold a higher vision to which they can aspire. When she speaks, Jo’s instructions reverberate throughout the studio like a low hum under the breath of a yoga practice.

Yvonne Pesquera is a freelance writer in Carlsbad, California.

All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2002-2006
LA Yoga Ayurveda & Health Magazine


Para Quad News; Health & Sports by Margo Marchbank, May 2007

"What makes a successful sportsperson? Physical capacity obviously – being blessed with fast twitch muscles if you’re a sprinter; Thorpedo’s size 17 power paddles; short legs and a long torso for weightlifting. But then there’s that less quantifiable something – a combination of tenacity, endurance, the desire to win – mental capacity.

ParaQuad News this issue looks at health and sport. And in doing that, we examine some interesting perspectives on the relationship between that physical capacity – the body; and mental capacity – the mind.

This relationship between body and mind is a critical one, according to American yoga teacher and founder of the non-profit organization, Mind Body Solutions, Matthew Sanford. Now aged 41, Matthew became a T4-6 paraplegic at the age of 13 in a devastating car accident, which also caused the death of his father and older sister.

A keen sportsman before his accident, playing basketball as a young seventh grader in a team made up of older ninth graders, after the car crash he feels separated from his paralyzed body. He has a sense of "anger and disgust", with a body which he describes as feeling "foreign and full of pain". In Waking, his book published last year, Matthew writes of a slow waking over many years – to the ability to relate to his body, with the help of people such as Carole. "She shows me – through my body – how to relate to the physical and mental trauma that I hold", he writes. "Of course, the trained philosopher in me* is skeptical, but over time, he too must sit back and observe the awareness that begins to unfold through my body." (*After beginning a law degree, following in his father’s footsteps, Matthew switched to philosophy, undertaking postgraduate studies.)

This gradual waking led him, in 1991, with considerable trepidation, to attend his first yoga class. "I had no idea what to expect, no idea if yoga was even possible for a paralyzed person." Together Matthew and intuitive teacher Jo explored Iyengar yoga, adapting poses, and finding out what Matthew describes as the ‘possibilities of yoga and paralysis’. In the west, the word yoga is often used to refer to Hatha yoga, of which Iyengar is one school. Iyengar yoga emphasizes posture, and the development of balance and alignment. It also makes use of props: blocks, pillows and balls. "Props are fabulous for anyone with a disability," Matthew says. "Iyengar is great because it does individual poses: breaks them down more, and maximizes the level of mind-body integration. There are a lot of poses in other styles of yoga I can’t do – the flowing style, for example." (This style of yoga is called Ashtanga, and links a series of poses into a single flow.)

There’s also a school in the United States which teaches ‘chair yoga’ for people with disabilities, but Matthew says, while not dismissing that approach entirely, recognizing it is suitable for some people, says, "there’s only so much yoga you can do in a chair. Freedom for me was getting out of it – you need to go beyond the chair."

On a practical level, Matthew argues the benefits of yoga practice, for all people, but especially those with a disability, are "increased balance and strength, and a greater sense of well being". Over time, he explains, you develop "ways for the mind to move through the body which are not related to muscle movement. It’s not going to make you walk, but you will have a new experience if you ‘listen’ – the level of sensation is much more subtle."

Matthew teaches yoga in his home state of Minnesota, but only about a quarter of his students are people with SCI. "There’s a real push for people with SCI to become involved in athletics," he says, "using the ‘will’ to overcome disabilities. I tend to stay away from words like ‘overcome’ because it’s still tied to the concept of a ‘damaged’ body."

"That’s all great stuff, (athletics), but it’s much more important for your quality of life to learn how to listen to your body: the ‘silences’. My goal is to empower people with disabilities to have some sort of mind-body practice."

"Current rehabilitation practice treats SCI as a physical injury alone," without considering the balance of body and mind, so as well as teaching, Matthew is a frequent traveler around the United States, giving lectures to health professionals on integrative health. "He argues passionately that "minds and bodies work better together: you don’t want to have a mind which is at odds with your body. Mind and body – it’s an incredibly powerful combination," he concludes...."

Article is courtesy of Para Quad News,,
click here for a copy of the article
Para Quad News Health & Sports

Positive Thinking Magazine, Mar/Apr 2008

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Monday, October 08, 2012