Borrowed Time

The body Brooke Sterling works so hard to love was built to kill her

As she searched for a new survival strategy, Brooke turned more seriously to yoga, as a way to restructure her life and manage her disease.

When she took her first yoga class during her freshman year of college, Brooke was young and relatively healthy. A vivacious blonde, she was always looking for something new to try. The classroom was nothing special — a spare room in the gym on the campus of Pitzer's sister school Pomona. But Brooke will never forget it. She likens that first class to the euphoria of falling in love.

Brooke Sterling
Giulio Sciorio
Brooke Sterling
Brooke (foreground) and Jordan Sterling
Brooke (foreground) and Jordan Sterling

"You know when people look at each other and know that they're each other's partner or soul mate on site? This was the experience I had in that first class," she says. "I knew I was sitting on the mother lode. I don't remember entirely driving home."

Brooke began practicing on a regular basis, focusing on the Kundalini and Ashtanga styles of yoga. When she was 21, she took her first Bikram, or hot, yoga class.

"It was the hardest yoga class I'd ever taken, but the results in terms of feeling better are so immediate that you could not digest a pill and feel the effects more quickly," she says. "Yoga is no joke. The Bikram was strong for me."

The more she learned about Bikram yoga, the more intense her passion for the discipline became. After practicing for eight years, she attended training to become a certified Bikram teacher. Three years ago she opened her own studio, Bikram of Phoenix, in a strip mall next to a hair salon and an antiques store.

When she's inside the studio, Brooke does seem to breathe easier. She's created a purposeful sense of calm in the space. Incense or essential oils blaze, and the dim lights and muted brown walls command visitors to exhale, take it easy. On a table in front of the requisite lobby futon is an array of books: Meditation for Wimps, Return of the Rishi, Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About.

The place isn't always so serene. On a busy Saturday morning, the early class hasn't ended and already there's a large group gathering for the second. About 40 pairs of shoes are piled up by the front door.

Brooke guides the class through a sweltering 90-minute Bikram class in a strong voice, moving around often, readjusting clumsy poses, cracking jokes and narrating a story on the beauty of what yoga can do for a person. She is more in her element here teaching than she is anyplace else, she says.

After class she sits behind the front desk chatting happily with her clients. She manages to greet every single person in the packed studio by their name and is genuinely interested in how they respond to the question, "How ya doing?"

This is a community Brooke wants to turn into a much larger practice. Right now she offers 34 classes a week in five different yoga styles. Because just being in the heated studio can cause her to lose weight, Brooke is only able to teach five to six classes a week, depending on how she feels. The studio is also home to one naturopath and two massage therapists. Her main focus at the moment is to find a space that will let her project grow to a 40,000-square-foot practice with 10 naturopathic doctors, 15 massage therapists, and yoga that runs all day.

Though yoga and cystic fibrosis consume much of her thought, Brooke does have a life outside her studio. Though she's not in a relationship right now, Brooke does date and would like to have children of her own someday. She doesn't mention if CF affects her dating decisions or future children, though she does say she thinks yoga will help her carry a child someday.

"I better get on the ball, because I'll be 40," she says. "One thing that makes me think I would be able to carry a child, just because of my age, is because of yoga my other body systems [not affected by CF] are in really good order."

The effort Brooke expends just to keep herself alive is considerable. She lives alone to allow herself the quiet she needs to heal, and to provide a place to hibernate when she's feeling especially bad. She practices yoga daily — though she can't do Bikram every day because she would lose too much weight. Although she's absolutely tiny, she has to eat constantly in an attempt to stuff her body with enough nutrients to survive. Because her digestive system lacks normal enzymes, Brooke relies on a blend of natural (nutraceutical rather than pharmaceutical) digestive enzymes and stuffs her body with as much food as she can handle. She hates it, but she's working extremely hard to reach her goal weight of 125 pounds (she currently tips the scale at about 110).

"I'm irritated by the fact that I have to sit down and just eat all the goddamn time," she says. "I've resisted it, but my resistance is breaking down as my desire to gain weight increases."

In a society that values the waif, it seems intuitive that people might be jealous of a woman who can drop five to 10 pounds in a day simply by sitting in a hot room.

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Dino D
Dino D

RIP Jordan, I didn't know you well, but I knew you. May angels lift you safely to the heavens.

Dino D
Dino D

RIP Jordan. I didn't know you well, but I knew you. May angels lift you safely to the heavens.

Harry Thompson
Harry Thompson

Do you have an email address for Terry Greene Sterling?

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