Yoga Medicine is pleased to present Tina Clarke from Barcelona, Spain! Tina is a nutritional therapist and yoga teacher who underwent a double lung transplant after a lifelong struggle with Cystic Fibrosis left her with only 18% lung capacity. Crediting yoga and good nutrition, Tina was able to make a full recovery. She is now back to practicing yoga six times a week. Read Tina’s inspiring story of yoga and cystic fibrosis below in “The Breath of Life”. Please continue to share how yoga has been medicine for you on our website for a chance to be featured.
The Breath of Life: Yoga and Cystic Fibrosis
You really understand the meaning of “the breath of life” when your lung capacity diminishes to 18%. Literally, everything is a struggle – walking, getting showered, getting dressed and even eating.
I have Cystic Fibrosis, one of the most common genetic diseases among Caucasians. It is a disease that you are born with (genetic) and primarily affects the lungs and digestive system. It can also be associated with other illnesses or problems. This disease gives people shorter or longer amounts of time depending on the person. Some don´t make it through their childhood. I have always considered myself a lucky one, and I still do.
Though I have the most aggressive form of the disease, I have always lived with a positive attitude to life. I’ve always been determined to do the things I want to. My health was very good until my late teens. Then, at 21 years of age, I decided to take more control and responsibility for my health and wellbeing. I started with studying natural Nutrition to become a nutritional therapist. I hoped to help heal my body through diet. Then, I went on to study other therapies as well, for further emotional healing.
Finding Yoga at 38% Lung Capacity
Yoga was a slower starter for me. The first classes I took in my late teens and took classes on and off for many years. Then, just under 4 years ago I truly discovered the benefits of yoga. At this point, I had just 38% lung capacity. I had successfully had a baby with just 45% lung capacity, and now was a single mother living just outside Barcelona with no family nearby. But I chose this path, however challenging it is and has been.
After discovering how amazing I felt after my yoga classes, physically and mentally, I decided to do a teacher training course in Ashtanga Yoga. I was very nervous and wasn´t sure whether I would physically cope with the demanding schedule and practice. Anyway, I did it and passed my training. After that, I taught yoga for about 1 year. After that, my health started declining until several severe chest infections eventually diminished my lung capacity to just 18%. At this point, my mother came to live with me and my son for about 8 months. I could no longer manage all the daily jobs of looking after myself, my son and our home.
The Eventual Decline
Even though I couldn´t teach yoga, I still continued with my practice – by this point, I couldn´t even hold a downward facing dog, so my practice involved breathing and gently moving in whatever way I could. It was incredibly challenging and had to do it with oxygen from a machine that had been installed in my house. I had asked my doctor to put me on the double lung transplant list, as that was my only option now.
It was the most fearful time of my life, although day to day I played with my son as much as I could (mainly from the couch in my lounge) and I made myself go out for walks with my mum even though I could only walk a few metres before having to stop to catch my breath. My yoga mat and my mother were the two things that kept me coming back to a place of semi-peace when fear lurched through me. I was terrified of facing another winter and potential chest infections which could possibly kill me.
Practicing After a Double Lung Transplant
After just 3 months of being on the waiting list, I received the call for my transplant. As it happens, my mum had gone away for 3 days with my son, and I was alone when I received the call. Luckily, a very good friend hurried me to the hospital for my operation.
The transplant went very well, and just two weeks after my operation I was doing daily yoga in my hospital room. Once again, yoga (and my mum!)physically and mentally was getting me through. At 3.5 weeks I left the hospital (a very short time by European standards) and after just 5 weeks I shocked the doctors with my recovery. After a double lung transplant, your lung capacity increases gradually over a period of 6-12 months, hopefully to a point of “normal” lung function, or nearly normal. After just 5 weeks, with super healthy food, and daily yoga my lung function had got to 130% (it goes over 100% because it is calculated on your height and weight). My doctor, and I quote, said: “you are like a miracle”.
I am now 9.5 months post- op and I practice yoga 5-6 times weekly and continue to gain strength. I truly owe my life to yoga practice, and it is one of my foundations. Through breath and movement, I have connected with myself and my body so much more than ever before. Through this journey, I learnt to truly love my ailing physical body. I now am in awe of my body and what it achieves with a helping hand, so I look after it as best I can, with love, and every breath.