Coughing in (Un)Comfortable Quiet

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Vicki Thompson

Picture this, you’re in a 60 minute Restorative Yoga class, in an enclosed room surrounded by many fellow yogis. You’re set up with your feet positioned above your head with the aid of a bolster over some blocks. Your head is slightly lifted by a soft tri-folded blanket. Arms spread wide, palms facing to the ceiling. Arguably one of the most comfortable positions of your stressfully busy day.

(This image is a recreation of the position aforementioned during a hospital stay)


You are encouraged to let the breath flow through your body like a river, in through your nose, picturing it flowing through your body, past your throat and down out of your toes. That’s all fine and good, unless you have CF. The breath gets stuck at the Great Wall of China - aka. your mucus ridden lungs. There are no convenient Rip Van Winkle bridges in sight or Waitomo caves to escape the inevitable. The only way through this proverbial wall is a cough. One cough leads to two, two to four, four to many many more. Yup, this is what happened to me the other day in my Restorative Yoga class filled with 20 people all quietly breathing while I am successfully inducing a coughing fit.

I like to think that no one notices or cares. I like to think that they all can meditate through my coughing and are perfectly content and restoring their bodies while I keep coughing. However, the unfortunate truth is that I didn’t get up and remove myself from the room because I thought my cough would eventually stop. Well, It didn’t stop. My coughing relentlessly continued until the class flipped over to lay on our stomachs in a relaxing childs pose.



Of the 60 minute class of restorative torture, the last 10 were blissful. My breath flowed freely and I forgot about telling myself not to cough. Some participants of that class might claim that I ruined their relaxation class. I saw it in some of the looks after class, a quick glance saying “Oooooh, you’re the cougher.” There was one person in particular, I felt her negative glace and emotion it before I saw it in her eyes. It was the woman next to me who coincidently kept breathing hard whenever I coughed. I dismissed this heavy timely breathing to her being perhaps in deep unconscious mediation, blissfully floating above her body, you know, having one of those out-of-body experiences. Yes, thats what was happening in my head. This however, was not the reality.

The first thing I did after the class was to make an effort to communicate this to the newly coined “Heavy Timely Breather” next to me when she came back from her out-of-body experience. I said, “I am so sorry about my cough, I am not contagious, it’s a lung condition cystic fibrosis.” Her reply was, “Oh, I wished you could have told me that, that’s all I was concerned about because I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and I kept thinking to myself, there’s no way she wouldn’t come to class sick, she just wouldn’t do that. She can’t be sick. But now, I feel so bad because you couldn’t control it and I’ve done a lot of work at fundraising events for CF and understand……” You get the point, and I wasn’t trying to make her feel “bad” for me but that’s how it goes sometimes. She was concerned about her health, as you or I would be and am when you hear someone cough.

All CF’ers have found themselves in this situation. Coughing in a setting that is allegedly quiet. My advice for CF’ers is to immediately communicate to others first and foremost, you are not contagious! Most people don’t necessarily mind the cough, as long as they know it’s not going to get them sick. So be upfront, spare the details, just say, I’m not contagious. No need to go into details from here, but if you deem necessary then go ahead and say it.

Maybe, I should have left the classroom to cough my lungs out and it would have felt amazing. I didn’t though. Maybe out of ego, maybe out of denial, maybe because of my inner voices battling it out in my head telling myself I shouldn’t have to leave. Whatever circumstance you find yourself in, we all have been there and we really need to do what makes our bodies and minds feel comfortable. And I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to deal with this situation. 

I guess, in conclusion, I am writing for those CF’ers who have dealt with this before to help affirm it happens to all of us. There’s no way to stop it and it’s something we deal with. I suppose I am also writing to convey the message to those without CF that I hope people can learn to understand this disease and the side effects that coincide with it. Once people understand more about the disease, they will be able to emphasize. I also want to exaggerate that our coughing while exercise is actually the best sound we could make. (aka...give us a high five!) It means the exercise is working and we are more able to breath strong, deeper, longer than before exercising. Lastly, I write, for the basic human instinct of compassion. CF or not, I think it is safe to not assume or judge in any circumstance, because we all have a story and its not written on our foreheads.

Thanks for reading and for a side note and your listening pleasure, I would like to encourage you to listen to Dirty Money by Antibalas because music makes the world go.



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