What keeps me on the straight and narrow

its 5.30 am and I’m high. High on life, love and the pursuit of happiness?

I wish!

I’m looking down the barrel of a big fat 11, thats 11mmol/L. Bummer drag was a phrase we coined in high school.

Yep that feels apt.

The thing is I’ve done nothing wrong. There is absolutely no reason for this insane number. And I know in comparison to some it’s not even that bad. Nothing an extra shot or two couldn’t resolve. But that’s the thing. I only get one shot a day…

Don’t get me started about the medical system here in Australia, the lack of access to technologies, the way they progress you through medications. Whats’ free and what’s not. But still it’s better than having no access to medication. So really I’m not complaining.

I know this sounds like a rant but really I’m trying to segway.

Because this is how I cope.

Y O G A

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I’m going to verticalise it.

Y
O
G
A

YES
Opportunity
Gratitude
Awareness

These four simple words keep me on the straight and narrow.

YES to rest, walks in nature, whatever makes me feel good. Yes to a daily yoga practice, breathing, stillness, meditation. Yes to LOVE, friendship, support. Yes to Insulin, blood sugar checks, Doctors and CDE’s. Yes to whatever helps me to do my best every day to manage the unmanagable.

Seeing everything as an OPPORTUNITY… to grow, accept, relax, be patient, create boundaries. Communicate, advocate, reciprocate.

Being Grateful. ( no explanation needed)

Wherever AWARENESS goes energy flows. That means if I’m thinking about that stupid number, I’m going to keep thinking about that stupid number until I’m more stressed out than I was before I looked at that number.

 So what’s the solution?

I have a choice… I can look at that number and remind myself that a number does not define me. I have a high reading. Thats all. Theres 24 hrs in a day and anything can happen.

I’d rather be aware of the beautiful sunny day, the plans I’ve made to meet a friend. The love I feel for my partner and the excitement of a new project on the boil.

And You? What keeps you on the straight and narrow? I’d love to know…

with great respect…Rachel

 

 

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

What’s stress got to do with it?

More than  two years ago I connected with Dr. Lauren Tober, a clinical psychologist and yoga teacher. When we met there was an instant rapport. I loved her quiet, yet strong commitment to supporting others to be healthier and happier. She’s initiated projects like, Capturing Gratitude, a photographic happiness project and her e-course, a daily dose of bliss. Each one of Lauren’s offerings give solid tools in bringing you back to balance. I asked Lauren if she could share with us her understanding of the relationship between stress and the breath and to offer a mini practice from a daily dose of bliss.  I hope you enjoy her perspective and practice as much as I have. 

“Being stressed sets off a cascade of reactions in the body and brings us into Sympathetic Nervous System Dominance, otherwise known as the Stress Response, or the Fight-Flight-or-Freeze Response.  A number of stress hormones are released, including adrenaline, which signals to the body that our lives are in danger.  And when the body believes our life is danger, it slows down any non-essential functions like digestion, resting, healing and reproduction and focuses on responding to what is perceived to be an immediate and physical threat to our lives. Importantly for diabetes, when the Sympathetic Nervous System is dominant, epinephrine and cortisol are released, which raise blood sugar levels in order to boost energy.  If our life is in danger, we need to be able to run away or fight to save ourselves, so the rise of blood sugar levels gets more fuel to the cells so we can face whatever challenge we’re presented with.

The function of the Sympathetic Nervous System is to help us to save our life when it is being threatened.  It has a very important function, and without it we might not be here today at all. The problem is not that we have a Sympathetic Nervous System, or even that it is activated from time to time.  The problem is that we spend far too much time in this stress response. 

The Relaxation Response

Ideally we spend the majority of our time in Parasympathetic Nervous System Dominance, otherwise known as the Relaxation Response or the Rest-Digest-Repair-and-Reproduce branch of the nervous system.  And when our lives really are in immediate danger, like we’re being attacked or we step out in front of oncoming traffic, our Sympathetic Nervous System kicks in to save our lives. Then once the danger is over we move back into Parasympathetic dominance, and go about leading calm, balanced, happy and healthy lives.

a daily dose of bliss yoga for diabetes

The problem is that these days many of us are feeling stressed about non-life threatening events and are rushing around trying to meet largely self-induced deadlines.  Stress has become a part of our daily lives. Our bodies don’t know the difference between the stress resulting from an immediate life threatening situation and the stress of trying to cram too many things into one day.  So our body responds with these age-old life saving responses, whether our life is really in danger or not.

So what can we do about it? 

Life can be stressful, especially living with diabetes, and telling yourself to ‘just chill out’ doesn’t always work.

Thankfully, there are some wonderful breathing practices that are widely accepted by both the scientific and yogic communities, that can support us to move from Sympathetic to Parasympathetic dominance, or from stressed out to chilled out. Extending the length of the exhalation is my favourite way to calm the nervous system and instigate the relaxation response.

Find yourself a comfortable position to sit in, press play, and I’ll guide you through this simple but very effective practice.  It only takes a few minutes.

Dr Lauren Tober is a Clinical Psychologist, Happiness Coach and Yoga Teacher based in Byron Bay, Australia.  With a passion for health, healing and happiness, Lauren integrates the best of western psychology with ancient yogic wisdom, both on and off the mat. 

Lauren is the founder of Capturing Gratitude, a worldwide photographic happiness project, and A Daily Dose of Bliss, a highly acclaimed online yoga course for emotion regulation and bliss.

Lauren’s work has been featured in The Huffington Post, Australian Yoga Journal, the ABC, Well Being Magazine, Australian Yoga Life Magazine, Elephant Journal, Peppermint Magazine and more.

Lauren believes that happiness is our true nature, and that yoga, self compassion, gratitude, creativity and community help us to cultivate happiness in our lives on an everyday basis.

To join Lauren’s community and download a free gratitude meditation visit www.hello.laurentober.com.

adailydoseofbliss

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.

mindfulness with yogafordiabetesblog

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”.

On a personal note

I’ve just signed up for Diabetes Blog Week with the intention to write for the next seven days to a specific topic. Todays topic is deeply personal… What are the things I wouldn’t share about myself with regards to my illness…

As I discover more and more about the diabetes online community and all the support that’s out there I feel incredibly lucky. For the first 6 years after my diagnosis I felt completely isolated. The only other person I knew with diabetes was a friends son who’d had it since he was 8. He was already on Insulin while I was still managing with diet so we couldn’t really compare notes. To say I was roaming around in the dark would be an understatement. To top it off my job required constant travel, meeting new people and appearing the model of perfect health.

Yoga Teachers don’t get sick!

I’ll never forget a time, when I was teaching in Kyoto, where our host had organised us a hotel room instead of an apartment. I’d agreed to it thinking I could find something to eat even if it was just a salad and boiled eggs with an avocado from a local supermarket. What I hadn’t factored in, was a frustrated hungry husband and son who wanted more than just take away. An argument ensued which left me a quivering mess with soaring BG levels. Somehow I managed to placate the situation, feed myself and head out the door in time to teach my class.

I remember smiling through clenched teeth for most of the yoga class reflecting on all the moments, as a dancer, where I had to go on stage and smile when it was the last thing I felt like doing.

Diabetes Blog week Rachel Zinman

The beauty of being  dancer is that you use your body as the instrument of your heart. You don’t need to say anything. But society and life requires the word. So is it possible to keep my thoughts and feelings about Diabetes on the QT?

Not really…. because I am a share-a-holic

Perhaps the only thing I wouldn’t readily divulge is the minutia of thoughts that parade their way through my mind.

Luckily my meditation practice takes care of that!

with great respect…. Rachel

When it all comes crashing down

I’m having one of those days again. I’m sure you can relate. My brilliant blood sugar management strategy has tanked with a million reasons why. Could be the almonds I ate a few days ago and sneaked in again today. Could be my period, that stubborn kidney stone that’s stuck and won’t come out. Could be the early mornings, the long walk I went on last week.

Wait! Let me get my pen and write a list.

It’s exhausting! And from what I’ve heard from fellow diabetics, I could be scratching my head forever trying to work out WHY everything went for a loop. Especially since I just got back the results from my A1c and they were positively glowing.

So is it really back to square one? Never!

Rachel Zinman Yoga for Diabetes

Something that I’ve learned from my Yoga practice is that mastery is not about getting to the end point of a posture. My body, the foods I’ve eaten, the type of stress I’ve been under, all affect my flexibility and strength. One day, I can jump freely into handstand and balance effortlessly, the next I’m tripping and falling all over the place. Frustration and a sense of failure only compound the problem.

So how do I achieve mastery? What’s the secret?

Simply put. I stop trying to get to an endpoint. Endpoints don’t actually exist.

Think about it. When you arrive there and then it becomes here and now. Plus, thinking my sense of achievement, health and wellbeing exist at that perceived endpoint and attributing my happiness to that can only land me in quicksand. Since when did any posture shout at you and say,“ Hey master me! I’ll bring you happiness!” You’re the one choosing to do the posture and choosing to attribute your happiness to the completion of that posture. Without you would it matter if the posture was there or not?

Taking that same principle and applying it to our health is a big ask. Our personalisation and identification with the body is completely instinctual. Especially when it comes to pain.

The first time I had to come to terms with pain was while I was in labour. I kept thinking, “ this is ridiculous, how do women survive this, and geez! men have no idea.” To my surprise, what supported me most was having a focal point. My doula asked me to gaze into her eyes and breathe through every contraction. She wouldn’t let me look away. The pain disappeared into the background and my steady breaths enabled me to bring my boy into the world. I felt like I’d climbed mount Olympus and my relationship to pain was never the same.

Every pain after that whether physical or emotional was met with focus and determination. I still shy away from it and get frustrated, but I know its not me, it’s the body sending a signal to pay attention, refocus and stop trying so hard.

Breathing through the practice is one of the ways I let go of the endpoint. Getting lost in the breath, time disappears. Counting the breaths gives my mind something to do. Breathing deeply and fully not only incites inner mastery, it’s energising, grounding, healing and brings vitality to all the organs and releases stress.

Ok so it’s obvious, I am a BIG FAN of breathing!

Join me for this weeks practice especially if its been a busy, overwhelming week. The practice is designed to be calming as well as focussing and to bring a sense of lightness to the heart. It includes a focusing meditation which works with breath, visualisation and sound … with great respect Rachel

The Healing Power of Sound

Concentration. It’s necessary for just about everything. Think about how it is when you are engaged in doing something you love. All your attention and all your energy is there. Concentration is one of the first things we work with when we start a Yoga practice. Because we are putting our bodies into challenging positions and asked to breathe deeply we have to bring all our awareness to that one point. And what happens? Eventually the mind relaxes and we feel calm, light and relaxed.

What we learn in Yoga is that deep focus leads to deep relaxation. So what about when we are stressed? That requires concentration as well. We have to identify with the stress to perpetuate it. The classic example in Yoga is the story of the Rope and the Snake. You’re walking along the road, it’s dark, you see something that looks like a Snake, you panic get out your flashlight and shine a light on the supposed Snake, which turns out to be Rope. Your panic turns to relief. For as long as you thought the Rope was a Snake, the stress perpetuated itself.

Concentration is the first and most important step to meditation. Students often share that they can’t meditate. You might even be thinking that right now. So I’ll let you in on a secret; in Yoga when we’re practicing meditation it’s actually concentration.

The word for concentration in sanskrit is Dharana. Any technique you learn in a Yoga class is a Dharana technique. It might be watching your breath or counting your breaths. Breathing while you are in a pose. visualising a light in between your eyebrows, chanting the sound Om. All these different practices are there to teach your mind to concentrate. Why? Because when the mind is occupied it lets go of its preoccupation with thoughts. In other words it stops concentrating on all the myriad stresses, worries, expectations and beliefs. It’s the same when you’re focussed on doing something you love. It’s relaxing and freeing. You feel completely open, happy and time disappears.

My favourite way to concentrate is to work with repetition of sound, In Yoga it’s called Mantra. I have always loved to sing, was an avid member of the choir and played the lead in several high school musicals. I began writing songs in my early twenties when I married a singer songwriter. While in a Yoga class with my teacher in New York City I discovered devotional chanting. Often at the end of a class our teacher would chant a series of Sanskrit words to a traditional tune. The sounds were soothing and uplifting and inspired me so much that I made it my mission to learn the meaning of the words and to add them to my own classes. I found that making up my own tunes to the Mantras was a great way for me to remember them and improved my concentration.

Sacred Chanting for healing

One of the first things I did after my diagnosis was  to work with Mantra. It didn’t matter what the Mantra was, it was the repetitive nature and my intention to let go of my need to identify with every worrisome thought, that brought me back to a calm frame of mind. The science behind it comes from a study done by Herbert Benson, who coined a phrase called the Relaxation Response. his studies demonstrated that when patients suffering from a variety of ailments were given sounds or phrases to repeat, from any religion or tradition, their nervous systems switched from the flight or flight response to the relaxation response, which in turn promoted pain relief, stress relief and immune system recovery.

I have always had a devotional nature so incorporating devotional singing and repeating mantras is food for my soul and something I do every day in my morning practice.  Not everyone feels comfortable repeating sounds in an unfamiliar language. So below is a simple mantra practice which you can adapt and adjust to your liking and belief system. The main component is the repetition of a word or phrase with the intention to let go of the preoccupation with the thoughts.

You may find yourself thinking during the practice, it’s not about stopping the thoughts. No matter what thoughts come, go back to the word or phrase you have chosen. Working with the practice for 40 days is enough to establish the habit of concentration so if you can set time aside every day, even 5 minutes you will notice a profound difference.  With great respect…Rachel

And…here’s one of the Chants I recorded with my band the Subway Bhaktis if you’d like some inspiration

Mantra practice

Sit quietly observing your breath for a few moments

Bring your awareness to the centre of your chest

Think of a word or phrase that is meaningful to you it could be Love, Peace, Joy, It could be a prayer in your faith. Choose something you would feel comfortable repeating. It does not have to be a positive affirmation. The purpose of the practice is to bring the mind to a one pointed focus and draw it out of its preoccupation with thought. 

Once you have chosen the word or phrase repeat it initially for 2 minutes, then increase to 3 minutes and work you way up to 5 minutes over 40 days. You can use a timer on your phone with an alarm or if you have a Mala or Rosary you can count the repetitions. 27 repetitions takes about 2 minutes, 54 about 10 minutes and 108 takes 20 minutes