We are not trying to learn to stand on our heads in these classes we offer. It’s about teaching patients and their families to stand on their own two feet.

Program Director Diane Cella sending out some metta in the Center’s lobby alongside Administrative Associate Carmen Fuentes-Smith

It’s an overcast Wednesday morning outside the lobby of Boston’s Children’s Hospital.  That muted palette spills in to the hospital’s lobby – a setting bustling with tears and heart and coughs and conversation, in languages both familiar and distant.  It’s impossible to convey the wave of humility that at once awakens you upon entering that field.  Glance around and you are powerfully struck by the plight of kids, adorable kids, and their caregivers giving it everything they’ve got.  Patients and their families, medical professionals and adminstrators at every turn… in urgency (and agency) on behalf of children.  In the center of this weight sits an oasis, a step away – a pioneering healing space dressed in hues of avocado green offering a refuge for children and their families.

The Hale Family Center for Families at Boston Children’s Hospital was founded to support patient families through their experience at the hospital.  In addition to providing vital services such as accommodations assistance, family advisory councils, clothing, bereavement counseling, communication facilitation and such, they also offer a library, pet and art therapies and technology work stations.  In recent months, the Center has also become home to a wellness program for in-patients offering yoga, meditation, Reiki, Zumba and massage.  Diane Cella, in conjunction with hospital physician Emily Davidson, is the force behind this innovative wellness programming.  Ms. Cella brings to her new role a wealth of experience as a yogi, Reiki master and Children’s floor nurse for over thirty years.  A visionary of sorts, this professional chapter marks for her the culmination of a longtime aspiration.  “While our programs are geared towards in-patients, all parents are my focus.  It’s time we have yoga and meditation as part of our care model.  Our Family Wellness Program is my dream come true.  I planted the seed for this forty years ago, and now it is finally germinating.  It has to do with commitment and also with the stars aligning.”

The Center’s space dedicated for treatments such as Reiki and massage was made possible by the ongoing efforts of Yoga Reaches Out.  That group, led by Sarah Gardener, has through their intitiaves funded the spa-like treatment area for the next two years.  The group fitness studio sits just around the bend off of the Hale Center’s library.  An oversized painting bursting with with tropical colors (Joy, by local artist Evelyn Berde) is installed at the front of the  room.  Just as a typical studio owner might market their classes and programs, Cella makes use of the hospital’s website and patient welcome packets to share class schedules and staff bios. and other programming notes.  She personally tends to the scheduling – keeping track the old fashioned way using a pen and a clipboard.   But, she does not rule out leaning on technology as the Center’s programming evolves into possibly extending group classes to the hospital’s residential programs.

Cella and her wellness team built the program on big dreams, but also in a spirit of humility visoning the mind body connection as a natural way to restore some level of grace to the lives of those depleted and shaken by the enormity of serious illness.  “I am aware of few other institutions, such as ours, which offer an integrated therapy program in the way that we do.  It’s simply about aligning yourself (back) with yourself.”  And, just what does she look for in her group instructors? It’s a process the Center does not take lightly keeping a strict eye on immunization records and criminal backgrounds, and also offering signature teacher training through the hospital’s Adventure Challenge program.  She also emphasizes that the classes are for all levels regardless of ability.  “We are not trying to learn to stand on our heads in these classes we offer,” says Ms. Cella.  “It’s about teaching patients and their families to stand on their own two feet.”

Just four months into the life of the program, Cella keeps her hopes high and already is plotting the pursuit of her next her next goal – to bring yoga and other natural healing remedies to the bedside.  She and Dr. Davidson are currently in the midst of producing and filming chair yoga classes for children. Soon, their video series will be broadcast in all patient rooms.  She wants to see more of this type of care being brought directly to the patient floors but understands that this “phase two” hinges on increased financial support.

An illuminated light box at the Center's entrance sets a calming mood.

An illuminated light box at the Center’s entrance sets a calming mood.

One of the routes she is taking to acccomplish such measures is to offer free Reiki training to hospital nurses.  Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by “laying on hands”, and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and if it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.  To date, the hospital employs twenty-four nurses trained and certified in Reiki.  Cella’s wisdom around this leans heavily on her professional experience as both a nurse and a Reiki practioner.  “Reiki is  nice way for nurses to be present with their patients.  Typically, they are putting their hands on patients for not so pleasant things like needles or taking a temperature.  In this case they would be using the power of touch in a positive sense.”

There’s a wonderful route for our BOSTON YOGA community to help support the Hale Center and their wellness program as it grows.  One corner of the Center houses some thoughtfully curated shelved books.  Lots of room remains to add that favorite inspirational yoga, mediation, art or children’s book.  These books provide a much needed source of comfort to patients and their families during their extended stays at Children’s Hospital.  If we pool our resources we could fill those shelves.  If you would like to contribute to their library, please visit you favorite online bookshop and ship your title to:

Diane Cella, RN
Hale Family Center for Families
Boston’s Children’s Hospital
300 Longwood Avenue
Boston, MA 02115

As we part ways, I’m struck by the power of one individual’s drive – the impact that can make, the uplift. I’m not surprised as Ms. Cella shares with me the name of someone she considers her “guru”, Neem Karoli Baba or Maharaj-ji. The Hindu mystic lived a life of bhakti, encouraging service (seva) to others as the highest form of devototion.  “All is one,” he was known to have preached.  It’s a teaching in action daily in the work of the team at the Hale Family Center.



Author Susan Currie is an Associate Editor at LA YOGA magazine. Her words and images have been featured in the Boston Globe, Elephant Journal, Yogi Times, the Tishman Review, the Huffington Post, Spirit of St. Bart’s and on the cover of the book Moving into Meditation (Shambala) by Anne Cushman. 

Susan is also the creator of the Daily Inhale and an RYT 200 registered yoga instructor. She unpacks her various professional experiences through the creative and yoga workshops she leads throughout the country. Her new book, GRACENOTES (Shanti Arts 2017), a blend of words and images, is now available in wide release.