a reason to hope

By Joanne Lowe

On April 22nd, 2007, the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario (SSO) held its 2nd annual Yoga-thon for Schizophrenia’s Early Intervention Program. Families, friends and supporters of the SSO, and yoga enthusiasts raised funds and awareness to make a real difference in the lives of people with schizophrenia. The program seeks to raise awareness of psychotic disorders, increasing the chances of early diagnosis, treatment, and recovery among young people.

Yogi Tambiraja, whose son Eugene suffers from schizophrenia, founded the Yoga-thon two years ago. Eugene has had schizophrenia for nearly 20 years. It took about 3 years to diagnose his illness, and another few years to begin proper treatment. Unfortunately, a fair amount of damage was already done by this point.

A yoga teacher himself, Yogi started instructing a class for colleagues at his workplace, and all the class fees went directly to the SSO. While Yogi enjoyed raising funds in this way, he felt that he could do more, and so the Yoga-thon idea was born. He gathered friends, family, business associates and sponsors to begin this worthwhile fundraiser.

The event was held in the sunlit CBC Atrium in downtown Toronto. The day-long mini yoga retreat included guest speakers, a master yoga class, workshops, vegetarian cuisine, and live entertainment: talented young dancers from The Cabbagetown Dance Troupe, and a musical performance by SWAHA.

Preetha Stephens, a university student, addressed everyone at the event’s opening.  An eloquent and candid speaker, Ms. Stephens shared her experience with schizophrenia.  In November 2004, she suffered her first psychotic episode during which she became withdrawn, lost touch with reality and was delusional.  With an early diagnosis of schizophrenia, she received treatment and medication within one week.  She credits yoga with helping her find peace, harmony and focus in her recovery, and describes sitting calmly in lotus pose and deepening her breath while she waited to be admitted to the hospital.

After Preetha’s inspiring speech, Prahlada of the Toronto Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre led the master yoga class. He began with a demonstration and talk on pranayama and asana, reminding us that yoga is “not a competition, and all you need to practice yoga is the space and the motivation.” Prahlada’s encouragement, sense of humour, and dedicated team of yoga instructors assisted the group of 87 participants. 

 “I wanted to participate in the Yoga-thon because I think it is a unique, fun and healthy way to raise funds for a very worthy cause,” said Nikki Zinman.  “I feel good about supporting the Yoga-thon's goals of bringing greater public awareness and raising funds to assist early intervention programs.  I also rarely pass up a chance to practice yoga.”

Heather Buchan said that when she heard about the yoga-thon, “I thought, ‘What a fantastic cause!’ My father suffers from schizophrenia and has endured so much, so I wanted to raise money for the Society by doing something that gives me peace: yoga.”

This year the SSO’s goal for the Yoga-thon was to raise $25,000.  Together, we managed to raise just that, and then some.

The SSO is a non-profit organization offering a reason to hope and the means to cope for families and individuals affected by schizophrenia. SSO provides support, education, and advocacy on behalf of people and families affected by schizophrenia through its network of chapters in communities across Ontario. For more information, go to www.schizophrenia.on.ca

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life