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

You Got This!

It’s Christmas Eve here in Australia. Last year we were in The US with my family. We’d spent days shopping for presents, dressing the tree and the turkey and enjoying the snow and the cold. It was a personal cause for celebration with the launch of my book and the promise of many events and launches to come. I remember thinking how lucky I was to be with my family, to feel safe and supported and to be able to live my mission in the world.

As the year has unfolded it’s been full of incredible highs and difficult lows. As much as I’ve enjoyed traveling to share yoga throughout America and Australia it’s also been challenging. I live with a chronic illness, and staying on top of my health while living in a different place every few weeks has forced me to reflect and pause and think about how I want to begin the new year.

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My goal in Jan 2018 was to start taking insulin for meals. I’d started to notice my basal was no longer covering what I was eating. Plus I didn’t think I could take one more mouthful of greens, greens, and only greens.

I took the plunge with great support from some of my diabuddies plus testing out the MySugr app with diabetes coach Gary Schiener. After working out my insulin to carb ratio, when to inject and how to treat lows with glucose tabs ( I did some testing on how much glucose I need to raise levels in 10 minutes) it all came together.

A few months into the regime my diabetes educator said that my body responded well to mealtime insulin and it appeared more predictable than my body’s response to basal insulin ( I’ve really struggled to get that dose right).

A few months later when my A1c was the lowest it’s been since diagnosis (5.9%), she poured over my data to make sure I wasn’t living in the land of lows (which I wasn’t) and then finally last week my doctor declared I must still be producing some insulin and honeymooning because my A1c is holding steady.

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Go figure 10 years on. I know it’s the yoga and breathing and discipline with diet but shhh…. Don’t tell!

But just because I’ve managed to smash my A1c goal for the year doesn’t mean it’s all unicorns and rainbows. As much as I want to share all the good stuff here on the blog I also want to be real.

What you see on FB or Instagram doesn’t show the 24/7 reality. There is exhaustion, pain, and emotions, like anxiety, feelings of failure, overwhelm, insecurity, grief, and loss.

There are moments where I don’t want to write one more word on the page.

As much as I feel these feelings ( I know this is not just me but basically everyone) I’m also capable of rising above them through knowing that feelings are just thoughts I’ve entertained and given momentum too. No matter what the thought, good or bad, it’s just a thought. As quickly as it comes it will go.

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So what’s my go-to when I am feeling absolutely exhausted or overwhelmed?

I do one thing that brings me comfort and one task I know I need to get done to work towards a set goal. It could be as simple as making myself my favorite lunch (baked sweet potato and pumpkin salad with Haloumi) and then answering a work-related email or creating a flyer for my next event and then going for a walk.

Whatever those two things are in committing to them I find myself relaxing, returning to my center and able to gather more energy for the next task.

As the year turns over into 2019 my wish for everyone is to know you are not alone when it comes to living with diabetes. No matter how tough it gets, or how challenged you are, there is hope and support. For me its Yoga, for you it might be something else. No matter what it is. You got this! If I can do it so can you.

Wishing you a truly beautiful holiday season. You are a precious gift!

Namaste and with great respect…

Rachel

From our family to yours,

You Are That

The other day I was scrolling through Facebook and I was captivated by a song. Within minutes my toes were tapping, my body was swaying and I was humming along. Listening was pure bliss and total happiness. At that moment I forgot myself, my life with diabetes or anything else for that matter.

The benefits of yoga are many, however, the benefits are not just the product of targeted exercise or the marrying of mind, breath, and body.

They are the direct result of choosing to immerse yourself in a focussed activity that momentarily suspends the idea you have of yourself. That idea is a conglomeration of a lifetime of experiences, conditioning, and beliefs. In psychological terms, it is referred to as your identity.  When our identity is suspended and we are no longer identified we feel blissful, Ananda, because we are the bliss.

Bliss is not a state-it’s the nature of awareness and who you are.

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So what is your bliss? Is it music, dancing, cooking, laughing, being outdoors, playing with friends? Whatever is blissful is only blissful because of you.

Let that sink in for a moment.

It’s easy with this condition to focus on what isn’t bliss.

Like daily finger pricks, site fails, too many lows and highs, carb guesses, medical costs the never-ending 24/7 vigilance of a condition we didn’t ask for and can’t get away from that leads to burnout, depression, and anxiety

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But that kind of focus, the one where we naturally go isn’t doing anyone any favors

I’ll say it again.

Whatever you see as blissful is only blissful because of YOU. Without you, there is no bliss.

The next time you do something you love, and you find yourself forgetting everything and you are swept up in the magic of just being.

Stop and remember yourself.  YOU ARE THAT.

with great respect…

rachel

Want to bliss out? Check out my yoga playlist on Spotify curated especially for you. Click the image below or head here

Hypo Hot Mess

You’d think I’d be used to being on the razor’s edge but I’m not.  Like a mother who forgets the pain of childbirth, I keep forgetting what a fine line it is to live with diabetes. Maybe it’s because my memory is selective, or that I still find myself going into denial. More likely it’s because I’m burnt out from all the nitty gritty stuff I have to do to stay alive.

Hypos are the worst. Every time a low comes on I think, “Sh…t  I’m going low. What time is it? Can I wait 15 minutes and then eat lunch. Nope? Ok, just take ½ a tab. That’s probably not enough. Wait 15 min. Sh…t still going low take another ½… No, strike that, take 1 tab. Wait 15 more minutes (by now I actually feel low… sensation of ants crawling all over my body, mind like a wobbly wet piece of jelly). Ok, just take another tab and be done with it. (check my blood sugar 10 times in 15 minutes). Crap my fingers hurt.

After it comes back up I cry a lot. Later I think about adjusting my basal but worry that if I do I’ll go high. Eventually, I adjust my basal, wait to see what happens and tell myself, “Next time I’m going to take ¼ tab. Next time I’ll trust my body and my intuition. Next time I’ll take less insulin.”

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My last big hypo happened right before I was supposed to teach a yoga workshop on mudras ( yogic hand gestures). I was sitting in front of 15 experienced yoga teachers while furiously checking my blood sugar. The trend arrow on my mySugr app wasn’t looking good.

I freaked out! I’d driven all that way, spent weeks preparing had gathered an awesome group of yogis, only to have the whole thing crumble because of my broken pancreas and stupid carb to insulin miscalculation. I kept telling myself, “Push through you’re stronger than this maybe it won’t keep plummeting. Start teaching you’ll be fine.” But no matter how strong I thought I was, I couldn’t fight reality. My body wasn’t going to kick in and save the day. I had to share through my vulnerability. It was either that or bale.

Stepping up meant sharing with the group that I was in the middle of a hypo, that I’d taken some glucose tabs and had to wait 15 minutes before I could teach. I felt awkward, my brain wasn’t clear enough to communicate, but the smiling and compassionate faces of the group gave me heart.

“Living yoga is about being with what is,” I continued, “and sometimes ‘what is’ sucks.”

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Luckily within a few minutes, I could feel the glucose bringing my brain back online. The class flew by and was loads of fun, but later I felt drained, weak and really emotional.

Before my diagnosis, I would get tired after teaching, but it was a good tired. The kind where you knew you had worked hard enough to deserve a rest. Hypo fatigue is something else. 24 hours later I still find it hard to focus, my nervous system is overly sensitive and I’m prone to panic attacks. In a way, it’s akin to burning oneself accidentally. At contact, it burns sharp and hot, but that’s not the problem. It’s the lingering throbbing pain that’s tough to withstand. Plus Hypos aren’t always just a one-off thing. When a Hypo, builds on another Hypo it takes days to recover. It’s a challenge not to lose heart or worry that I’ll never get on top of things.

As I mention continuously in my blog posts I really have to take my hat off to yoga. The physical practices of posture and breathing definitely help. Lately, I have been using the deeper practices like mudra (gesture) and mantra (sound) too. Holding my hands in certain positions really calms my emotions and repeating a mantra like OM is soothing for all the systems in the body. In fact, so soothing that chanting lowers my blood sugar.

In honor of being a Hypo Hot Mess, this weeks offering is a simple 5 element mudra sequence. As you go through each mudra feel harmony coming into the body, relax and breathe. You can do this anywhere anytime, focusing on one element for your practice or including all five.

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.

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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 

Experience counts

Whenever I settle somewhere new I make sure to head to a yoga class. It’s a great way to meet people and find out more about the town and its culture. Here in Bellingen, I found my way to the Bellingen Yoga Studio, a purpose-built space with a view of the mountains.

Whenever I take a new class I always introduce myself to the teacher and explain that I have type 1 diabetes and that next to me on my mat I’ll have a bottle of glucose tabs and a glucose meter. Sometimes they know about diabetes but most often not. With a quick check from the teacher to make sure I’ve got my diabetes handled,  I head to my mat to settle in.

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I love learning and I especially love learning about yoga. Every teacher approaches postural yoga in a unique way. What I especially love about the classes here in Bellingen is that they are taught by an experienced teacher. A grounded and strong woman who has been doing yoga forever and it shows.

Our teacher was in her early sixties. I was too shy to ask when she started yoga and to be honest I didn’t care. Her words and demonstrations, the way she adjusted the students showed her years of experience. Yoga had obviously worked for her and she was passing that knowledge on. In short, experience counts.

Experience counts in more ways than one when you live with diabetes.  That’s why learning from those who have gone before is crucial. I recognize that the way we manage our diabetes is unique but it doesn’t hurt to reach out and ask someone who’s been through the ropes.

I have diabuddies out there that I call on for support. It helps to hear that that weird high I had overnight might be due to poor basal insulin absorption or that turning the pen upside down to release a test shot means I’m not dealing with extra drops of insulin all over my belly. I love having different friends with different diabetes experiences, It means I can ask about anything and everything and try new things.

But I digress. This post is about yoga

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There are so many opportunities out there and so many avenues to try your first yoga class. There’s gym yoga, online yoga, yoga in the pub, goat yoga, CBD yoga, OMG yoga,  You get the drift.

Wherever you live you’ll most likely find a local yoga studio and a yoga teacher fresh out of his or her teacher training all fired up and raring to go with cool leggings, rad music and an Instagram account with over 20K followers. You might feel intimidated by this or even reluctant to start. How can a twenty-something yogini know about you and your diabetes? I’ll be honest. They don’t! But they can learn.

Any yoga teacher started where you are, at the beginning. Something our Bellingen yoga teacher shared with us was that we experience the most transformation when we first start yoga. We go from feeling uncomfortable or tight in our bodies to feeling light and open. We start to see the value in stretching and breathing and how soothing it is for the nervous system. As we advance in practice the tendency is to plateau, lose momentum or feel like nothing is happening. This is where going back to the foundation is crucial.

If your teacher is worth anything they’ll remember this and share this with you. Why they started yoga, how they approached a difficult pose. What yoga means to them and why. If a teacher stays glued to their mat and doesn’t even look at the students my advice would be, run. Living with a chronic condition means you deserve better. Why pack yourself into a wall to wall yoga class with someone just because they can do some fancy handstand or backbend. Real yoga is not based on popular demand.

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Personally, I love a teacher with a personalized and simple approach. At my age, I wake up creaky, achy and drained from the stress of changing blood sugars overnight. There’s often a feeling of toxicity in my body as I move through poses. Simply lying in postures and working slowly into muscles feels way more calming and supportive then sweating my way through a flow work out. But that’s just me. if you need a hard vinyasa work out to tame your blood sugars, by all means, go for it.  Yoga is not one size fits all.

After my super simple senior yoga class this week I thought it would be fun to share some of the moves I learned here on the blog. Join me in this 6-minute sequence below and hit reply to let me know how it made you feel.

with great respect…

rachel

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Yoga makes the difference

Diabetes sucks. I know I’ve said it before but this time I really really mean it. And it’s not just because of the endless needle pricks, the shaky blood sugars, the near-death episodes or dietary issues. It’s the financial side. Why does having diabetes cost so much? I get choked up when I hear about how people are rationing their insulin, how insurance companies change what type of rapid or long-acting you have insurance for against your best interests or that in some countries people walk miles to take just one shot a day because of lack of refrigeration in their homes.

Things I take for granted here in Australia like subsidized insulin and test strips are nonexistent in other parts of the world. So I know I should be grateful. And I am.

But sometimes I need to vent. Because diabetes comes with a price. Knowing I have to keep some funds aside each week to cover my test strips means keeping to a tight budget.  And that’s not accounting for a week of lows where I use test strips like candy. It often means saying no to something I’d love to do so I can live well another day.

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I’m a girl with a mission. Yoga is my lifeline. I am convinced it’s the reason why I have managed my health so well in spite of my diabetes.  It has given me a positive outlook and a wealth of stress management tools. Writing the book has been my way of giving back. But writing a book and having a mission doesn’t mean life is all rainbows and unicorns. It takes hard work, dedication, consistency and total conviction to bring a project like that to fruition.

And here’s the thing…

The more I push myself out there, the harder I work to share,  the more I am seeing that people living with any type of diabetes aren’t jumping up and down about yoga.  You know what they say in marketing? You find your ideal client by touching their deepest longing. The biggest faux pas is creating a product no one wants. Even worse is creating something they don’t even know they need.

Enter Yoga, the new kid on the block in diabetes management. Will medical institutions endorse it? Will the media expound it’s benefits? Will bloggers and podcasters rave about it?

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Eventually yoga for diabetes will go mainstream.

I know that a simple yoga practice makes the difference. I for one am going to keep creating quality content for you. Things you can do today that will make a difference to the numbers on your meter, to the way you feel about your diabetes and even more importantly how you relate to your health and wellbeing in general.

Even 5 minutes of a consistent yoga practice can make a huge difference to your day.

So… what’s on offer this week? A FREE 20 minute yoga practice designed to reduce stress.

All you have to do is click this link and you’ll get it in your inbox straight away.

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I can’t wait for you to join me

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.

Striving for gold

It’s been a long road. From my initial diagnosis in 2008, starting long-acting insulin in 2014, to finally biting the bullet by adding short-acting this past January,  I’ve reached a milestone. A thumbs up from my diabetes HCP.

I have never put so much hard work into anything in my life. Counting carbs, measuring up minute insulin doses, Intermittent fasting, diligently sticking to my twice daily yoga practice. Staying hydrated, sleeping 8 hours a night and doing everything I can in the middle of a non-stop book launch tour to avoid stress.

It’s been a marathon!

Hearing, “Your diabetes is under control.” didn’t make me hoot and holler or give me permission to drop the ball. Instead, I feel apprehensive. What if I can’t keep it up? What if it was a fluke? Even more pressing is the thought,  “I can do better.”

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But then what? Getting my levels in the ideal range is a worthy goal. As hard as I’ve worked in the last 6 months I know I’d have to work even harder.  The big question right now is; am I up for it? Or… is it okay to paddle for a while?

I’m ready to pause. Pause perfection, pushing, expectation, assumption, hope, striving.  Ready to receive, let love, reflection, acceptance and guidance flood in.

When I was studying ballet in my early teens and starting pointe work  I assumed that the elegance of balancing on the end of my toes would be the ultimate pinnacle. In reality, it was unglamorous. My toes were often bloodied and bruised. I developed bunions and callouses and would wince and limp for days and weeks after practice. I learned over time to distance myself from the physical pain and to shut down any feelings of inadequacy around the shape and strength of my feet. It was in the depersonalization that I mastered the ability to balance and turn. It wasn’t easy but I did it.

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I feel the same about living day in and day out with diabetes. Taking a few steps back, a breath, a moment of stillness when I feel everything backing up on me means I can pause and begin again.

Even though I’ve spent the last 6 months striving for the gold standard and achieved it. I’m ready to create and adjust.

That’s the essence of what it means to be flexible in yoga practice. When a posture feels insurmountable, you don’t push to your edge. Instead, you back off, warm up the surrounding muscles and work up to the pose over days, weeks, even months. A slow build yields lasting results.

So instead of cutting back more on my carbs, increasing my insulin doses and watching every mouthful. I’ve got a plan. I’m going to be like the tortoise in Aesop’s fable, the Tortoise, and the Hare.

Slow and steady wins the race.

with great respect…

rachel

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Diabetes All Stars

Bump! I’ve landed in Australia after an action-packed book tour in the USA. Whilst there I was fortunate to spend time with and learn from some of the most inspiring diabetes advocates out there. These people are not just living with diabetes, they are thriving and giving back in whatever way they can to the DOC and beyond. Whether heading out together for a walk, meeting at a conference, sharing and teaching together, or supporting each other online each person touched me in a unique way. To me these guys are legends and DIABETES ALL STARS!

This week’s blog is all about the work they share out in the world and some of the sweet things they have shared with me about, Yoga for Diabetes, How to Manage your Health with Yoga and Ayurveda. To really give these guys a proper introduction I highly recommend listening to this track as you read.

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Cynthia Zuber was my first online diabuddy. I reached out to her when I found her on YouTube speaking about Yoga and Diabetes at a yoga conference. Cynthia runs a facebook page and blog. She has had Type 1 for 31 years and also lives with other chronic autoimmune conditions. Her strength of spirit and willingness to share her ups and downs through her facebook page and blog are an inspiration to her followers. It was truly special to finally meet Cynthia in person. We went for a mammoth walk around one of the oldest malls in the country and talked non-stop.

IMG_3886“Rachel’s book is filled with artistry and beauty. My body was instantly filled with goosebumps as I perused the pages, full of so much wonder and practical information that is easy to assimilate into my life. Her writing is engaging, like chatting with a close friend that shares just enough information to help you feel intimate and connected. Here I am reading about the power of thoughts! Ready to upgrade my health and life through Rachel’s teachings. I’m so grateful for her passion and wisdom.

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I met Karen Rose Tank during the crowdfunding campaign for the book. We instantly hit it off and I insisted on interviewing her.  She is one of the most supportive people I have ever met and can help anyone living with any type of diabetes to thrive. Karen is the best! You can find her at RoseHealthCoaching.com or her FB page 

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“Here I am in my home office where I coach people near and far on finding the foods and lifestyle practices to help them achieve their weight, diabetes, and blood sugar goals…. lovingly and compassionately from my 22 years of my own life with type 1 diabetes… plus certifications and trainings in Integrative Nutrition, health coaching, chronic disease and diabetes peer group coaching, low-carb, hands-on cooking groups, and yes… several yoga teacher trainings. I’m reading the chapter on “setting up a home practice”… as I struggle with a home practice and use classes to keep me in the flow. Luckily I belong to a Fitness and Wellness Center where I can take unlimited classes with fabulous instructors. Over the years I’ve had a home practice, but then something shifts, and I have a hard time settling in a personal spot. Thanks, Rachel for writing about this important step!”

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What can I say about Asha Brown the founder of We Are Diabetes. She is an action-packed powerful bundle of energy with a mission to support people in the diabetes space who live with eating disorders. Before I met Asha in person I followed her work closely. Having spent years as a dancer and having all sorts of issues with body image I feel her work is not only important it’s life-changing. As I’ve listened to her talks and met her in person she’s inspired me to reflect on my own disordered eating while trying to manage my diabetes. We are Diabetes is a nonprofit charity. I urge you to support her truly healing mission

1“There are so many things I love about Rachel Zinman’s Yoga For Diabetes. Her suggestions on how to compliment and balance the Vata, Pitta and Kapha energies through specific sequences is definitely one of the highlights for me!”

IMG_1361Marina Tsaplina, one of my all-time heroines, touched me deeply during an interview with Daniele Hargenrader where she spoke about the fragility of living with diabetes. Usually, we are told that we can do anything with diabetes. Marina talked about restrictions. and how we have a sensitivity that makes us unique. As an artist, puppeteer and scholar who brings the issue of mental health to the diabetes space Marina has been reaching out through her organization thebetes to physicians, caregivers, families, and people living with diabetes with a puppet show that addresses the “elephant in the room” Marina and I had the chance to meet and hang out in person in New York City. Her work is profound and moving and made me realize how important it is to feel all my emotions when it comes to living with diabetes.

IMG_1716” Chronic illness pierces our bodies: it pierces us on the level of body, breath, and bone. We must give extra attention to the shape and effects of our embodiments. And here is the great truth that is kept hidden from too many of us: The practice of breath and body contemplation is what it means to heal while living with chronic illness. This is my cure.  I am alive today. I breathe today. I am in this body today. My life is today, and it is made of what I practice. Thank you, Rachel, for the wisdom you have gifted to the diabetes community through your book. ”

Yoga - straddle stretchI was lucky enough to Skype with Dr. Jody Stanislaw after reaching out to her to her about how to manage insulin with exercise. Having lived with diabetes since a young age and being passionate about alternative approaches to management we had an immediate sympatico. Not only does she have a wealth of knowledge from her own experience of living with T1D she is a trained naturopathic doctor, type 1 diabetes specialist, CDE and yogi. I can’t think of a better guide if you’re newly diagnosed or wanting to improve your A1c. Sign up for a free consult here.

jody and book“The photos are so bright and beautiful! I equally love the great info but especially the simple and practical poses with the benefits and variations included as well. Such a stunning and unique book…yoga for diabetes! Thank you, Rachel!

IMG_1222My next diabetes all-star is the truly motivational Christel Oerum from Diabetes Strong. I met Christel and her partner Tobias when they asked me to create a yoga sequence for their online challenge. We connected in person at the Diabetes Sisters Conference. Christel knows a ton about diabetes and exercise. In fact, I just reviewed her new fit with diabetes ebook in my previous blog. Christel has motivated me to do all sorts of things like hang out in karaoke bars, inject in new places and walk straight up a hill on a hike in Malibu.  If you’d like to work with Christel as a personal trainer go here.

Photo to Rachel“I was actually looking at the dosha questionnaire again. I wanted to see if it has changed from when I did it the first time after your presentation. I think it’s hard to objectively do it for myself but I think it’s shifted a bit.”

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 5.42.45 AMI read Lauren Bongiorno’s post on Beyond Type 1 and I knew I wanted her to be part of the all-star team because this woman is the real deal. She is a Diabetic Health Coach, Author, Yoga Instructor, and Wellness Speaker. Lauren’s motto? “through challenge we find our strength. It is up to us to Decide + Conquer.” Her latest and most exciting venture is ” The Diabetic Health Journal”  an easy to use, action-oriented, mindful approach to improving diabetes management mind, body, and soul. If you’d like to connect and work with Lauren go here.

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“What I love most about Rachel’s book is that it ties in the Ayurvedic constitutions. All yoga poses have the potential to benefit people with diabetes but Rachel takes it a step further by making it even more specific to each individual. My favorite part of Yoga for Diabetes specifically is the chapter including the Pitta sequence. As someone with a higher pitta dosha, I can be very intense and goal oriented, which can sometimes stress me out and lead me to burn out, making me more prone to erratic blood sugar numbers. I naturally gravitate towards more heated yoga flows + circuit training and have the hardest time slowing down. For the past few years, I’ve Ayurvedically manipulated my diet to help cool off my pitta nature, but can fine tune it through yoga. In her book, Rachel provides a soothing, calming, and surrender focused sequence that I will for sure be adding to my home practice weekly!!”

So that’s it! Now you know how many all-stars are out there to support you on your journey with diabetes. And there are a ton more. People all over the world, writing, sharing, loving and living well with this condition and helping others.

As I was sharing with my CDE and Endo just a few days ago without Peer Support I would not be doing as well as I am.. That and YOGA!

With great respect…

Rachel

P.S if you’d like to attend an in-person event with me in Australia go here  and if you’d like to work with me one on one I am offering online yoga sessions here 

Rachel Portraits 2015-17