It is almost ironic. In a community that is questioning the validity of yoga inside the classroom, is also hosting an event that is using the very same practice as a means to combat a chronic, progressive and fatal genetic disease. On November 3, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will host a revolutionary fundraiser – The Big Breathe. It is the first fundraiser of its kind to attack a disease at its most basic level – breathing.
Breathing is a vital element of yoga. It cleanses us, empowers us and even heals us. With cystic fibrosis, the act of breathing is equally as important. Cystic fibrosis is all about breathing. Or to be more exact, the gradual loss of this privilege.
The average CF patient loses about 4% of their lung function every year. A defective protein inside the cells of their organs causes a faulty transfer of sodium and chloride. As a result, thick sticky mucus builds up. Inside the lungs, this mucous causes inflammation, chronic infections, progressive scarring and eventually irreversible damage. It also blocks the digestive enzymes that are naturally secreted in the pancreas causing both malabsorption and malnutrition.
To combat the disease, patients must adhere to an intensive health regimen requiring hours of therapy, handfuls of pills, frequent hospital stays and an army of doctors. The disease not only takes a physical toll on its patients and care-takers, but also an emotional one, as well.
At a recent CF event, my son (Sean, diagnosed with CF at the age of 2) stood up in front of an entire room of adults and confessed that, “I am a very ambitious person, with high goals and expectations for myself. And I’m sure a lot of other CF patients are as well. But at times, it can be hard to swallow the fact that I may not be able to reach those goals and exceed those expectations, because I am being restrained by CF.” Whereas most boys Sean’s age are worried about competing in high school sports, getting good enough grades for college and just simply fitting in with their peers; Sean carries an additional burden. His own mortality. Sean is well aware of the fact that the average life expectancy for a person with CF is only 37. At the age of 14, he is almost considered middle aged.
Recently, there has been increased hope in the search to find a cure for cystic fibrosis. Last January, Vertex Pharmaceuticals (La Jolla, CA) just released a newly FDA approved medication that treats CF for 4% of the population. For the first time in any disease history, a drug was developed that attacks the underlying cause and not just the symptoms. Their ground-breaking approach to combating a disease is being adopted by other laboratories and other diseases across the nation. Currently in their labs, another drug is being developed that promises to treat CF for the remaining 96%. It also hopes to open the floodgates for other similar genetic diseases. But so much more work needs to be done.
For this reason, I am doing what any mom would do. What any of you would do if put in my same situation. I raise money and awareness for Cystic Fibrosis medical research. I also practice yoga. It is a healthy reminder to keep myself focused on my own ability to keep breathing, as well as my son’s continued efforts to fight for every breath.
The Big Breathe hopes to accomplish this and so much more. One of the biggest underlying reasons for this event is that yoga is an ideal form of movement for a person living with Cystic Fibrosis – strengthening vital core muscles, opening airways and reducing stress and anxiety. For this reason, western medicine has recently turned to yoga to help adults and children cope with a variety of chronic illnesses. In turn, the CF Foundation would like to offer this event as an equally ideal way to combat the disease. Eight different yoga sessions are all centered on bringing awareness to the disease, as well as hope to find a cure for it. Participants can register for the event at www.thebigbreathe.com. The day’s line-up includes:
- 6:00 am – 7:00 am – Morning Meditation – CHOPRA CENTER’S DEVIDJI – Offering a heart centered stillness, followed by a metta meditation. With hope to send love and health out into our community and beyond.
- 7:30 am to 8:30 am – Vinyasa Yoga – AKASHA YOGA- Stephanie Pafford will offer a Vinyasa yoga class for all levels, in which movement is synchronized to the breath. The breath becomes an important component because the teacher will instruct you to move from one pose to the next on an inhale or an exhale.
- 9:00 am to 10:00 am – Vinyasa Yoga – MARK WHITWELL – Mark Whitwell has enjoyed a lifelong relationship with the teachings of Krishnamacharya through his students. He created the Heart of Yoga Foundation Peace Project which brings the practical, healing wisdom of yoga to people living in active conflict zones and other troubled areas of the world.
- 10:30 am to 11:30 am – Vinyasa – ROSA YOGA – Karen Rose Callan teaches a vinyasa flow focused on the true adventure of gratitude in the moment. She is dedicating this class to her 2 year old granddaughter, Ellis Rose, who is a Cystic Fibrosis hero along with so many others. Through story and song, Karen is sure to make this an amazing and memorable practice.
- 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm – HATHA/ theme: Soul Flow – SOUL OF YOGA – By bringing a mindfulness and spirituality throughout all their teachings, Tom and Trisha Kelly will share a heart-opening class for all. The couple delivers a beautifully intertwining teaching style of East & West for healthier body, mind, and spirit that leaves a lasting impression.
- 1:30 pm to 2:30 pm – VINYASA flow – YOGA SIX (Formerly Haute Yoga) – Kenna will lead a dynamic Vinyasa flow that delves into the beautifully intricate connection between breath and movement. Accompanied by the sweet sounds of up-and-coming singer/songwriter Luke Williams on guitar, this class will restore the body, calm the mind, melt open the heart and…. most importantly, promote awareness of Cystic Fibrosis and how we can collectively make a difference.
- 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm – Vinyasa – YOGA 80 – Reegan will teach a class focused on Pranayama and moving from pose to pose using breath. Her Set Sequence accommodates all levels of students from beginners to advanced. She will be accompanied by saxophonist, Daniel De La Cruz (of the band Slightly Stoopid) and his quartet.
- 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm – Ashtanga – TIM MILLER – Tim Miller has been studying and teaching Ashtanga Yoga for over thirty years, which he imparts in a dynamic, yet compassionate and playful manner. Tim teaches workshops and retreats throughout the United States and abroad.
The Big Breathe is more than just one day and one collective breath for a cure. It is proof that sometimes we don’t need to look very far to find the answers that we need the most. Yoga is a vital part of the North Coast San Diego community. There is a studio on literally every corner. In addition, our local children’s hospital has adopted its practices as a viable tool to treat anxiety, pain and depression for our youngest of patients. While many may question yoga inside the classroom, yoga inside the wall of our local hospital has proven to be an invaluable resource – blending ancient eastern ideologies with modern medicine. And if an acclaimed local medical institution is embracing yoga to treat our most fragile of children, just image what it can do for the health of our community as a whole. Yoga is all about celebrating the breath. The Big Breathe hopes to do the same. But with a very specific purpose. Sponsored by Rady Children’s Hospital, endorsed by the Director of the Cystic Fibrosis Clinic at Rady Children’s Hospital and funded by the local chapters of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, it literally promises to breathe new life into a cure.