Yoga aficionados will bend, stretch, breathe for cancer

Originally published in The Daily Item Jan. 5, 2015.

On Jan. 25, over 100 local yogis will bend, stretch and breathe at YogaLive in Swampscott in the name of helping North Shore cancer patients to do the same.”

Now in its fourth year, the event is an annual fundraiser for the Sue de Vries Cancer Foundation, an organization started by Marblehead resident Sue de Vries before she succumbed to breast cancer nine years ago, with the goal of providing cancer patients with local access healing therapies to help them cope with their disease.

Friend and board member Danielle Jacobs described in an interview how of all the trials that de Vries faced while battling breast cancer, it was the frequent commutes to treatments that were most frustrating.

Jacobs recalls how de Vries would commute from Marblehead to a Boston hospital for medical treatment, and still on other days would need to make the drive to Newton for therapy offered by the Wellness Community, a organization that would provide massage, yoga, reiki and art therapy to cancer patients. Jacobs said with three small children, what was meant to be a relaxing treatment for de Vries became a stressful event.

“She wanted to offer wellness therapies to people on the North Shore,” said Jacobs. “It was her mission, and we promised we would carry it on.”

Before de Vries’ death, Jacobs and others helped her form the Sue de Vries Cancer Foundation to raise money for other North Shore cancer patients to get that same mind-body healing closer to home. Over the years, the foundation has evolved from sessions in a borrowed living room space in Marblehead, to its own space in Salem, and finally a dedicated space at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Danvers campus, where there is a room for free massages named after de Vries. Jacobs estimates the foundation has donated $15,000 to $30,000 a year to the hospital.

Since all musicians and teachers at YogaLive are volunteering their time, the $35 advance admission (or $40 at the event) goes directly to pay for therapy for the cancer patients.

YogaLive is an hour-and-30-minute class beginning at 11 a.m. on Jan. 25 at Temple Shirat Hayem in Swampscott, featuring the instruction of six local yoga teachers for 10 to 20 minutes each, including Jacobs and fellow board member Larisa Forman, Ariela Halevi, Julie Pottier-Brown and Kathryn Whitney. Live musicians will play during the practice, featuring bassist Mike Rivard, cellist Rachel Barringer and percussionist Fabio Pirozzolo. Jacobs said although there will be some mats and blocks on hand, she encourages participants to bring their own.

Just like in other years, Jacobs said the practice will usually begin with breathing exercises, involve lots of flow and end with a guided meditation and end with a long relaxation period in savasana. But, she added, participants are free to make it their own practice, and come and go if needed. One year, a man came to meditate on his mat for the entire event, “and that’s fine,” said Jacobs.

Prior to the start of the class, there will be a marketplace with vendors, including fitness apparel company Athleta and therapeutic practitioners specializing in reiki, massage and chiropractic therapy, as well as local yoga studios sponsoring the event. Participants can purchase a YogaLive T-shirt.

With an expected attendance of about 120, Jacobs said what she loves most about the event is that it mimics the togetherness usually experienced at big yoga festivals or yoga teacher training workshops. “It’s just a really cool community event,” she said. “We bring everyone to do yoga together.”

What’s funny, said Jacobs with a laugh, is that de Vries didn’t really like yoga much. She described her as an “avid cyclist” who participated in the Pan-Mass Challenge every year until she died. But, said Jacobs, “Sue was a yogi in the way she lived her life — the way she battled her disease, in an inspiring and uplifting way, and trying to help people in the way she did. I think Sue was a yogi, even if she didn’t practice on the mat.”

For more information on the foundation and to purchase YogaLive tickets, go to or to foundation’s Facebook page at


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