Practicing yoga keeps his focus on life

Eyes closed, they sat cross-legged. Breathing in, then out, they listened. Their guide was a voice, both calm and strong.

“Be kind to yourself,” Paul MacNaughton told his yoga students. “Karma yoga is compassion for the body, compassion for the mind.”

The teacher leading a yoga class in an airy studio at Everett Community College’s new Fitness Center on Thursday wasn’t on the floor. He didn’t move his body like a snake would, or a cat. The yoga poses he could demonstrate he did from a seated position in a mobility scooter.

With his arms and his measured voice, MacNaughton gave precise instruction and gentle encouragement. Motions and positions he couldn’t do were demonstrated by his wife, Diane Brooks. From a yoga mat at his side, she is a partner in teaching.

MacNaughton, 64, has bone cancer, which is believed to have metastasized from prostate cancer first diagnosed in 2006. The cancer was discovered in February after an MRI found the cause of excruciating pain. A 4-inch tumor was found on his sacrum, a bone at the base of the spine, which had fractured. A later scan found a small tumor on a vertebrae.

In March, MacNaughton underwent three grueling weeks of radiation at Providence Regional Cancer Partnership in Everett. He was bedridden for more than a month.

Bone strengthening and hormone treatments are now aimed at slowing the cancer’s spread. Recovered from radiation’s exhausting effects, MacNaughton returned to the EvCC classes he hadn’t been able to teach in months.

“It’s healing for me to have this work. The people here have been so nice about it,” MacNaughton said after Thursday’s class.

Brooks said her husband is being helped by pain medications managed by a palliative care doctor at Providence. They have asked the hard questions, and have been told MacNaughton may live a year or two, depending on treatment.

“I feel that practicing yoga has helped me to have the willingness to face mortality, life purpose, these big kinds of things,” MacNaughton said. “Yoga is especially good at helping us to follow — destiny is too strong a word — to follow our best nature.”

“We’ve had such a tremendous amount of love and support,” said Brooks, a former Seattle Times reporter who runs her own graphics and Web design business. With a 21-year-old son, the couple pay $750 per month for health insurance, and have a high deductible. Even with charitable help from Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, Brooks said the bills are staggering.

Friends will manifest their support at a benefit concert Saturday at the Evergreen Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Marysville, where Brooks is the teen adviser and the Everett couple have many friends.

MacNaughton also has taught yoga at the YMCA of Snohomish County, at Sound Holistic Health Clinic in Everett, and at other sites, but now only teaches at the college. It’s not his first career.

With degrees in music performance and teaching credentials, MacNaughton was a classical musician who played French horn with the Seattle Symphony and the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet orchestras in the 1970s and ’80s. He has taught private music lessons.

A neurological condition that affects muscules called focal dystonia ended his music performance career, Brooks said. After their son was born in 1991, MacNaughton became a stay-at-home dad who helped found a co-op school program now called Lighthouse Cooperative.

Sue Grigsby, associate faculty chairwoman of EvCC’s physical education, health and wellness department, said MacNaughton is scheduled to teach two yoga classes this summer.

“He’s a gem. He’s one of those people you certainly want to work around this situation,” Grigsby said. “I remember his interview, his quiet demeanor. Here’s this calming tone of voice — come in and do yoga.” Having Brooks demonstrate poses has made the classes work well. “They’re a great team,” Grigsby said.

“We love him here and miss him greatly, and are praying for him every day,” said Gael Thomson, membership and wellness director at the YMCA’s Everett branch.

Dave Speights, a former yoga teacher and friend of MacNaughton’s from Mukilteo, said MacNaughton is “one of the most interesting people I’ve ever known.” Speights believes his friend’s interest in Eastern philosophies helps in this daunting journey.

What keeps him teaching?

MacNaughton admits he needs the job, but he is devoted to sharing yoga with others.

“I find value in the work,” he said. Meditation is at the core of his practice of yoga. MacNaughton said he wants to write about how yoga applies to modern life, “how ancient things are just as fresh today.”

Today — that is his focus.

“He’s just doing his life,” Brooks said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

Benefit concert
A concert to help pay medical expenses for Paul MacNaughton will be held at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Evergreen Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 1607 Fourth St., Marysville. Performing will be Real Folk, with Kim Longmore, Paul Henderson and Dennis Griffiths; and Peter Ali, Bob Bertoldi, Jeff Nicely, Jeff Griffiths and Jr. Geezer. Refreshments available. Suggested donation is $10-$20.

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