A meditation on kindness

This is going to be a rant…

I’ve been low lately. Low in glucose levels, energy and motivation. Motivation to write this blog and be active on social media. Other than wanting to share through my channels what we can do as individuals to make a better world, I can’t watch the endless stories on Instagram anymore, even when I like the people who share them. I’ve got no time for superficial nonsense and I could give two hoots about how to live a better me. This is it baby, I AM me.

My inbox is crammed with junk mail and there’s no end in sight. The weather is way too hot, too cold, and here just up the road 21 homes have been destroyed due to raging bush fires. Last night we went to see the Joker. I came out with a headache. This movie is all about the making of a villain. No superheroes in sight.

But who is the villain?

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As far as I see it, we have been complacent too long (me included). If we don’t do something, say something and change our behaviour not only towards the planet but each other we are all ‘the villain’. I don’t care which way you lean. Be a decent human being. Those people putting themselves on the line deserve our support. Better yet put yourself on the line. Start with your own home, reduce your carbon footprint.

And all of us dealing with the high cost of Insulin, crap insurance and lack of money for medication, devices etc, the situation isn’t looking up. I had a meltdown the other day realising that if I am somewhere where access to medication becomes impossible for whatever reason, I and countless others seriously wouldn’t have long to live!

If you’ve been reading my blog for the last 4 years, you’ll know I am super positive. I always try and see the good in things. I use my yoga practice to support my mental and emotional health and absolutely believe yoga and knowing its true meaning can solve all our problems.

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Photo by Jaime Kinsella

So even though I have been feeling disheartened I’m also excited. Excited that things have finally got to the point where there is a possibility that we can breakthrough our complacency and come together. I truly wish for this with all my heart and I believe it can happen. Being part of the diabetes community has taught me that.

When I’ve needed an extra sensor, syringes or a shoulder to cry on someone’s been there. It feels natural to help others when it comes to chronic illness. It’s not our fault and if we can’t turn to the people who understand, life would be bleak. I trust that even though crisis is the worst and impossible to face, it also calls out the best in us.

When I was in 9/11 in NYC and walking through the streets to make my way home, I walked along the 59th street bridge with 7,000 people shoulder to shoulder. We held each other in that embrace. Nobody was arguing, complaining or attacking. We were one breath, one body, helping each other home.

This post today is a clarion call. What small act of kindness can you do today to make a difference? It could be something personal or planetary. This is what is meant by the practice of Karma Yoga, Selfless service. The yoga of action.

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Recently my friend and mentor Eve Grzybowski started a group on Facebook called Climate Yoga. Asking Yoga teachers to find ways in which they could act off the mat to support the climate movement. The group grew from 10 to 200 or so in a matter of days. This shows how yoga can be a springboard for anything we care deeply about.

Why? Because during your yoga practice you learn to cultivate compassion for yourself. A posture may not be easy, your breath may be inhibited, you may feel too tired to stretch or hold a pose. Being kind to yourself is the first step in learning compassion. I often talk gently to myself on the days I don’t want to do anything. Reminding myself that if I just do two or three poses it’s enough.

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The same goes for how we can contribute to this huge behemoth of climate change. Think about two things you could do today and every day to reduce your carbon footprint. It might be something as simple as walking somewhere you would normally drive. ( p.s also great for blood sugar management) Going meatless on Mondays. Bringing your own bag to the supermarket.  In fact if you’d like a list I’ve found this one to be really cool.

And if you’d like to get inspired to ‘be the change’ you wish to see in the world. Try this simple loving kindness meditation.

Loving Kindness Meditation

Sit comfortably or lie down.

Bring your awareness to the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils.

Remember the happiest moment in your life and feel yourself happy and smiling.

Visualise sending yourself feelings of love, kindness and joy.

Think of 3 things that you love about yourself.

Think about ways in which you are kind to yourself.

Then say to yourself. May I remember myself as pure loving kindness. May I remember my natural strength, peace and joy.

Next think of someone you love and extend that loving kindness to them. Wish peace, strength, happiness and joy for them. Feel yourself sending them love and imagine them sending love back to you. Think of the things you love about that person.

Repeat the same loving kindness words for someone that you don’t know so well. A neutral individual.

Now repeat the same process with someone or something you feel is hostile towards you or you feel hostile towards. This could even be directed at the anger and frustration you feel towards your diabetes

Go back to step one. Direct loving kindness back towards yourself. Feel yourself as love, peace and joy. Feel how love peace and joy is the nature of every human being. Feel your compassion extending out from your heart to every single creature of the earth. Feel it like a giant heart pulsing through the whole of creation….

Finish by bringing your awareness back to your breath taking some slow deep belly breaths.

With great respect…

rachel

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Photo by Jaime Kinsella

The subtlety of things

I’m not really a subtle person when it comes to speaking my mind. In fact, I’ve been told on many occasions that I inherited my bluntness from my mother. It’s taken me years to find a way to finesse my words and still more often than not my foot ends up in my mouth.

When I’m teaching a yoga class those moments of bluntness make my students laugh but in my personal relationships it can be a sticking point. When I think I’m being tactful, it’s the opposite, major faceplant!

In spite of my inability to be subtle when speaking my mind, physically I’m the opposite. I’m super sensitive. It’s like the filter I don’t have when I speak fails me when I’m out interacting in the world.

Being super sensitive though is not the end of the world. In fact, when I sit down to do my yoga practice it’s a gift. I find it easy to settle in to a quiet space and sense the subtle changes in internal energy. It helps me to feel when I am either in or out of balance, so I can feel more focused throughout the day.

ana-maria-berbec-8Ne7XGuvGuM-unsplashAs a yoga teacher I love sharing with my students how to access the subtle body. We think of ourselves as our physical bodies but who we are is actually the subtlest of the subtlest.

Put simply if we can comprehend that a human body is made up of cells, which when observed in minute detail become invisible vibrating particles, it stands to reason that what appears as solid and real, might not be.

It’s what we can’t see, feel or even understand which is informing everything. Luckily the yoga tradition has specific Sanskrit words to describe the unseen. Words like Prana (life force) and Nadi (energy channel) to name two.

When we start to grasp the finer aspects of experience, i.e that we are made up of vibration and that energy is not confined to one body, one mind etc. there is a possibility for greater compassion and acceptance. And this where I segway into my life with diabetes.

The most challenging part of living with diabetes for me is its subtlety.

jukan-tateisi-bJhT_8nbUA0-unsplashI cannot see the problem. i.e. it’s not a condition where I can look inside my pancreas locate those non-functioning beta-cells and restart the motor. Ironically someone asked me if there wasn’t some way I could do this just last week.

So being a subtle, invisible condition that I have actually no clue how to truly manage I have had to find ways to accept and be kind to myself. I find that simply sitting quietly before and after my physical postural practice is a great time to do this.

It might be just a few minutes where I recognise that the whole process of existence is out of my hands. Understanding that diabetes isn’t personal so why not let existence carry the burden? A few moments of stillness gives me an immense sense of freedom.

Another beautiful way to be self-compassionate is by practicing the “Inner Smile” meditation. This was shared with me by my teacher Alan Finger and sweetly offered recently on Facebook by one of his teachers in Perth, Tamara Graham .

I thought I would share her guidance here too as when we smile and laugh we drop all our stress and worry. I mean who do you have to be when you’re laughing?

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To begin the practice…

“It starts with a smile. Just think of something that naturally brings your smile. Feel the smile’s sensations.

Resting your eyes, let them gently close.

Feel how when you smile it’s more than just your mouth. Feel how it feels on your face.

Experience the sensations of the smile on your lips and your tongue, in your jaw, in the roof of your mouth, your cheeks, cheekbones, temples, your eyes, around your eyes, your forehead. How does it feel in your skull, your temples?

And just like magic now, move the feeling of the smile into your throat and upper body. Let it sparkle down your neck, shoulders, arms, hands and fingers.

Feel the gentle smile spreading in your chest and upper back, down through your torso, your spine, into your abdomen and lower back, move the smile into your pelvis, your hips, your two legs, your two feet and all ten toes.

Smiling even deeper inside you, visualise the smile moving through your nostrils, down into your lungs and into your heart.

Feel the sensation of the smile into your oesophagus, belly laughing its way into your stomach, into your liver, to your navel and your small intestines. Move the smile around your belly so your large intestines are smiling, so your whole abdomen’s smiling, move the smile into your reproductive organs and into your pelvic floor.

As you breathe, feel the smile sliding through all your organs and all of your nerves into your skin. Feel your whole self-smiling. Everything smiling together.

Sense your skin from inside and as you notice there’s no sharp boundary between your skin and the air around you, feel the smile glowing through you and all around you, into an aura of joy.

Sit as long as you like in the radiant aura of the smile.” –Tamara Graham

With great respect…

rachel

P.S Click this link Tamara Yoga to find out more about my friend and all that she shares from our Ishta Yoga tradition.

Sex and Diabetes: the good news

This post may contain affiliate links to products I trust. Please read Disclaimer for more info

Chocolate is sexy. Wearing red is sexy. Deep conversations…..sexy. Diabetes? Not so much.

When I was first diagnosed I wasn’t on insulin which meant no low blood sugars. In fact, a good romp meant lower blood sugars and time in range. I always felt better after, healthier and relaxed. It was also a respite. A moment where I was no longer obsessed with my meter. Although FYI I always tested before and after just in case.

After starting insulin, sex felt daring. Even risque. I never knew what the outcome would be. Would my liver kick in and dump more sugar or would my own insulin take over and plummet me to the depths? Sex felt like Russian roulette. Instead of gazing into the eyes of my beloved I was in full panic mode, making sure my glucose tabs were handy ‘just in case’.

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So how did I recover my mojo from those early diagnosis days?

Yoga, breath, and meditation.

Not quite sexy, but oh so satisfying. Yoga and its varied practices are the best way I know to regulate the nervous system and here’s why.

The system that’s responsible for the stress response and the sex response are located in the same part of your brain. They function at the same time and in response to each other. The center for learning, feeling good and motivation are also located in the same area. That means that the nervous system is intimately involved in all the different aspects of our sexual experience. I.e. anticipation, build up, orgasm and release.

Living with diabetes is a major stressor. We’re dealing with unpredictable blood sugars on top of everyday life. Stress also inhibits our sexual sensitivity and sensuality.

According to Artemis School and anatomy project founder, Lara Catone, “When the nervous system feels safe and can enter a state of relaxed downregulation the body can enter the processes it needs for both physical and emotional healing as well as the opportunity to experience more flow, pleasure and “better” sex. “

So how can we support the body to feel safe?

Starting with the breath. Breath regulates the nervous system. It’s easy to use and foolproof. There’s not one second that you’re not breathing right? And not only that you can use it during sex. The next time you’re at it in the boudoir try and catch how your breathing.

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Are you panting? Sighing? Holding your breath? See if you can consciously breathe evenly and slowly. Even dare to increase the length of your exhalation which deliberately calms the nervous system. You’re probably thinking, c’mon that’s crazy… Sex is all about letting go.

And yes it is! However, when you work consciously with your breath during sex you can actually enhance and increase your sexual pleasure. Especially at the moment of orgasm and just after. There is a whole area of modern yoga dedicated to the idea of sacred sexuality which borrows from eastern mysticism streams like the Tao.

The simple practice of controlling your breath is just the first step in teaching your body to relax. Immediately after orgasm is another opportune moment to pause.

Try this meditation for maximum post sex relaxation

You’ve just put your body through the paces building up to a burst of heady pleasure and connection with your lover. Instead of falling asleep in the afterglow sit upright and find your most comfortable seat. Begin to watch your breath. Notice the initial pace and speed slowing down to a steady rhythm. Not trying to control the breath you let it wash over and soothe you tuning in to the sensations all over your body. Perhaps you feel lighter, more tingly, perhaps there is a feeling of profound relaxation.

Bring your awareness to the center of your chest and imagine a light there no bigger than the size of your thumb. Feel it expanding on inhalation and drawing back to a pinprick on exhalation. Keep increasing the expansion of light on inhalation until you feel it surrounding you then draw it back on exhalation to the smallest dot. As you continue to do this notice how calm and present you feel. Working with the heart center enhances feelings of love, connection, and trust. On that note, it might even be something you and your partner would like to practice together.

You can work with this meditation practice for any length of time. It could be a few minutes or as long as a good soak in a tub. It’s up to you.

After finishing the practice sink back into your beloved’s arms and relax further. Then do what needs to be done for your diabetes knowing that the relaxed part of your nervous system is tuned in and switched on.

In my personal experience, the practices of yoga continue to enhance my sensitivity and ability to cope with diabetes in any situation. It has even made my diabetes, SEXY!

Check out my heart light meditation as a guided visualization and if you’d like to enhance your practice with mudra for diabetes I recommend checking out my favorite book, Yoga for the Hands by Gertrud Hirschi

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Stop the merry go round, I want to get off

Keeping up with social media, blogging, yoga teaching and just plain surviving is intense. As much as I love every single aspect of my life, I definitely get overwhelmed. Like today, after a night of surfing the edge of lows (6 glucose tabs later), I’m kind of a wreck.

I’ve always been good at “putting on a smile.” It comes from my dancer days when we were told that a smile is the best way to deal with a stuff up. i.e. falling on your butt.

I’m not sure smiling my way through frustration with diabetes is the answer. I should probably be doing more yoga. I do quite a bit, but I’m also teaching a lot at the moment so getting up early after a rough sleepless night means I’m sleeping in instead of groping my mat at dawn. If you don’t do yoga you’re probably thinking, jeepers Rachel give yourself a break.

And you’re right. I need a break….

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A break from diabetes would be awesome. A break from finger pricks and needle sticks. A break from counting carbs, guestimating doses, downing glucose tabs and the constant micromanagement that creates a dull ache in my brain that never ever goes away.

A break from getting letters from the DMV telling me I can’t drive without a medical assessment and the endless costs of this test and that test just to make sure I am not sliding backward. Which by the way I just found out I am. Hashimoto’s is now showing up even though ‘apparently’ my thyroid antibody count is down. ( Whatever that means…)

Like all good 21st century peeps I’ve signed up for endless free webinars and summits on thyroid and gut solutions. I’m seeing a neuroimmunologist, I’m drinking chicken bone broth, taking clean fish oil and probiotics, chlorella and I’m whole food plant based while having eggs.

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P.S If anyone gives me one more dietary guideline I’ll detonate!

And with all this endless frustration I’ve realised that I feel powerless. Powerless because chronic illness is not something that stops being chronic just because I want it to.

Chronic illness just is.

Even though I’m offloading my feelings, I also know that there are things I can do to alleviate my frustration.

Recently in a beautiful online women’s circle, the facilitator offered as an out for when we were wallowing in our emotions. Instead of saying yes to powerlessness, anger, or victimhood she reminded us to focus on going for what we loved.

When you focus on going for what you love your subconscious says yes to that.  So even if diabetes is a total downer, it doesn’t have to drag you under. A subtle shift in focus is all it takes.

Relax, I am guided and supported. My body will look after itself and find balance. You are LIGHT itself

In that spirit, I invite you to join me in this simple practice to stop the merry go round.

When you feel at your wits end with diabetes, when you feel fed up, burnt out, frustrated, spun out and overwhelmed imagine sloughing off those emotions like you would an old coat. Then step into a circle of light. In that circle are all the things you love, your creative desires, let the images come without effort. As you focus on what you love, feel yourself becoming lighter and light filled. Feel the delight and the freedom of you expressing your gifts. Then take a pen and paper and write down all the things that you felt and saw in your circle of light.

Once you’ve got it all down on paper get creative. Turn your words into a poem, a college, a song, a story. Put those words and the images in a place where you have your diabetes stuff so you are reminded to say yes to going for what you love.

Finally, trust that you are always guided and supported no matter what. Your existence is a blessing.

With great respect

rachel 

Making room for yourself

I’ve had to take a few steps back in the last few weeks from the blog. Not because I don’t have anything to say, but because there’s too much to say and I’ve needed to collect myself.

My passion is yoga and to share that in whatever form that takes. So in teaching regular classes I’ve come back to my rhythm. We all have a rhythm when we’re doing what we love. Some people like to call it flow.

For me, it’s a connection to words and images weaving together into a dance of postures. I love talking about the benefits of the poses, the power of the breath and the magic of stillness. What I love most about teaching is for most of that time I forget about diabetes. Sure I check my levels midway through class or sometimes take an injection, but mostly it’s not my focus.

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Whenever we are doing something we love and completely immersed in that it’s YOGA. Yoga means wholeness, completeness. In reality, this is our natural state we just don’t know it.  Capturing that flow state when living with chronic illness, especially diabetes is a challenge. There is way too much micromanagement involved. I’m definitely guilty of that and to be honest sometimes even doing lots of yoga doesn’t help. It can just end up being another form of escape, control, whatever!

This is where receptivity comes in. Learning to just sit, be quiet and to receive what’s actually happening in that moment. To receive the simplicity of yourself warts and all.

There is a beautiful exercise I often share in class to allow the noise of the outside world to drop away and it relates to the 5 elements, Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space.

Click the image below and join me for this simple 5-minute practice to stop, breathe and receive the beauty of yourself and the moment simply as it is.

With great respect…

rachel

For the love of a body

I’ve never been someone to feel at home in my body. For as long as I can remember I’ve dealt with feelings of discomfort. The feeling that everything that’s supposed to work in the usual way doesn’t. Digestion, breathing, and vital organs. I’m pretty sure the whole shebang was caused by the sudden death of my mother when I was 11, but I also remember a time before that when my mom threatened to use an enema bag on me when I refused to go to the toilet. I was terrified that my body wouldn’t do what it was ‘supposed’ to do.

Feeling frustrated and disconnected from one’s body isn’t unusual. It seems to be a general trend especially now with autoimmune and chronic health conditions on the rise. When we are conditioned to be comfortable living through our smartphones and laptops. Where productivity and quantity matter more than quality of life. Where we’ve forgotten the vital ingredient for existence. A body.

Stop, take a breath, think. How would you be reading this blog if you didn’t have a body, how would you be able to eat your lunch, without a body? How could you do anything without your body!

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Photo by Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho on Unsplash

As a dancer from a young age, I grew up understanding that my body was an instrument to be pressed and moulded into shape, to be moved into submission. Starved and folded, propelled and pulled my body had to be perfect. In my eyes, this seemed impossible. There were so many imperfections from flat feet to short legs to rounded bits where there should have been bones. So as a teenager I went to war with my body. Expecting the impossible.

Learning to suppress my feelings about my body became the norm for me. As long as I didn’t pay attention it wasn’t there. I longed to feel more comfortable and healthy, but it always felt out of reach.

And then I found Yoga. Yoga changed my life and my relationship with my body. When I first tried the practice I felt awkward, embarrassed, it was nothing like a plie at the barre or a jump on center stage. It was precision, alignment, breath, extension. A feeling of swoosh and whoosh as organs came back to life. It was release and relaxation. Tension easing. And the biggest takeaway was the malleability of the muscles and ligaments. For the first time in my life, my body felt fluid, I literally changed the shape of my muscles.

When I went to an audition for a dance company the year after I started practicing yoga the choreographer mentioned how my dancing had changed. How I moved more gracefully and my physique was lithe. It was nice to be acknowledged but it also terrified me. What if I couldn’t keep it up or worse what if my body failed me altogether.

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Many years later it did. Type 1 diabetes takes no prisoners. I have never felt more let down by my body than on the day of my diagnosis. It hurt, it really did.

Climbing out of a hole is no easy feat. I know I’m not the only one who lives with a chronic illness or has had to face the reality of a body that isn’t functioning as it should. It takes courage to see things for what they are. To let go of blaming oneself or feeling ashamed of doing something that may have caused the breakdown.

I am reminded of a story told by W. Timothy Gallway

“When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.

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Photo by Henrique Ferreira on Unsplash

Learning to see the body for what it is, is the first step in coming back to body love. It’s your vehicle, your temple, the altar upon which you are able to experience the wonder of creation. It has given you 5 senses to enjoy your surroundings. It has given you a heart to love, lungs to breathe. The ability to experience pleasure, sensuality and the depth of connection. As a woman, you gestate and nurture life, as a man you help to create life. Everybody is unique, a love bomb exploding with passionate expression. Whether healthy or ill, you the enjoyer occupy the body, one of a kind and yet inexorably part of the whole. Take yourself out of creation and the whole creation is incomplete. Watching the dancer nothing gets added to the dancer in the dance.

Loving others comes easily, not loving ourselves can seem like the core issue. I truly believe that in a life with chronic illness trying to ‘love” ourselves can feel too much like a concept. So instead of beating yourself up about not loving yourself enough or that you lack self-love.  Try this simple visualisation practice below….

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You can record this in your own voice so you can practice it without reading it.

Take a comfortable seat and close your eyes. Imagine that you are walking in a forest. In the middle of the forest, you see a clearing. Step into the clearing and just be present with all your senses alert. Notice what’s in the clearing. What do you see? How does it make you feel? Now gaze intently at the circle of trees surrounding the clearing and imagine that behind each tree is a role, a persona, something you tell yourself about your diabetes or chronic issue, something you tell yourself about your body. Imagine calling those identities, thoughts and roles to come out from behind the trees and call them back to you. As they come to you embrace them. Recognizing them for what they are thoughts, ideas, identities, beliefs, projections. Things that you’ve given energy to. Call them back and let them dissolve in your heart. You are not the beliefs, or ideas about your body. You can never be what you have. You have thoughts about your body. Your thoughts cannot be you. As you recall all these fractured parts of yourself notice how it feels to embrace them and integrate them. Keep calling out to the identities behind the trees until there are none left. Once each one has found its home in you. Imagine yourself filling from your toes to your crown with pure golden light. Pure gold, impenetrable light. Feel your body, strong, resilient, calm and centered. Notice how this makes you feel. Keep feeling the strength of this gold light feeding every cell, bringing you back to total body harmony. Take as long as you need to bask in this light. Then when you are ready. Gently open your eyes and come back to normal waking consciousness…

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Photo by Henrique Ferreira on Unsplash

May the light of who you are be the reminder that gives you the courage to meet every day exactly as it is.

With great respect…

rachel

The Politics of Rest

Rest, we all need it. It’s one of the three essential ingredients in life. Along with food and water, we’d die without it. So why do we try and cheat the one thing we need the most?

In my younger years, I enjoyed staying up till 3 am while trawling the Sydney nightclub scene. Those were the days of pointy black boots and off the shoulder T-shirts and way too many Bloody Mary’s. I was a professional dancer and had to be in the class by 9 am. Sleep was something you fell into because not sleeping meant falling out of a pirouette the next day.

Being 19, I thought it was cool to dance, drink and sleep as little as possible. Luckily that attitude and approach didn’t last. Being sensitive my body suffered. My back began to hurt and a chiropractor recommended yoga and meditation.

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A few months later I took my first class. It was weird and awkward. The strangest part came at the end. The teacher told us to lie down and covered us in blankets. She didn’t say anything and the room went really quiet. After a few moments, I sat up, looked around and saw the teacher glaring at me. She motioned for me to lie back down. I felt like one of those kids in nursery school at nap time. You know the kid who is just too fidgety to stay still for more than two minutes? That was me!

Eventually, I got the hang of it. I went through stages of letting go. In the beginning, my mind would race from one thought to another, I’d feel a rush of energy through my nerves. Then slowly that sensation would fade. I’d begin to breathe deeply and visualize things that couldn’t be real. Like seeing people floating on clouds, or strange luminous lakes. After the visuals passed I’d hear myself snoring. Soft buzzing snores that kept me present but relaxed at the same time. Eventually, I’d disappear. The teacher’s voice would too and then the sound of singing, or gongs would bring me back. The rest of the day I’d feel more relaxed, more tuned in and rested. The relaxation at the end of a yoga class, called Savasana (corpse pose) was a reset for my body and mind.

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In 2018 the politics of rest has become an obsession. According to studies, we are exhausted. We are literally killing ourselves with lack of rest. In my personal opinion, it’s the lack of fresh air, organic food, and people interaction as well as the constant pressure to have and do more. I also think technology and our dependence on it plays a significant role.

We play, interact, eat and even sleep through our smart phones. Even if we want to rest we are encouraged to do it with an app. Just yesterday I saw an article with the headline “A sleep app on your phone? Maybe not such a good idea.”

This is where Savasana solves the problem, but not just any Savasana. Yoga nidra. Yoga nidra (yogic sleep) is a phrase to describe a deep and conscious state of rest. Unlike the corpse pose, you stay alert while relaxing different parts of the body, counting breaths and sensing and visualizing various physical and emotional states.

Benefits of yoga nidra are akin to going into a deep sleep. Our brain has the capacity to work in different states of awareness: waking state, relaxed state, dream state and deep sleep state. There is also a fifth state called the gamma state, which happens at the point of orgasm or during any ecstatic activity.

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Even though science has categorized these states as separate from each other, in reality, they’re all happening at once. We choose where to place our attention. For instance, when you’re hard at work nutting out a problem or completing a task you’re in the beta brainwave state. If you decide to take a break, watch TV or read a book, you can become so relaxed you’re nearly asleep. That’s the alpha wave. The alpha wave quite naturally takes you into the dream state which is the theta wave. Before you know it, you’re out for the count. This is the delta wave. Everything disappears. No thoughts, no ideas, no individuality, no problems. Bliss.

The theory behind yoga nidra is that as you are led through a series of steps, starting with relaxing different parts of the body, observing the breath and finally working with visualization, quite naturally you flow into the alpha wave, which relaxes the nervous system and reduces your stress.

What I love about this yoga practice is that anybody can do it. You don’t need to be fit or flexible. You just need a comfortable spot to lie down. You can do it in bed, or if you are at work seated in a chair with your eyes closed.

Join me in taking deep rest with this yoga nidra we recorded recently with my husband and fellow yogi John Weddepohl at Inhale Life in Sydney. The nidra is accompanied by the sound of singing bowls played by yoga teacher Romina DiFederico.

Start the practice by lying on your back.

Have your arms and legs slightly away from the body, palms facing upwards, feet relaxed and open.

Turn the head gently from side to side until it rests in the center.

If your chin juts up towards the sky, place a blanket underneath your head.

Relax completely.

Don’t worry about the breath or what the body is doing.

Feel how effortless it is to lie here.

A work in progress

There’s a blizzard outside and today we’re snowed in. In Rochester, NY where I grew up, we rarely had snow days. Being close to Canada and having snow for almost 8 months of the year meant the city was well equipped to meet extreme weather.

But here in New York state, it’s been snowing in snowballs. It’s been too cold to go outside, too cold to go anywhere and did I mention… it’s frigging cold out there!!! I am not sure what I was thinking leaving behind endless summers but it’s been quite a shock to my blood sugar levels. I really thought I had things down but I’ve realized that my diabetes management is still a work in progress.

In spite of the cold, I went into the city this week to meet with Craig Kasper the creator of the Bravest Podcast. Craig also lives with Type 1 and created the podcast so he could learn and explore what it is that enables people to live extraordinary lives in spite of their Diabetes.

In the interview, we talked about levels of bravery. As our discussion progressed I shared that acceptance continues to be a process. There was that moment of diagnosis, where I felt like I had to swallow a bitter pill, the long years of denial where I kept thinking that controlling my diet and walking up hills would cure me, the moment where I gave myself my first injection through a rain of tears, the day where I knew I needed to change my management strategy by splitting my basal dose and finally yesterday pulling up a ½ unit of bolus Insulin into a syringe and taking the plunge.

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Living with LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults) is no picnic. A friend recently commented that it’s easier to calculate your insulin to carb ratio when your beta cells don’t produce any insulin. Living with LADA is like playing roulette. Some days the ball lands on the money and others I leave the table in despair.

The only way I get through each and every wonky moment is with the varied practices of yoga. I love working with the medium of sound in my practice because sound is so direct and immediately calms and centers me.

Working with sound in Yoga is called Mantra. The word Mantra comes from two words, Manas, meaning mind and Trayati meaning freedom.  A Mantra is a sound, which frees the mind by giving the mind a focus so it’s naturally drawn out of its preoccupation with thoughts, ideas, and beliefs.

I know it’s natural to be obsessed with thoughts about the ins and outs of daily management. In working up to that first bolus injection I would sit down to meditate and replay worst case scenarios over and over.

That thought loop went on for days until I caught myself. It’s up to me to stop my need to identify with the thought by asking myself; what kind of investment do I have in that thought? Can a thought make me happy? How can a thought, which has no substance or dimension get the better of me?

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It’s like trying to catch a snowflake. Impossible!

And it’s not about stopping the thought either. Try and banish any thought, another impossible task.

Mantra is such a profound way to bring the mind into a one-pointed focus, it can be chanted out loud or internally. Each nuance has a different effect on the mind and body. Chanting audibly affects the pituitary gland, the master gland in the body. It vibrates during chanting which tones and tunes all the other glands in the body. It also affects the Vagus nerve which is responsible for increasing immunity

Chanting out loud increases the length of exhalation too. The longer the exhale the calmer the nervous system. Finally, mantra increases our ability to recognize that moment of getting lost in a thought. Thoughts come and go. It’s the thinker of the thoughts that matters.

For today’s practice join me in a simple chanting practice with the sound OM

 

With great respect…

rachel

New intentions for a new year

With just one day to go until New Year’s Eve every letter in my inbox and blog post is about reflecting on what’s been and looking to what’s ahead. It’s hard not to get caught up in the frenzy and to think I need to make resolutions too. If I could make a resolution that would eliminate diabetes from my life believe me I would. But sadly I can only manage my relationship to the disease which doesn’t have a sense of endings nor new beginnings.

I’ve decided to start my new year in a different way. A couple of days ago I signed up for the Mysugr bundle with the intention of getting support for adding fast-acting Insulin at meal times. I’ve been injecting Basal insulin for the last 3 years and my yoga practice combined with a low carb diet, daily walks, meditation and breathing have kept my levels in range.

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Now I want better control. My CDE suggested I start with a ½ unit of Apidra with my meals, but even with her instructions, I’ve been holding off because, to be honest, I AM FREAKING OUT! Just like I did when I started insulin therapy. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster working up the courage to take this next step. I’m learning that no matter the challenge, it doesn’t work to run in the other direction. Especially when my health and well-being are at stake.

Luckily peer support and diabetes technology can help to bridge the gap.

As soon as I signed up for the Mysugr bundle, which includes an accu-chek guide meter and unlimited test strips delivered to my door, my diabetes coach Gary Scheiner said “Hi” via the app. I was able to chat with him and get advice on when to dose according to my uploaded data within minutes. How cool is that!

I bought Gary’s book Think Like a Pancreas when I started Insulin in 2014. In fact, I took his book with me for my 8- month trip to South Africa and read it from cover to cover. I never thought I’d get his personal support in helping me to manage my health. But then I never thought I’d meet half the people who inspire me every day to live well with this condition. In my experience, the diabetes community is welcoming in a way that has gone beyond any other community I’ve been involved in (including the Yoga community.) It’s brought me to tears and opened my heart and had me in awe every single day.

It’s also why I want to spread awareness.

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This whole holiday season has been about that for me. Bringing my family into the reality of what its like for me to live with Type 1. Showing my Dad my snacks for lows, having my 11-year-old niece help me work out the carb count for my lunch or talking with my mom about why people with diabetes can tend to live in isolation. Awareness definitely breeds compassion and support.

As the holidays come to a close and I prepare for 2018 there is one resolution I’d like to share. It’s the tradition of practicing the Sankalpa meditation. Sankalpa means “ setting an intention” rather than being something we resolve to do, it’s something that arises from the ground of our being. Intentions for me in the past have been single words like love, support, authorship, openness. Whatever the intention I let it percolate until I feel its birth in me. It could be a week, a month or a year later.  Rather than worrying about when my intention will fruit I enjoy the adventure along the way.

 “You are the beginning of the journey, you are the journey itself and you are the destination.” John Weddepohl

Wishing each and every one of you a love filled, joy-filled healthy New Year.

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