Borrowed Time

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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.

"People will say, 'I wish I had that problem.' It happens all the time," she says. "I try to answer gently, because if they knew, they would never say that."

Every morning when she wakes up, Brooke swallows a handful of supplements — usually about seven pills taken in one enormous gulp. She makes herself a shake to "douse" her body with nutrients. The ingredients sound less than appetizing: perfect food super green formula, ginseng and royal jelly, brewer's yeast buds, bee pollen, glutamine powder, colostrum. This is definitely something she has to talk herself into doing, a fact made clear by a printout attached to the bulletin board in her kitchen: "It is totally irrelevant if you feel up to it. You will make this shake every day for 40 days."

In addition to the nutrient-rich shake, she has a large breakfast: two eggs, mangoes, pita and hummus, tomatoes, and one cup of extremely strong coffee.

Two hours later, she eats a snack.

Two hours after that, she has lunch, another nutrient-rich feast.

Two hours later, another snack.

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Megan Irwin
Contact: Megan Irwin