Mind Body Connections Europe: A Story of Faith, Friendship, and A Shared Vision
“What is happening might be more profound than you know. Cultivate the happening.”
Those who have been part of our Opening Yoga/Adapting Yoga for Disability training will recognize this quote – and the feeling of something happening even if they can’t quite articulate it. What follows is the story of four passionate yoga teachers and students who all began as solo travelers on their MBS journey yet recall the way their individual realizations felt like something much bigger. They trusted the hours which eventually became Adaptive Yoga U.K. and has since evolved to become Mind Body Connections Europe.
This story begins in 2010 when Jo Duffin had recently given birth and was seeking re-connection to her yoga practice before teaching again. She explains that having never been fully comfortable with adjusting students as a corrective measure, she signed up for a workshop with Matthew Sanford called The Art of Adjusting when he was in London. At the time Jo wasn’t familiar with Matthew but like many, she felt an instant connection with his teachings. “Something about the workshop really touched me,” she begins. “This was a different approach, everything about it felt both familiar enough to feel like home, but also completely fresh and new… it blew me away.” The following year, Jo gave birth to her second child and continued her yoga practice but it wasn’t long after that Jo found herself “wondering if that American guy ever came back to London…”
Meanwhile, Frederique (Fredee) Sardais had met a woman who had served in the U.K. Air Force as a pilot. The woman jokingly asked Fredee if she might be able to teach yoga to pilots but on a more serious note, wondered if Fredee might be able to teach military personnel, particularly those returning home, some with new injuries and disabilities. Until this conversation, Fredee hadn’t even considered the possibility of adaptive yoga. “At this point the thought that any yoga approach existed in relation to working with mobility impairments had never crossed my mind,” she says. After this conversation, Fredee turned to Google to research the subject where she found Matthew’s work and book, Waking. She was fascinated and quickly made the decision that she needed to travel to the U.S. to study with Matthew when a colleague teased, “You don’t need to go so far. He’s coming to TriYoga [in London].” A month later, Fredee was experiencing her first adaptive yoga class and after just five minutes, she was even more certain that she needed to dive deeper into this work. When she spoke to Matthew and said she’d be coming to the U.S., he laughed and joked, “You’re crazy!” But, even he could not have predicted how this story would continue to unfold.
The following year, Fredee kept her word and traveled to Minnesota for Level I of Opening Yoga/Adapting Yoga for Disability, leaving with a new sense of purpose yet the pressure of building an adaptive yoga program by herself. “[After the training] I returned to the U.K., rich with new skills, dreams and huge nervousness about it all… At that point I’m the only one in the U.K. to have done [the training] and really I feel the weight of the [loneliness].”
Around the same time that Fredee was pondering how she could possibly share MBS’ work and vision in Europe, Jo was checking to see if Matthew was going to be back in London and as luck (or fate, she wonders) would have it, he was offering another series of workshops the following month. This time she signed up for the full series and had time to share deeper conversations with Matthew. For her, this was a turning point. “That sealed the beginning of the journey… Without really being able to identify it, everything began to shift,” Jo says.
The year ticked over to 2013 and Fredee has made the pilgrimage back to Minnesota for Level II of Opening Yoga training. During her travels, she remembers dreaming and hoping for company to help her share this work. “More than ever in my thoughts and prayers I’m asking for a team to come together U.K. side to do this all with me… It’s too big for a single teacher.” Little did she know, her travel companions weren’t too far away…
In the course of the year, as Jo felt things shifting and Fredee was still holding onto hope that she would find company in this journey, a yoga teacher trainee based in Italy named Suzanne Galfredi had been researching yoga for disability and the brain, which led her to Mind Body Solutions. Suzanne e-mailed MBS and wondered whether there were any teachers in Europe who had attended training or if there were any workshops planned for Europe. She found out that Fredee had studied with Matthew and MBS so Suzanne reached out to Fredee. She also learned that Matthew would be returning to teach in London and immediately signed up. At the London workshop, Suzanne and Fredee were able to finally connect in person while Matthew introduced Jo and Fredee. Before long, Jo, Fredee, Suzanne and Matthew were out having dinner and this most certainly was another pivotal point in this story. Matthew saw an opportunity, potential – and realized this meeting was not just a coincidence. Fredee remembers his words to the group, “‘You should hang out together more… You should probably think about working together.” Jo could already feel that this connection was meant to be part of her journey. “Getting to know Fredee and Suzanne coincided with my process of realization, we were fellow travellers – company felt good,” Jo says. It would also seem that Fredee’s prayers were being answered.
Fredee’s hopes continued to become reality when a new adaptive yoga student named Louise Edwards entered the fold in 2014. Louise lives with a form of cerebral palsy that causes hypermobility and very sensitive sound stimulus, which causes balance issues. Living in the busiest city in Europe was physically and mentally draining for Louise who had no choice but to spend a full day recovering when it came time to the weekend. Frustrated with the doctor’s solution of using drugs to sedate her body, she began to investigate neuroplasticity and PTSD studies. Eventually she came across Waking, which resonated deeply with her experience. “The story so profoundly describes the yoga journey Matthew took that reconciled his body and mind after years of struggling with expectations of doctors, setbacks and disappointment. I wanted to have that kind of peace and sweetness, too… I wanted adaptive yoga but how?” Louise wondered.
Living in West London, it was luck (or, perhaps fate at work once again?) that Louise found that Fredee was teaching adaptive yoga classes nearby. Of her first class, Louise says, “Attending my first adaptive yoga class was physically calming and enlightening but also an emotional thunderbolt, a homecoming at a very deep level.” As she continued practicing, she discovered the deep connection and support that arises from being with a group. “The weekly class gives me a space where I can be a disabled person, I can openly struggle and feel good about it, and I can unite mind and body in a peaceful way,” Louise explains. After four years of practicing yoga, she has felt improved balance, steadiness when she walks, not to mention a more compassionate relationship with her body. She also notices a stronger ability to support herself through life’s challenges.
A few months after coming to class, Louise approached Fredee about her desire to expand adaptive yoga offerings in Europe. The two sat in conversation and as Louise remembers it, “As the outside grew darker, our little spark of mutual inspiration for adaptive yoga grew stronger.” While their initial hope was to offer more classes, they quickly realized there weren’t enough trained teachers to fulfill this need nor could everyone invest the time and resources to travel to Minnesota for training at MBS. As this challenge arose, part of the solution was already in action as Jo and Suzanne were heading to MBS together for Opening Yoga Level I/II, this time for a whole weeklong training. Fredee and Louise both knew that there would be a place for them in their efforts and collaboration.
In June 2015, Suzanne, Jo and Fredee led their first workshop together in Milan, Italy called “Know Your Practice” which introduced Matthew and MBS’ work as well as the principles of teaching adaptive yoga. This workshop marked their first collaboration as Adaptive Yoga U.K. and the start of what they hope to share now as Mind Body Connections Europe. In the background, Louise is working to keep the formation of Adaptive Yoga UK in motion and the team has another big opportunity to co-teach a set of workshops introducing the principles of adaptive yoga at the British Wheel of Yoga Convention in 2016 (The U.K.’s largest yoga membership organization).
Over the years the group had shared plenty of meetings around kitchen tables, forming a deep bond and friendship. In 2017, the group began to consider how they could expand their work, offerings, and ultimately, share the benefits of adaptive yoga and an awakened mind-body connection to more people in Europe. While the group had already led several introductory workshops, they felt they were ready to share the MBS vision in a deeper way. They just needed the permission, support, and insight from the “MBS Mothership” in Minnesota.
After hours of conversation with Matthew about their vision, it was agreed that the next step would be for the team to travel together to Minnesota for an Opening Yoga Level I/II training in April 2018 to observe and pinpoint the key messages they would need to share back in Europe. After returning home, the group was burning with passion and a deeper commitment to share this work – possibly more than ever before. In Fall 2018, they formally launched as Mind Body Connections Europe and hit the ground running. Having already presented at the Accessible Yoga Conference in Berlin and plans to return to Italy to lead teacher training, it would seem this is only the tip of the iceberg. Our mission of transforming trauma, loss and healing is spreading around the globe – and so, slowly, but surely the world becomes a better place.
Visit the Mind Body Connections Europe website to learn more about their adaptive/accessible yoga classes, training, and workshops in Europe.
Your support equips teachers like Jo, Fredee, Suzanne, and Louise with the tools and resources they need to share yoga across Europe – in turn, enabling us to spread our mission further than ever before. Donations help provide scholarships to our training programs and ongoing development of digital content to help adaptive yoga students and teachers continue their practice while staying connected with the MBS community. Join us and become part of a story of global connection… donate today.