My personal journey with diabetes was one of misdiagnosis and denial. It took me years to accept my diagnosis. When I did, my first step was to reach out and find people like me who also practiced yoga. In the beginning, there weren’t many, but as my reach increased I found a community of practitioners and teachers thriving because of yoga. Anastasia Yatras is one of those lights. Her story is absolute gold and so inspiring! I can’t wait for you to read it. Take it away Anastasia
In the grunge era of the 90’s, pre Instagram and Facebook, Yoga wasn’t as widespread as it is today. Back then, there was a clear division between alternative culture and the mainstream. In 1992, Yoga, along with shaved under cuts, sat absolutely in the first category.
In 1992, a university friend had invited me to yoga, in Newtown, Sydney, with the hook line that “Yoga made you sleep better”. As my life was a demanding schedule of missed lectures, all -nighters and endless rounds of stove- top coffee, I was intrigued.
With no idea what I was in for, (remember there was no You Tube Yoga back then), the exposed brick yoga room, felt austere. The mysterious props including belts and wooden blocks, inexplicable. There may as well have been a sign above our Birkenstock sandals at the entrance, “Beware all ye who enter.”
To my novice ears, we were guided by elusive phrases such as “…outer skirt of the heel” and “something..something…asana”. I rushed to perform handstand with the grunt of an NRL player, breathing hard and fast, so as not to topple sideways with my jellied elbows. Lying with a wooden block underneath my shrieking sacrum (no foam bricks as yet), it felt akin to a medieval torture.
Yet, within the insufferably long silences, there it was, the gold; the gradual realisation that awareness could move to different parts of the body. It could be held there, diffuse or sharp pointed, and more so, it could be directed from the outside, in.
Those poses were a tangible reflection, not just of my body, but of something more profound, deeper still.
My friend didn’t return to Yoga. I never left.
My relationship with Diabetes began 12 months before my official diagnosis. Tragically, in 1997, my then boyfriend’s dad, collapsed into a three day diabetic coma, until finally discovered by his second son. A talented illustrator for Hanna and Barbara cartoons, I loved this man’s hallway- a veritable fortress of VHS cassettes. For then reasons unknown, I studied the literature on diabetes, left abandoned by his dining room side table.
Precisely 12 months later, recalling those very symptoms I had read about, (excess thirst-tick, excess urination-tick, affected eyesight- tick), I took myself to the medical centre. “I think I have diabetes!” I pronounced, somewhat proud of my self-diagnostic abilities. A blood test there and then showed a reading of 26 mmol/L and so off to the Illawarra Diabetes Service, I went, where I was shown how to inject with oranges.
It was November of 1998, the very year I had enrolled as an Iyengar Teacher trainee in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. Upon my teacher’s advice, I took time off to “lay low”. Upon returning to teacher training, I was unable to focus. “You look haunted” my teacher said. “Go home”. Yet, he also said, diabetes gave my yoga purpose. Through the nebulousness of my grief, I recognised the truth of those words. That Yoga was the big circle and diabetes was a smaller one within it and not the other way around.
Gradually, I began to see Yoga as a tool which could reframe how I saw diabetes; that I could bear a positive impact upon it rather than it all being a negative impact on me. Of course, it was a slow journey, full of trials, errors, failures and loneliness. No one else in class was worrying about their sugars testing frequently, afraid equally of an embarrassing hypo or of having to inject in full view.
In 2002, I was chosen as the diabetic student for a Sydney medical Yoga workshop given by the wonderful Iyengar teachers, Swati and Rajiv Chanchanni. This experience gave me a clear, systematic and confidence boosting framework which I continue to use to this day in my practice.
From the Iyengar perspective, it was taught that the pancreas needed to be taken through its full range of motion.
So, from a diseased organ, I realised my pancreas, was in fact, profoundly intelligent cellular tissue, fully capable of responding to precise adaptations within the regular poses, turbo charging blood flow and, equally, maximising relaxation and quietness of mind.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali speak of Yoga as a means to cease the fluctuations of mind. This is my standard operating procedure when checking my blood sugar levels, when heading off a high reading or a hypo. To respond neutrally as possible which doesn’t equally translate as complacency.
Yoga is also defined as skill in action, something which as diabetics, we are constantly asked to practice, every waking and sleeping moment of our lives, it seems!
However, as my teacher Pixie Lillas says, we are not merely given the end destination in Yoga (good health, a quiet mind.). Yoga gives us the tools to get there.
For the past 20 years, Anastasia’s Yoga practice has revolutionized her approach to living with Type 1 Diabetes. She began Yoga in 1992 where it fully resolved her dancer’s knee injury. At 26 years of age, in 1998, Anastasia embarked on two major life journeys. Iyengar Yoga Teacher training AND a diabetes diagnosis. Following the medical principles developed by world renown teacher of Yoga, B.K.S Iyengar, Anastasia has maintained HBA1C (averaged blood sugar levels) of normal range (5-6mmol/L).
you can connect with Anastasia here