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

Transform your greatest challenge

Today I am sharing a guest post from yogini Evan Soroka. Some of you may remember her from the diayogi summit in October. Evan is a wise soul whose lived with type 1 diabetes for the past 20 years and is living proof that yoga is an alchemical and transformational modality to completely revolutionize your life with diabetes. Everything Evan shares from her presence on social media, to her work with groups and individuals both on and offline, is infused with a calm wisdom that will transform how you see yourself and your diabetes. Her program Rise above T1D launches today and I am super excited to share her story with you. Take it away Evan…

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I have always been and will continue to always be a curious adventurer at heart. Growing up in the mountains much of my free time was spent under the influence of nature. It is no wonder that the story of my diagnosis revolves around adventure and the continued success of my journey with type 1 diabetes is due to that same ardor to know more.

The summer leading up to diagnosis was a season of flux. I had spent the previous year preparing for my Bat Mitzvah; a much anticipated coming of age ceremony in Jewish tradition. My body was under rapid permutation from girl to woman and the obvious signs of illness passed under the radar. Looking back I remember a rabid thirst that could not be quenched. The day before my Bat Mitzvah I wet the bed. My parent’s passed it off as nerves. There were a number of other subtle red flags, which would have been more obvious had I of been older and more self-aware. I kept a lot of the symptoms to myself. I was diagnosed at the end of that summer after a backpacking trip in the Colorado wilderness. It was not until this trip, quiet under the influence of Mother Nature, did I perceive of something being wrong with me.

After diagnosis, I did not understand the magnitude of the change to come. I enjoyed the spotlight and lavished attention. I was too young to conceive of my own mortality to be fearful and too curious to be upset by the doctors, hospital beds and needles. However, the limelight did not last and soon I was unhinged by my reality. The emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows, the tension of child/parent dominance, unresolved insecurities and emotions left me a shell of my former self. I struggled to learn new eating habits and became increasing obsessive with my weight, body image and stopped enjoying outdoor activities that I had once cherished. Two years after diagnosis I moved to rural Brazil on a Rotary Youth Exchange Program. My dad still jokes that I did not give my parents another alternative. I was determined to face the world and diabetes on my own. The year abroad was necessary for my own self-development and growth. I learned how to live on my own with T1D in a new culture, climate and explain my condition in a foreign language. I was confident but defiant, self-sufficient yet completely incompetent. Thankfully I found yoga.

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Yoga bridged the gap from my head to my heart. It was the first thing that I learned to do for myself since diagnosis that granted me a sense of freedom. It was a connection to a natural part of me that was beyond all insecurities, pain, and sadness. With practice, I learned how to use yoga as a tool to manage the symptoms and side effects of T1D.  Since those early years I have dedicated my life’s work to yoga.

A full-time teacher since 2007, I have received some of the highest credentials in yoga teaching, becoming an ERYT 500 (minimum 2000 hours of teaching) and a Certified Yoga Therapist (5-year program).

Yoga therapy, derived from yogic philosophy and Ayurvedic tradition, helps individuals facing health challenges at any level manage their condition, reduce side effects, restore balance, increase vitality and elevate attitude about life.

Yoga therapy, unlike Western medicine, considers the individual a whole multi-dimensional being addressing the physical, mental/emotional and spiritual levels. The tools of yoga postures, breathing exercises and meditation promote awareness, discipline and grant the individual the power to cultivate true and lasting change. I am a dedicated practitioner as well as a patient of yoga therapy, with a daily practice. I teach from direct experience and influence my students with the same drive and compassion that I have learned for myself.

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Today I am launching my  6-Weeks Rise Above T1D online yoga therapy program. This program is a compilation of my life practice and aims to teach all diabetics how to skillfully navigate chronic illness.

You will learn how to:

  • Apply yoga directly to your symptoms and side effects.
  • Increase insulin sensitivity, reduce stress and anxiety, manage energy levels and elevate your attitude about T1D.
  • Unearth limiting belief patterns and fears that hold you back from achieving what you really want.
  • Use your body as a vehicle for transformation and freedom.
  • Create and maintain a daily yoga and meditation practice.

If not for a regular practice I would not be the successful diabetic that I am today. I am by no means a perfect diabetic but it does not control me. When I am not on my mat or teaching you can find me adventuring in my Colorado backyard.

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Evan Soroka is a certified yoga therapist and teacher based in Aspen, Colorado. When she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in early adolescence yoga was the only thing that helped her manage the uncomfortable emotional and physical side effects. Since then Evan has turned her greatest struggle into her life’s purpose. Through the practices and teachings of yoga therapy, she empowers others to use their own body as a vehicle for healing and transformation. www.evansoroka.com

I’ve come a long way baby

Today is my Diaversary. Ten years of living with diabetes and baby, I’ve come a long way. When I was diagnosed, neither I nor my health care providers knew a lot about the type of diabetes I had. Type 1 LADA has such a slow onset that it can appear as prediabetes or even type 2.

Ten years ago I had no idea the DOC (Diabetes Online Community) existed either so I never reached out for support. Besides my motto was, “Yoga teachers don’t get diabetes or if they do, yoga fixes it.” Thinking this way was wrong on every count. Looking back I’m glad I hit rock bottom because it took a crisis to wake me up.

Even though it was tough and took a while, the path I’ve gone on has made me more compassionate and inspired my mission to support others living with this condition to thrive.

This morning I jumped on Instagram to tell my story. Check it out below.

With great respect…

rachel

 

It’s Okay To Receive

I’ve just made up a new word. It’s “GIVITUDE”

Givitude is when you find a way to make your gratitude a gift.

Giving is natural. From smiling at a stranger to donating to a cause, most of us without even thinking about it give in little ways every day. How many times have you opened a door for someone, offered directions, taking a partners hand, or called a friend just to listen?

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When I consciously give and my gift is received I find myself falling into gratitude. Gratitude that I could help someone feel better, learn something new or overcome a challenge. I don’t give expecting something in return rather I know that the giving will give me gratitude and the gratitude I feel will inspire more giving.

In the diabetes community giving seems to be a given. When I first reached out online to tell my story and ask for help I had over 25 replies in five minutes. Those five minutes changed everything. I went from feeling isolated and anxious to feeling seen, held and supported. I remember being overwhelmed with gratitude and longing to meet each person who had responded to my call for help. My next thought was what can I do for them? How can I show my gratitude?

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The answer… it’s okay to receive.

When someone gives you a gift it’s yours to receive. Think of it as creation, giving to you in the form of that person, situation or experience. In fact, when you analyze it, creation is giving everything to us all the time. The air we breathe, the ability to breathe, the trees that keep our atmosphere balanced, the earth which enables seeds to grow into trees, the sun which brings life and light to all things.  It’s all going on effortlessly.  Isn’t it amazing that we are free to enjoy creations gifts?

When I first found yoga my body went through some radical upgrades. I became stronger, lighter and more flexible and I was surprised at how resilient it made me. I changed my diet and rested more. I took my time and immersed myself in nature.  Time took on a different quality and I was more content. It was because of these simple gifts that I decided to become a teacher. The benefits of the practice were tangible and I wanted to share.

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Not much has changed other than now that I live with diabetes, I feel an urgency to share. Yoga was my lifeline in dealing with the crippling anxiety of starting insulin and my rock when I felt overwhelmed and alone.

Since coming out of isolation it’s been my mission to enable people to feel happy, healthy and free in spite of living with this chronic condition. I truly see yoga as the key to that and the greatest gift.

This Thanksgiving I invite you to take a moment for yourself. Receive your breath, feel your heartbeat, your ability to love, give and receive.

And… if you’d like to bring more yoga into your life join me in this downward dog for all levels in the video below.

with great respect….

rachel

One step closer

I’m back and so is the blog. Thanks to everyone who participated in our Diayogi Dialogue Summit. The feedback was phenomenal and even though I created and launched the summit I felt like I was a student along with everyone else.

I now have more yoga management tools under my belt to help me with the highs and lows. The Summit will be listed in the menu tab of the blog until the end of November to coincide with Diabetes Awareness Month so if you haven’t had a chance to watch all the episodes yet just go here and scroll down to find them all.

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Today marks the start of Diabetes Awareness Month and this is also the month that I was diagnosed 10 years ago. I feel like I have grown in leaps and bounds since then. From sitting in my endo’s office in total denial to being on a full insulin regime and getting my A1c into the normal range.

If you live with diabetes you know this isn’t easy. For me, yoga has been the key ingredient and learning to trust my body and life itself. As I’ve been upping my fast acting insulin doses, introducing more foods and finding the right balance between rest, work and home life, I finally feel in control of how I manage my daily life with this condition.

At my last doctor’s appointment, my doctor was encouraging. He celebrated my A1c results with me while offering a different kind of goal for my next visit. He said his aim is to help me normalize my life with diabetes so that injecting and checking my levels is a seamless experience.  He compared it to the everyday routine of brushing my teeth. I had to smile when he said this. I mean who can compare 7 injections a day to the painless swish swish of tooth brushing? But still, I get the gist.

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As I get used to fine-tuning my doses and the timing of the shots it gets easier and easier to get on with the day and the enjoyment of this precious life. I may not be a pro just yet but I’m definitely one step closer.

with great respect…

rachel

 

Yoga; Beware All Ye who Enter.

My personal journey with diabetes was one of misdiagnosis and denial. It took me years to accept my diagnosis. When I did, my first step was to reach out and  find people like me who also practiced yoga. In the beginning, there weren’t many, but as my reach increased I found a community of practitioners and teachers thriving because of yoga. Anastasia Yatras is one of those lights. Her story is absolute gold and so inspiring! I can’t wait for you to read it. Take it away Anastasia

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In the grunge era of the 90’s, pre Instagram and Facebook, Yoga wasn’t as widespread as it is today. Back then, there was a clear division between alternative culture and the mainstream. In 1992, Yoga, along with shaved under cuts, sat absolutely in the first category.

In 1992, a university friend had invited me to yoga, in Newtown, Sydney, with the hook line that “Yoga made you sleep better”. As my life was a demanding schedule of missed lectures, all -nighters and endless rounds of stove- top coffee, I was intrigued.

With no idea what I was in for, (remember there was no You Tube Yoga back then), the exposed brick yoga room, felt austere.  The mysterious props including belts and wooden blocks, inexplicable. There may as well have been a sign above our Birkenstock sandals at the entrance, “Beware all ye who enter.”

To my novice ears, we were guided by elusive phrases such as “…outer skirt of the heel” and “something..something…asana”. I rushed to perform handstand with the grunt of an NRL player, breathing hard and fast, so as not to topple sideways with my jellied elbows. Lying with a wooden block underneath my shrieking sacrum (no foam bricks as yet), it felt akin to a medieval torture.

Yet, within the insufferably long silences, there it was, the gold; the gradual realisation that awareness could move to different parts of the body. It could be held there, diffuse or sharp pointed, and more so, it could be directed from the outside, in.

Those poses were a tangible reflection, not just of my body, but of something more profound, deeper still.

My friend didn’t return to Yoga. I never left.

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Diagnosis.

My relationship with Diabetes began 12 months before my official diagnosis. Tragically, in 1997, my then boyfriend’s dad, collapsed into a three day diabetic coma, until finally discovered by his second son.  A talented illustrator for Hanna and Barbara cartoons, I loved this man’s hallway- a veritable fortress of VHS cassettes.  For then reasons unknown, I studied the literature on diabetes, left abandoned by his dining room side table.

Precisely 12 months later, recalling those very symptoms I had read about, (excess thirst-tick, excess urination-tick, affected eyesight- tick), I took myself to the medical centre. “I think I have diabetes!” I pronounced, somewhat proud of my self-diagnostic abilities.  A blood test there and then showed a reading of 26 mmol/L and so off to the Illawarra Diabetes Service, I went, where I was shown how to inject with oranges.

It was November of 1998, the very year I had enrolled as an Iyengar Teacher trainee in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. Upon my teacher’s advice, I took time off to “lay low”.  Upon returning to teacher training, I was unable to focus. “You look haunted” my teacher said. “Go home”. Yet, he also said, diabetes gave my yoga purpose. Through the nebulousness of my grief, I recognised the truth of those words. That Yoga was the big circle and diabetes was a smaller one within it and not the other way around.

Gradually, I began to see Yoga as a tool which could reframe how I saw diabetes; that I could bear a positive impact upon it rather than it all being a negative impact on me. Of course, it was a slow journey, full of trials, errors, failures and loneliness. No one else in class was worrying about their sugars testing frequently, afraid equally of an embarrassing hypo or of having to inject in full view.

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Turning Point.

In 2002, I was chosen as the diabetic student for a Sydney medical Yoga workshop given by the wonderful Iyengar teachers, Swati and Rajiv Chanchanni. This experience gave me a clear, systematic and confidence boosting framework which I continue to use to this day in my practice.

From the Iyengar perspective, it was taught that the pancreas needed to be taken through its full range of motion.

So, from a diseased organ, I realised my pancreas, was in fact, profoundly intelligent cellular tissue, fully capable of responding to precise adaptations within the regular poses, turbo charging blood flow and, equally, maximising relaxation and quietness of mind.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali speak of Yoga as a means to cease the fluctuations of mind. This is my standard operating procedure when checking my blood sugar levels, when heading off a high reading or a hypo.  To respond neutrally as possible which doesn’t equally translate as complacency.

Yoga is also defined as skill in action, something which as diabetics, we are constantly asked to practice, every waking and sleeping moment of our lives, it seems!

However, as my teacher Pixie Lillas says, we are not merely given the end destination in Yoga (good health, a quiet mind.). Yoga gives us the tools to get there.

anastasia

BIO
For the past 20 years, Anastasia’s Yoga practice has revolutionized her approach to living with Type 1 Diabetes. She began Yoga in 1992 where it fully resolved her dancer’s knee injury. At 26 years of age, in 1998, Anastasia embarked on two major life journeys. Iyengar Yoga Teacher training AND a diabetes diagnosis. Following the medical principles developed by world renown teacher of Yoga, B.K.S Iyengar, Anastasia has maintained HBA1C (averaged blood sugar levels)  of normal range (5-6mmol/L).

you can connect with Anastasia here