Borrowed Time

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"I got my ass kicked for nine to 12 months. It definitely wasn't easy, but it sure is easy now, I'll tell you that," he says. "My life is simple now."

By the time Jordan was recovering successfully from his transplant, the simple act of breathing had become more complicated for Brooke. With mucus clogging her lungs, the act of getting enough oxygen into her body was a painful task rather than a no-brainer. On bad days, she consciously had to think about each coming breath, counting and planning each step.

When she inhales on a bad day, the sensation is one of a gigantic clamp around her torso. Unable to expand or contract her lungs freely, she has to pause often, her body working overtime to get enough oxygen into her lungs through the mucus inside them.

Most disturbing for Brooke, for whom digestion was always the biggest challenge, she was no longer able to hold weight. In fact, she was losing it rapidly, dropping 10 pounds from her already slight frame in about a month. Without digestive enzymes to help her break down and process food, Brooke says her body would reject food in a "sort of slow and gruesome experience, mimicking food poisoning but without the vomiting."

As her body was breaking down, Brooke says she couldn't shake the feeling that the way she was approaching her disease was wrong, that she didn't want to spend her life pumped full of antibiotics.

"If there was any way to keep my system strong enough to avoid that, I would rather put in an enormous amount of hours than go on what is essentially permanent antibiotic therapy. I felt unsure of my body's ability to tolerate those antibiotics over time," she says.

At this point in her life, Brooke was practicing yoga religiously, having started when she was 18 and becoming progressively more interested in the elements behind the exercise and Eastern philosophy and thought.

She went from feeling uncertain about antibiotic therapy to dead set against it about 10 years ago while battling a raging lung infection. She was following a home IV antibiotic regimen, having refused hospitalization, and began to notice it was hard to keep her balance, odd for a woman who had practiced yoga for the past decade. The next time a home nurse came to check the IV, Brooke mentioned the situation and was told inner ear problems were a normal side effect of the drug and there was a slight possibility she could lose her hearing.

"I stopped the regimen that night," she says. "It was one of those moments of confirmation where everything that you think or have thought for a really long time all of a sudden clicks in your mind. I had enough data to know that these treatments are not the route for me, so I started to shift naturopathically."

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.

"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.

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Megan Irwin
Contact: Megan Irwin