Yoga for Diabetes – Listening to your body, your heart and the world around you.

Today is World Diabetes Day and I’m in Atlanta right now which for me is one of my homes away from home. I used to come here every vacation to be with my grandparents. My grandparents have long since passed but my family is still here. It’s been really special to reconnect with them and feel their support.

Last night while our extended family gathered around the dinner table one of my cousins told me she ran into a friend who had type 1 diabetes. She told him about me and how I was touring the country to promote my book.

She thought he’d be super enthusiastic about my project, but his reply stunned her, “Isn’t yoga good for everything? What’s so special about yoga for diabetes?”

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His question isn’t new and I have to admit it’s been a challenge to address this on the tour. Why come to a specific class on yoga for diabetes? Why even buy a book on the subject?

Yes, yoga is great for everybody and there are no restrictions to practicing if you live with diabetes. But Yoga isn’t cookie cutter. You might think you’d benefit from a yoga class, but if the style isn’t right for your constitution you could be increasing cortisol and inflammation.

Understanding that there is a yoga that’s right for you is the key.  That’s why whenever I want to individualize my practice and manage my health better I turn to the sister science of yoga, Ayurveda.

Ayurveda means the science of life and it’s been working with health and wellbeing for over 4,000 years.

Rather than seeing Diabetes as Type 1 or 2, Ayurveda looks at the way that diabetes is manifesting in the organs and tissues of the body.  As such, It is seen as a condition of excess or depletion. Once the quality of the condition is assessed then the appropriate treatment is given.

What does that mean?

Homeopathic medicine.

If you are dealing with depletion, lack of energy, digestive issues, insomnia or even nervous system problems going to a power yoga class, or a hot yoga class is going to reek havoc because it’s too heating and stimulating. It would be better to practice calming and rejuvenating postures, try some restorative yoga, sound therapy, breath work, yoga nidra, and consider a change in diet and environment.

If you are dealing with excess, then stimulation and purgative therapies to get the toxins out of the system are best. You’ll want to increase your circulation through active yoga practices, like power and ashtanga yoga, have regular massages, eat a lighter diet, consider scraping your tongue, and even have enemas and irrigate your nasal passages. The more you can reduce the inflammation in the system, the sooner your blood sugars will come back to balance.

Another aspect of learning about Ayurveda is listening. Listening to your body, your heart and the world around you.

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Are you trying too hard? Frustrated and feeling burnt out? Ayurveda recommends going for a walk, practicing gratitude or even being of service to someone else in need.

Feeling spaced out, flighty and confused or anxious? Then bringing more routine into your life, eating at the same time every day, massaging your feet with black sesame oil and doing something creative will occupy your restless mind.

Feeling lethargic, slow, unmotivated or even depressed?  Be wild and spontaneous, call a friend, go out and dance and shake up your routine.

When you listen to your heart and approach each day afresh you’ll find that naturally without realizing it things get easier. It’s never going to be easy to manage diabetes, but you can take control of yourself and your habits and make each day the best yet.

Want to learn a simple calming meditation? feel free to check out my previous world diabetes day post here.

with great respect…

rachel

Diabetes and Mindset

Diabetes is tough! Especially right now while I am on the road spreading the word about how Yoga is a lifesaver when it comes to the day to day management of diabetes. I’m using test strips like there’s no tomorrow while navigating unexpected lows, raging highs and doing my best to stick to daily routines amidst early morning flights and media calls.

Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the opportunities but like anyone, there are good days and not so good days.

In the end, it comes down to mindset. How I respond to my life with diabetes is more important than the number on my meter, the daily grind of counting carbs or the overall physical drain from a week of higher levels or too many lows.

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What gives me the mental strength to weather the storm? YOGA

More specifically the art of meditation.

I started meditating when I was 23. It wasn’t something I had heard about or even planned to do. It was my best friend and my first yoga teacher who convinced me to try it. She suggested we head to a three-day meditation intensive with a former Buddhist monk. When I asked her what we would actually be doing she just smiled.

After sitting and watching my breath for three days straight and walking in slow meditative circles I soon discovered that meditation isn’t something that can be described. It’s intangible like space. Have you ever tried to describe space? Words like open, vast, infinite can’t really explain a feeling which has no words.

The feeling of meditating is very different to the act of practicing meditation which in yoga is called “concentration” or dharana. Dharana is described in the Miriam-Webster dictionary as “fixed attention; especiallya state of mental concentration on an object without wavering”

So what does that actually mean? Think about what it feels like when you do anything you love; it could be a physical activity like running, reading a book, performing a creative task like painting or writing, you couldn’t do that activity if it didn’t have your full attention. That’s exactly what’s happening when you practice dharana (concentration). You place your full attention on the breath, or an image or even a posture and immediately there is an opportunity for your mind to be in “the zone.”

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Ok…so when you are in the middle of a low is it appropriate to try and practice dharana? Let’s get real. It’s friggin impossible. Your brain is starving for glucose and you want to consume everything in sight.

Once you’ve treated the low you can make a start.  The more we teach the mind to focus in on one point the quicker the nervous system comes back into balance. Like training a dog, positive reinforcement and reminders enable the nervous system to find its feet faster and faster after a stressful event.

We are designed to be relaxed 80% of the time and to be ready to run from a tiger 20% of the time. In this day and age, we live the other way around. Put diabetes in the mix and it amps up the volume. Having simple tools to destress are super important.

But first, we have to want to relax. We need to know what relaxation feels like and understand how beneficial it is. Not only does it support the nervous system. We sleep, digest and feel better emotionally and mentally. Less stress means less cortisol circulating through the system and overall better blood glucose management.

I know for myself after years and years of being uptight, overly sensitive and riddled with anxiety, yoga was the only thing that gave me some respite. It’s taken years of mind over just about everything to get on top of myself. I’m convinced that if I hadn’t learned to meditate at a young age I’d be a basket case.

Knowing that meditation/concentration happens naturally helps to put the mind at ease. Anyone can meditate because anyone can relax. It’s about understanding what meditation is and what it is not.

Meditation is not a state or something that only happens when you are calm or peaceful. It is not a moment, place or goal to be attained.

The word meditation is interchangeable with the word peace, contentment, bliss, wholeness.

You being whole and complete…are the meditation itself.

You might not get what I’m saying right now but rest assured…nothing beats the feeling you get from taking time to slow down and be still.  Learning to concentrate is just the beginning.

For this week’s blog, I’ve included an excerpt from the chapter on contemplation from my new book Yoga for Diabetes, How to Manage your Health with Yoga and Ayurveda

151210_DAV6241The Soham meditation for pitta

As a fiery type, the act of trying to concentrate can often incite frustration. To balance that Pitta, we need to counteract that fire. And what counteracts fire? Water.

The sound of the ocean is like the sound of the breath when you cover your ears and listen carefully. To balance Pitta, you’ll be using sound (mantra) to focus your mind. One of the most profound mantras is the natural sound the breath makes as we breathe in and out. This is happening automatically 24,600 or so times a day. If you place your hands over your ears and breathe in, you’ll hear the sound So. Keeping your hands over your ears when you breathe out, you’ll hear the sound Ham.

The Soham Meditation is an ancient technique that works effectively to calm and cool the nervous system and mind.

Set an intention for your practice. It could be anything, something simple like “I want to feel relaxed at the end of the practice” or more personal like “I dedicate this practice to accepting things as they are”.

Technique

Engage ujjayi breath. Long slow inhalation, long slow exhalation.

Feel the breath become even. Even count for inhalation, even count for exhalation. Continue counting the breath.

Move the awareness to the pelvic floor, sensing the space between the pubic bone and the tailbone.

On your next inhalation, for an even count, visualise the breath flowing up the centre of the spine to the middle of the brain.

On the next exhalation, for an even count, visualise the breath flowing down the centre of the spine. Continue like this for as long as is comfortable.

Add the sound (mantra) So on the inhalation and Ham on the exhalation.

Chant the mantra internally to yourself.

Keep breathing in the sound So and breathing out the sound Ham for about 3 to 5 minutes or as comfortable.

Want to know more about how yoga can help you manage your life with diabetes? Order your very own copy of my book here and if you love it I would be so grateful for a review 🙂

With great respect…

rachel

 

Being a force for positive change

For most of my life, I’ve wanted to be a force for positive change. Instilled in me by my grandfather, he would often remind us how important it was to speak our minds and to question. He taught me to be respectful, thoughtful and to give back and never ever take privilege for granted. Everything can change in a heartbeat.

Last night, when I was sharing with a fellow type 1 friend about my upcoming online yoga challenge, she said: “this challenge is so needed in the world!” It was a sweet compliment but it made me think.

I’ve always seen yoga and yoga practices as life changing, transformative and something that anyone can benefit from. In fact, I can remember when I started teaching teachers I had this goal of training enough people so that everybody in the whole world would do yoga. Nearly 17 years later just about everyone in the world does do yoga.

Well almost.

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So besides all the hype, how can yoga make a difference? Why is it so needed? Because whether we live with a chronic disease or not. We are all suffering from stress and burnout. Everywhere we turn we are bombarded. Bombarded with must do’s and have’s. Sometimes trying to decide where to put my energy, money and time is enough to make me want to sit down, cover my ears and scream, “Enough!”

In my personal experience if yoga can offer one thing it’s simplification

When I keep things simple and eliminate the complications it gives me breathing space. Instead of long drawn out yoga postures which include bending into pretzel shapes. I do the same easy routine every day. It’s nice to add in a more complex move every now and then but I’ve learned it’s not necessary. Some forward bends before dinner and a few moments of quiet reflection prepare me for a good night’s sleep.

Living with diabetes means it’s even more important to stay calm and balanced.

As a yogi and yoga teacher, I’ve learned that understanding how the mind works is key in handling stress and achieving balance. When I first started practicing I learned to meditate and observe my thoughts. Later I learned that watching my thoughts (mindfulness) is just the beginning.

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Even more powerful is knowing who is having the thoughts. Knowing the thinker. No matter how big the thought, the thinker has to be there. Without the thinker what thought?

When life gets overwhelming reminding myself that I am the thinker of the thoughts, puts everything in perspective.

We spend our whole lives obsessed with our thoughts, trying to banish them or tame them. And when we can’t resolve the thoughts our mental health suffers. I can sometimes spend way too long obsessing about my thoughts about diabetes. The quicker I catch myself going off the rails the better. I like to think of it as fishing for thoughts. If a thought starts to swim away I catch it and hold it close. When you try to hang on to a thought it quickly dissipates. Thoughts are ephemeral like that. But when you try not to think about something all you do is think about it more.

Yoga is so powerful in meeting the mind head on. Instead of trying to squash thoughts we can focus on something like the breath, or a sound, or a posture or even work with hand gestures. There are so many ways to bring the mind into a one pointed focus. And the cool thing is that these practices are for everybody.

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When I tell people that I teach yoga I can get a variety of responses but the most common one is Yoga? I’m not good at that. I love sharing that yoga is so much more than the physical practice.

In general, the physical practice is designed to:

  • detoxify and purify the physical body bringing it back to its natural state.
  • help the mind to slow down

On a deeper level, yoga practice suspends for a moment all the ideas, thoughts and beliefs we have about ourselves. That’s why we feel so good when we finish the practice. All the thoughts we’ve been getting lost in seem to disappear and we feel calm and peaceful.

Once the nervous system gets the hint that we don’t always need to be in the stress response (fight or flight) we spend more time in the relaxed part of our nervous system.  This means our tendency to habitually react to stressful thoughts, events and experiences also relaxes. This is so helpful when we live with diabetes. The more I can look at the numbers on my meter and stay calm. The less I react to my feelings about diabetes and the better I feel no matter what’s happening.

When I was putting together my upcoming yoga challenge, Better Diabetes Management in 7 steps with Yoga, I thought about what sorts of things I wanted to share. Rather than making each step about a physical postural practice I wanted to focus on the core of what yoga actually does, balance and calm the nervous system.

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In the challenge I’ll be sharing:

About Ayurveda and how to discover your ayurvedic type

A short physical practice to improve circulation

Mudras (hand gestures) for balancing the emotions

How sound (mantra) works to heal the nervous system

A calming breathing practice that you can do anywhere anytime

How to give yourself a nurturing foot massage that promotes deep sleep

And a creative mandala (yantra) exercise to inspire gratitude and devotion

These are the practices I do every day to be a positive force for change in my own life with diabetes and I am so excited to share them with you too.

If you’d like to join the challenge its free and you can sign up here.  

 

 

Letting it all go

I’ve been tearing up quite a lot lately. It could be that I finally have a home again after 6 years of non-stop travel. Or the fact that so many of my childhood dreams are bearing fruit. Or that, besides all the good in my life, I still find it hard to accept the daily ups and downs of diabetes. No matter what the reason for my tears I know that taking the time to sit and be with my vulnerable heart enables me to be stronger and to deal with whatever challenges come my way.

As my holiday gift to you, I’d love to share this simple technique to release the feelings that can threaten to overwhelm us during this sensitive time.

And…I wish you a very happy, settled and balanced holiday season!

with great respect…

Rachel

The Sat Yam meditation

Place your hand on your heart. Feel the warmth of your hand at your heart and notice your breath. Take a few moments here to let the mind settle.

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Bring the heels of your hands together and extend the fingers so your hands are in the shape of a cup or lotus (padma mudra).

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Imagine that inside your cup/lotus are all the emotions and feelings that haunt you. Don’t think too hard about it. See what arises.

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As you inhale, lift the cup/lotus by straightening your arms sending the emotions back to pure unconditioned awareness.

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As you exhale, open your arms to the side and surround yourself in a fine purple mist.

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Repeat this a few times, lifting the cup/lotus overhead on inhalation, surrounding yourself with a fine purple mist on exhalation.

Repeat the moving meditation a few more times silently adding the sound Sat on inhalation and Yam on exhalation.

Let go of the movement with the arms, resting the hands on the thighs.

Continue to chant internally: Sat as you feel the breath moving up the spine to the crown of the head on inhalation; Yam surrounding yourself in the fine purple mist on exhalation. Think of it like an internal fountain replenishing itself with every in and out breath.

Finally, feel the sound Satyam resting like a pulse at the centre of your heart. Rest there for another few moments.

When you’re ready, gently open your eyes and head into your day.

 

 

Seeking Balance

When I first started Insulin I wondered if there were any other yogis out there like me who’d been diagnosed with Adult Type 1 Diabetes . It didn’t take me long to find Melitta Rorty. Melitta is a true advocate for LADA (Latent Autoimmune Disease in Adults or Type 1.5)  I find Melitta’s blogs and articles refreshing and grounded because she breaks open the difficult topic of misdiagnosis. Recently we had a chat because I wanted to find out what yoga postures she used on a daily basis to stay calm in the face of the daily diabetes grind.  There was so much juice in the conversation that I asked her to share some tips for practicing yoga with diabetes. Enjoy…Rachel 

“I started practicing yoga in 1994, six months before I noticed my first symptoms of diabetes. When I was newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, at the age of 35, I was in extreme despair—I thought my life was ruined. But yoga saved my life then by allowing me some space and freedom from constant thoughts about my disease, and yoga continues to save my life today by helping me stay calm and focused despite the daily grind of self-care that those of us with Type 1 diabetes must do. I recommend yoga to anyone who has to live with the stress of chronic illness.

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Yoga is a practice that uses poses, breathing techniques, relaxation, and meditation to balance mind, body, and spirit. In the West, hatha yoga, which involves stretching the body and forming different poses while keeping breathing slow and controlled, is most commonly practiced.  Yoga has much to offer people with diabetes, and probably its greatest benefit is stress reduction.  Diabetes is exacerbated by stress, and yoga is a useful tool to reduce stress.  It can both set the stage for better overall health and also reduce the stress associated with the myriad of details necessary for our daily diabetes care.  High levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol raise blood glucose levels, and thus reducing stress is integral to good blood glucose control.  Yoga cannot cure diabetes, but the many benefits of yoga (stress reduction, increased sense of well-being, discipline, and focus) can help make the disease more manageable and have beneficial impacts on blood glucose control and on our lives.

For me, exercise, yoga, and meditation are my “magic pills.”  If only it were so easy as to pop a pill! 

To give you an idea of my routine, I attend a weekly class with a wonderful, experienced teacher.  I also have a morning home yoga and meditation practice.  My simple back care yoga routine plus meditation gets my day off to a good start.  Yoga has an immediate physical and practical impact on my health but it also affords me an emotional benefit over time.  Below are some of my tips for practicing yoga with diabetes:

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Asanas:  As with any physical activity, one must listen to and respect what your body tells you in the moment.  It can be risky to practice some poses, for example crow pose (bakasana), when you have low blood sugar or even close to low blood sugar.  Also, if you have diabetic complications such as retinopathy, many inverted poses are contraindicated.  This is where a good yoga instructor (or doctor or your own research) is worth his/her weight in gold.  Come to class early and don’t be afraid to talk with the teacher and ask questions.

Insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors (CGMs):  I almost always turn my insulin pump down for yoga class.  I am a “blood sugar burner,” meaning physical activity drops my blood sugar significantly, and I need to be careful to avoid hypoglycemia.  I always have rapid-acting glucose handy.  For a particularly vigorous yoga class, I turn my pump down by 80% at least one hour prior to class and for the duration.  For my regular yoga class, I turn my pump down by 50% one hour prior to class and for the duration.  I place my CGM on a block or some other raised space so that no one steps on it.

Meditation:  Many people say that they can’t meditate because they can’t keep their minds still.  Thoughts end up swinging through their mind like monkeys swinging from branch to branch in the jungle.  But virtually everyone will have “monkey mind!”  The point is to meditate, to be mindful, and to be in the present moment.  I practice a very simple style of meditation, breath meditation or Insight Meditation; meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg is my guide and resource.  There are countless tools to help you with your meditation practice.  Just find a quiet space, and give it a try.  Even a moment of quieting your mind can bring you a sense of peace.

Magic Pixie Dust:  Sadly, within the yoga and meditation communities there can exist “magical thinking” that is harmful to those of us with Type 1 diabetes, or any other serious disease.  Yoga cannot cure us; yoga cannot get us off of exogenous insulin.  A yoga teacher once yelled at me in the middle of class and said “Why do you have to wear that [my insulin pump], why can’t you take it off for class, how can you do inverted poses with your insulin pump on?”  This kind of ignorance and lack of compassion can push people away from yoga when it could be a beneficial part of their healthy lifestyle.  Because of that incident, I now do more to inform yoga teachers about my Type 1 diabetes and the medical devices I use to manage it (insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor).  Before a recent yoga and meditation retreat, I let the teachers know I have Type 1 diabetes, and let them know that my devices are on vibrate mode, but still make some noise.  I received the most compassionate response.  Yoga should foster compassion within us and for others; teachers who truly care for their students demonstrate compassion and not judgment.

If you are new to yoga, the best way to start a yoga practice is to find a competent teacher with whom you feel comfortable, and whose style speaks to you.  Many yoga studios now offer Yoga Basics classes or an introductory yoga series of classes.  These “yoga training wheels” classes can be especially beneficial for those who have no experience with yoga, because even beginning classes can be too advanced for those just starting out.”

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Melitta Rorty is many things:  traveler, geologist, nature enthusiast, yogini, and advocate.  She is also a person living with Type 1 diabetes.  In 1994, Melitta discovered yoga and a lifelong passion was born.  This passion would become her salvation in 1995 when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.  Originally misdiagnosed as having Type 2 diabetes, she almost lost her life because of the wrong diagnosis.  Her mission in life was born of that experience and she now works to educate, advocate, and inform about the importance of proper diagnosis and early treatment with insulin for patients with Type 1 diabetes.  Melitta is eternally grateful to all of her yoga teachers (Barbara Voinar and Tias Little being her current teachers).

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Taking on the World!

Today is World Diabetes Day. In just a little over a year my life and my understanding of Type 1 Diabetes has changed dramatically. A year ago I was in tears at the thought of having to inject for the rest of my life. I felt defeated and devastated, because I’d assumed that all the hard work I’d put into my health hadn’t paid off. But I was wrong. Having diabetes isn’t my fault. Type 1 Diabetes is an incurable autoimmune condition with a genetic componant. It runs in my family. My great grandfather had it, my great uncle had it and now so do I.

I try and be polite when someone insists there IS a cure, or that if I eat such and such I’ll feel better. If it hasn’t worked for 10% of the 380 million baby, it ain’t gonna work for me.

And I refuse to just act like everything’s normal. This is a fragile disease. I feel fragile. It’s okay.

Yoga for diabetes

It’s that sense of fragility that drives me onto the mat. I’m convinced the practice of Yoga keeps me sane. Especially 365 injections later.

Oh my god…. did I just say that?

Last year I didn’t know anyone with Type 1. 365 days later I’ve met and made new friends, found a worldwide support network, started a blog, written for magazines like Insulin Nation and A Sweet Life, been an ambassador for BEYOND TYPE 1 and had my story and tips for thriving with diabetes published in a #1 Best Seller.

And I’ve managed to keep up my practice, teach yoga worldwide and enjoy the support of my loving partner John.

I can’t imagine what the next 365 days will bring but the future excites me.

As the technology improves to make life with this disease easier, as Insulin becomes smarter, as more of us contribute resources towards a cure and as our understanding of the causes of the disease refines, you never know. I might just be able to say that one day I used to have diabetes.

In honour of all the emotions, the challenges and struggles my offering to you for this special day is this simple heart balancing meditation…with great respect Rachel

Unleash your Diabetes Dominator!

I’ve just spent the last week in overdrive. That’s overdrive in a good way. As part of my interest in this disease and how Yoga can help, I’ve decided to start a study. It’s been fascinating to meet with Type 1 diabetics from all walks of life and to hear about how they manage their diabetes.

In asking questions like; what are you goals with diabetes management or what’s your relationship to diabetes. It’s crystal clear that no matter how frustrating the disease, everyone want’s to find a way to accept it. And as I’ve been discovering, as much as I want yoga to be the solution, it can only ever be one of the many tools at our disposal.

Yoga for Diabetes Unleash your diabetes Dominator

One of the biggest and most important tools is having support. Knowing that someone out there completely understands whats happening to you. I found that support online.  But maybe you don’t have the time or don’t even know that that’s what you’re looking for?

When I first went on Insulin I did everything I could do get my hands on books that would help me understand what it meant to be insulin dependent. It didn’t take long to discover that there are many leading lights out there in the diabetes online community ( DOC).

One of those is the author of a new book ( being launched TODAY) called ” Unleash your Diabetes Dominator” The Author Daniele Hargenrader is a powerhouse!  One of the first things she shares in her book is – Diabetes didn’t happen to you, it happened FOR you.

Daniele’s story is one of true triumph over adversity. I’ve never met someone whose enthusiasm is so contagious. Without a doubt this book WILL inspire you and change your life for the better.

And Guess what? Yoga for Diabetes is in the book too. I entered a contest to be interviewed for the book, so I could share my story, and I was one of the people who won the contest!

So it is with total excitement that I urge you to check out Daniele’s book here and find out how she and many others manage to Dominate Diabetes every single day.

With great respect….Rachel

Unleash Your Diabetes Dominator

meditation for yogafordiabetesblog

Notes from my morning meditation practice

Every morning I diligently roll out my mat and do a simple breathing and meditation practice. And each morning I hope for the best; moments of calm amidst the storm of thoughts. What I’ve learned through years of consistent practice is that the mind is not supposed to be still. In fact its job is to remind us that we’re awake. Thoughts are like photographs, they remind us of situations, events and ideas. I’m fascinated by how a thought can blossom into an idea, which becomes a rambling vine of flowers tumbling from mind onto paper.

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This morning I was thinking about how mindfulness techniques are designed to cultivate awareness. But what does it mean to cultivate awareness? Is awareness a garden that needs planting? Awareness isn’t something that grows. Have you ever tried to compare awareness to anything? Awareness is like…

Awareness just is.  When I say I am cultivating awareness I’m making awareness personal. But how can I personalise consciousness? It’s like trying to own the sky. Perhaps what I really mean is that I am observing a mechanism, which thinks, defines and categorises thoughts.

Catching that I’m thinking is the beginning, knowing the thinker is the final resolution. Cultivating awareness is often associated with mindfulness. And meditation is seen as the tool. But immersed in the act of meditation one must assume the role of meditator. Losing oneself in the role “ trying to meditate” one can never realise oneself as the meditation itself.

Awareness, meditation, yoga are all words for the same thing. That objectless, nameless presence in which the world of objects including the objects of our thoughts play out.

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One cannot do awareness one can only be awareness, that which is already existing. One can’t make awareness one’s own and there’s no need to. It is that in which everything is owned. All thoughts, even the thought of being awareness resolves in awareness…

So what’s more important growing awareness or knowing who is aware?

For the Love of Habits

I’m super disciplined when it comes to managing my diabetes.That is until about four in the afternoon, when all hell breaks loose.

I can trace my troublesome behaviour back to my teenage years. I’d come home from school open the fridge and snack and snack….. and snack!

Do I blame my bad habits as a teen for my LADA diabetes? Of course not, but habits do die hard.

In yoga philosophy, a habit is called a vasana. Something you do over and over. It’s like carving a groove in a piece of wood, the more you do it, the deeper it goes. This can be as simple as the habit of driving a car or like mine, the habit of eating things that aren’t good for me at snack time.  A vasana isn’t good or bad. It’s innocent, natural, we are all at the effect of our habits.

The biggest habit of all is our identification with the body, this really comes into play with a chronic disease. Because we believe we are our bodies, habitually and innocently we’re identified with the body, hence everything that affects the body affects us. So when the body doesn’t feel well or something doesn’t work, we see ourselves as the problem.  The more we identify with the thoughts about our body, the more we identify with the body itself and this just intensifies the habit of identification. In the end it’s a tightly wound spring waiting to snap. We forget that we have a disease, we are not the disease.

One of the beautiful things about Yoga practice is that by merging breath with movement, the mind is happily occupied. Tools to harness the mind are invaluable when it comes to managing our habits. We need a strong and disciplined mind if we are going to maintain our health. For some, this comes naturally but for others, it’s not so easy. The physical and mental practices of yoga are brilliant for teaching the mind to concentrate, to move beyond distraction and develop will power.

When the mind is focussed in on one thing it loses itself in the object. In everyday life this is completely unconscious. Losing yourself in cravings for this or that, stressful thoughts, even losing yourself in your expectations of how things should be in relationship to your diabetes management.

Taking the mind out of its preoccupation allows you to take a breather. To step back and just be. Something we find hard to do when we are on call 24/7.

Rachel Zinman Yoga candle meditation

As the theme for the week I offer you this simple candle gazing meditation called Tratakam.

It’s a beautiful practice to do before bed. It helps to trigger the hormones that induce sleep as well as prime the parasympathetic nervous system (the relaxed part of the nervous system) it’s calming, nourishing for the eyes and develops your will power and concentration if practiced regularly

With great respect….. Rachel

1. Light a candle and place it at eye level in a darkened room or in the evening before bed with the lights out

2. Take a comfortable seat and gaze at the candle. Be aware of the breath but don’t try and control the breath. Keep your eyes open trying not to blink

3. When you feel the eyes begin to tear, close them and see the flame as a reflected image at the point in between the eyebrows

4. When the image of the flame fades open your eyes again and repeat steps 1-3

5. Your candle gazing meditation doesn’t need to be more than 10 minutes but you can go longer if you like

6. On completion of the meditation, lie down relax and let yourself float into a deep rest

Acceptance

A Guest Blog from Therapist, Yogi and Type 1 Diabetic, Michelle Sorensen

I recently attended a conference on mindfulness meditation and how to incorporate it into cognitive behavioural therapy. The room was full of mental health professionals like myself, looking to integrate these skills into their practice. Many openly spoke of their desire to learn the skills for personal use as well. One health psychologist sitting next to me commented, “Mindfulness is really about preparing for dying. We are all going to need these skills.”  I am currently watching my father decline with advanced Parkinson’s disease, and watching my mother struggle to accept the changes, and I completely understood what she meant. My father is so accepting of what he cannot control, and so he did very well for a long time with his disease by focusing his efforts on what he was able to control. And simply accepting the rest.

Fighting a battle against illness makes sense in terms of aiming to extend life, maintain quality of life and nurture our spiritual development. However, there is also strength in accepting that death is inevitable for all of us, as is suffering and disappointment throughout life.  Acceptance can help us to develop resilience and flexibility. To develop resiliency we need to be able to better separate out what we cannot control from what we can control. There are problems in life with diabetes that we cannot always eliminate…. but we can develop better resiliency in facing those problems.

Accepting your diabetes

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes a few short weeks before turning 25.  There had been a lot of stress in my life in the years leading up to the diagnosis, as well as lot as of happy moments and exciting developments.  My stressors were the usual stressors for that time of life.  For example, I had to complete a thesis study for my psychology undergraduate program.  The statistics and defence took me out of my comfort zone.  However, the intensity of my stress was higher than it needed to be.  That part was self-imposed and rooted in my need to perform well and please others. I think being more mindful about locus of control would have made me more resilient and less stressed.

Then I took a year to work, save money and apply to graduate schools.  I had many friendships I tended to.  Phone calls always had to be returned, plans always had to be kept, requests always had to be responded to.  Disappointing someone was never an option for me.  I was not self-aware, no one had ever taught me that people pleasing was a problem.  That was my most problematic disease.

When I was diagnosed with diabetes, it was a tipping point. I began to recognize how exhausting my social commitments were, how stressed I felt by the idea of letting someone down.  It took me much longer to realize that I had some very dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs. If someone doesn’t like you, that means you are unlikeable.  If someone is disappointed in you, that means you are not worthy. 

In grieving my diabetes and the ensuing changes in my life, I had to go through some very painful emotions. I experienced denial, believing I would discover I did not have diabetes after all. I experienced the fear of an uncertain future and was terrified by the description of horrible complications stemming from diabetes. This led to a period of depression. I felt angry towards those around me at times, who did not know how to support me.  I bargained with the diabetes gods, striving for perfect control and hoping in turn I would avoid long term complications. Instead I was left shaken by terrible lows as I overcorrected my highs. 

But as I grieved and moved towards acceptance of my diagnosis, I had to accept other things. I had to accept I could not please everyone, and that did not mean I was not good enough. I had to accept that life was not perfect, and that’s okay…. it never was before diabetes either. I had to accept myself and who I am, with all my imperfections.

Today I still have moments I feel frustrated or fearful about my diabetes. However, I try to be mindful and focus on the present moment. After all, that is all any of us have for sure: right here, right now.

Accepting your diabetes

Michelle counsels people with diabetes, combining her knowledge of cognitive behavioural therapy with the experience that comes from living with Type 1 diabetes for 16 years. She is registered with the College of Psychologists of Ontario in Canada. She also enjoys speaking to health care professionals about how to incorporate more counselling into their interactions with patients.  Michelle sees psychological support as often being “the missing piece in diabetes care”.