Boston Children’s Hospital- Yoga Reaches Out: Nanci Winterhalter

Nanci holding the Boston Children’s Hospital sign in the roof-top garden.

“This is where I’ve had the challenge and privilege of spending a lot of time in our son’s early life—at Boston Children’s Hospital. His journey began here with what appeared to be a small problem when he was six, which grew into something much bigger and very unusual. The quality of the care, and the people that work here with their super-skills and their heart fully in it, made the hardest time in our lives as comfortable as it could have been. It was a very humbling experience for me and our whole family.

During our extensive time at Children’s, I met a lot of parents and families from all over the world. It was remarkable that we had this place that treated even the rarest conditions- like our son’s, within an hour from our house.

Had yoga been a part of my life then, I may have been a little more resilient. Maybe I would have had more peace and more acceptance of uncertainty. I’m much more comfortable with uncertainty now. Also, being at Boston Children’s is like yoga because they both bring this sharp focus: You’re only one person out of all these people in this place, in this world, and everyone is special. No one has more value than anyone else. That’s just a teeny bit of what I get from yoga.

Nanci in Warrior II pose in the roof-top garden at Boston Children’s Hospital.

I did not realize the depth of isolation an ill child endures, or for that matter, a parent or sibling of a child who has a significant illness or condition. Everyone wants to help, but no one knows how to. You don’t even know what they can do for you.

When James was 17, he had a feeding tube inserted. A child life specialist went into the procedure with him while he was under conscious sedation. I thought it was going to be traumatic for him. However, when he came out, he recalled the conversation between him and the young woman who was with him. He told me they discussed how they had both been to Italy, which helped him relax, while he was having his feeding tube placed. James knew it was not in his plan to enter college with a feeding tube, but the child life specialists made him feel like he was normal. “This is tough, but you’re going to get through it,” they’d say.

Nanci in the roof-top garden at Boston Children’s Hospital.

My love for Yoga: it’s lifelong, but it hasn’t been lifelong. I’m a yogi at heart because when I did start studying it, it was like, Oh my God, this is just home to me. I love everything about it. I love the physical practice; I love the shapes; I love the stillness; I love the heat. I love the balance: the physical balance and the emotional balance. I love the centering.

I especially love the heart of the practice. It’s a lifestyle for me and it’s helped me grow immensely.

I’m 56 years old and I feel like I’m a youngster in Yoga—even on the inside! It has just exploded my heart. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.

It’s made me a better parent, a better person, a better citizen of the world; it’s ignited my essence and sometimes we as humans lose that. Our essence gets lost in the duties of life and in the seriousness of life, and life is very serious at times, especially here at Boston Children’s. And, when that happened with our son, I was like, Wow, this is what I do. This is what I’m doing until this job is done.

Nanci W. and Boston Children’s Special Events Manager, Mark holding the Hospital sign.

We’re all connected. Boston Children’s Hospital reminds you of that with every step you take. No one’s child is more important than anyone else’s, regardless of who you are or where you are from. This place taught me that and yoga teaches me that daily.

Yoga Reaches Out is great because 1,000 or more Yogis raise money for Boston Children’s together. Attending the event unfolded naturally and I wanted to be involved as soon as I read about it. Last year, the event was on the day of my 30th wedding anniversary and my husband said “Go.” All the proceeds go directly to the hospital’s Every Child Fund and the Wellness Center at Boston Children’s, where kids and their families can be supported with yoga, meditation, reiki, massage, and a whole bunch of complementary therapies that help you through the hard times in your life.

My yoga classes, which I offer mostly in community centers, were generously supported with a significant contribution. I was surprised…well, I was and I wasn’t. It makes your heart swell in a way and it made me realize that I was a part of much bigger things.

I’m excited for this year’s event. I’m really blessed.

Nanci at Boston Children’s Hospital reflecting on her yoga journey.

I‘ve had a great career as a physical therapist. Now, I have a great opportunity to try something a little different. I said to myself, let’s try and see if I could offer a yoga practice that invites people that aren’t always engaged in yoga. I want to help people who might feel marginalized and stray away from yoga, and I want to create an environment where everyone is welcome.

Now, as an Accessible Yoga (AY) Ambassador in my community, I share the mission of AY by striving to offer an inclusive environment where all are invited regardless of capability or background. This wonderful gentleman, Jivana Heyman ( from Santa Barbara, started the organization that offers trainings, support, and conferences all around the world.

I teach a class for people with Parkinson’s, another for people with balance trouble, and a yoga program for seniors. I also teach yoga at a medical daycare program for people with chronic conditions who love yoga practice, the meditation, the quietness of it, the feeling of belonging, the physical shapes and the breath, but who may not be able to get up and down from a

chair unassisted. I have a weekly class for “baby boomers and friends,” which basically means anyone. Also, I just launched a ‘Yoga for Breast Cancer Survivors’ class at a local studio after completing certification with Tari Prinster’s Yoga for Cancer Program. Soon, I hope to offer a program to specifically address posture and bone building.

In yoga, you always remember your teachers. I studied with a fabulous Yoga teacher, Diane Lagadec of Maha Yoga in Bridgewater. She’s a 74-year-old rockin’ yogi to the core. She’s been practicing forever. She used to say to me, “Don’t ever forget, it’s all yoga. You may be doing it with people of different levels, but it’s all yoga.” She keeps me grounded in the traditions.

Nanci expressing herself with an open heart and arms.

Transitioning from a PT who practiced yoga to a yoga teacher was interesting and natural for me. Sometime after taking my teacher training, I woke up and said to my (very supportive) husband: “I’m quitting my job today.” He said: “What, why today?” I replied: ”Because today, I have courage”. Yoga gave me the courage. And my journey began anew.

Yoga changes your world. I hope I can teach this until nobody wants me!! We all need a different lens to look through for our own life and about life in general. We are often driven to get to a certain spot or point: if I’m not ‘there’ by 30 years old, if I haven’t had my kids by 33, if I’m not up on the corporate ladder etc. I no longer believe that’s true. With yoga, we discover every day is the journey… and you never know what life is going to throw at you.

I have to be honest with you, I’ve had loss. You don’t get through this world without loss. But I, myself, haven’t had any physical ailments. I used to feel a little guilty about that, but now I know I have to use that, if that’s my gift: being healthy. I don’t know what made me think of that, but maybe it’s just knowing that everyone has a gift. We may not always see it though, and maybe you don’t think it’s a gift because it’s a lack of something. I’m going to use my good health as long as I am able to so I can help others benefit from the life affirming practice of yoga.” – Nanci Winterhalter

Visit Nanci’s Yoga Reaches Out page:


Every year Yoga Reaches Out harnesses the incredible power of the yoga community to enhance the lives of patients and families. Join more than 1,000 yogis in raising funds for Boston Children’s Hospital. Together, we’ll gather at Gillette Stadium Empower Field House on Sunday, April 28 for a day filled with inspiring presenters, friends and the power of seva. To learn more visit or email

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