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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5 poses to power up your practice

Something I struggled with when I first started yoga was having the strength to hold postures for longer than a few seconds. My wrists ached, I fell out of postures and my thighs buckled. I even found it hard to lift up when we did backbends on our bellies. I don’t think I would have persisted if I didn’t have my teacher encouraging me to do yoga more than just one day a week. At first, I just didn’t see the point in wasting time and money on things I didn’t think I could change.

It was my competitive streak that turned the tides. When my teacher moved effortlessly from handstand into a backbend or balanced lightly in headstand, then folded into lotus I couldn’t help thinking, “I want to do that!”

I set a goal for myself. I would do yoga every day for six months. if I hadn’t built up my strength by the end of that time. I’d quit. Six months of relentless practice paid off. I was stronger, focused, my physique had transformed and I felt like a new person.

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Not only had my body completely rearranged itself in shape and capability but my mindset had shifted too. I no longer felt like things were cut in stone. I now understood that it was my commitment and persistence that made the difference. If I could do this in six months what could I achieve in a year? I was 23 when I decided to make yoga my life. From my own personal practice to teaching others I haven’t looked back.

Every day on the mat is a new day. A day to come back to myself, to reawaken my muscles, to stay grounded and strong. And as part of my daily practice, I always include five postures to maintain my strength.

These five poses are also perfect for increasing insulin sensitivity, developing willpower, burning up toxicity and strengthening immunity.

Down Dog
Classically labeled as a posture to open your hamstrings this pose is also a wrist strengthener.  If you have wrist issues you can practice on your fists or even use a prop like a wedge or folded blanket under your wrists to take the pressure off your wrists.

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  • Start in child’s pose stretching your arms out in front of you.
  • Spread your fingers and line up the crease line of your wrists with the end of the mat ( the straight edge).
  • Tuck your toes under and lift your sitting bones high to the ceiling.
  • Bend your knees as you draw your chest close to your thighs taking all the pressure off your hands and arms.
  • You don’t have to straighten your legs if it strains your hamstrings.
  • Try and hold the pose for at least five breaths.
  • Eventually, build up to longer and longer holds in the pose.

Warrior 2
This pose is my absolute favorite. It’s a hip opener and thigh buster all in one. It’s really powerful in building strength in your thigh muscles and it supports your knee. It’s also a great pose for developing focus. The longer you hold it the stronger you feel. If you have inner thigh or hip issues or hip restrictions please take care. The wider your stance along the midline the less pressure on the hips.

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  • Begin by taking a wide stance so you face sideways on the mat.
  • Turn your right foot out and your left foot in.
  • Line up the heels with each other.
  • Bend your right knee to a 90-degree angle making sure the front knee is stacked over the front ankle.
  • If it feels tight turn you back hip in towards your front foot and adjust the foot in even more.
  • Raise your arms to shoulder height and look over your middle finger.
  • Hold here for five breaths and build up to more.
  • Start with what feels comfortable.
  • Come out of the pose and repeat on the other side.

Chair 
I love the chair pose! It a total thigh strengthener, a forward bend and backbend all in one and develops core strength. It’s also awesome for getting the thigh muscles to uptake glucose for fuel helping to reduce blood sugars. Whenever I teach this in class my students grimace. They know we are going to hold this pose for a long time. Even better than being in the pose is coming out of it. You feel an incredible rush of energy through your whole body. After chair I feel stimulated, my mind is clear and my body feels warm and tingly all over.

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  • Start the pose with your toes touching and heels slightly apart.
  • Hinge at the hips, shift your sitting bones slightly back and imagine you’re about to sit in a  chair.
  • Make sure your knees are slightly apart and your chest stays open.
  • You can have your hands in prayer position at the heart, lengthened out in front our reaching overhead.
  • Keep your abdomen back to your chest and lengthen your lower back.
  • Breathe deeply and hold for five breaths.
  • Work up to a longer hold as you get more confident.

Plank
It’s time to get your plank on! This pose is perfect for building wrist, abdominal and shoulder strength. It’s also heating, intense and involves every muscle in the body. I love it because when I do it I feel like I’m doing something powerful. Even on the most challenging of days when my blood sugar feels out of control or I’m overwhelmed with the minutiae of daily diabetes management, plank gets me in the zone.

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  • Start on your hands and knees.
  • extend your right leg and then your left until you are balanced between the hands and the balls of the feet.
  • Press firmly into your thumb and forefinger and feel the weight spreading evenly throughout the palm of the hand.
  • Lift up out of the wrists in this pose
  • Round the upper back slightly to stabilize the shoulder blades on the back.
  • If it’s hard to hold, drop your knees to the floor.
  • Hold for five breaths working up to a longer hold.

Boat Pose
Boat pose is another great abdominal strengthener. It also works the inner thighs and opens the chest. Finding just the right place to put your balance for the pose is key. You’ll also want to make sure you keep your chest open to facilitate ease of breath. You can keep your legs bent or straight. Either way, you’re abdominals will get a workout. I often use my ability to hold this pose as a measure of how my strength is progressing. At first it can feel a little wobbly but eventually, you’ll get the hang of it and balance like a pro.

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  • Start in a seated position, knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  • Shift your weight slightly back behind your sitting bones and gently lift your feet off the ground.
  • You can start by holding behind your thighs with your hands to find your point of balance.
  • Gradually lift your feet to line up with your knees so they are at a right angle.
  • Keep your chest open and extend your arms alongside your thighs
  • Eventually, work towards straightening the legs so you are in a V shape.
  • Hold for 5 breaths, gradually testing to see if you can hold it that little bit longer

If you’ve just completed the practice, Brilliant! Including these five poses into your workout routine is a guaranteed way to power up your practice and feel energized and ready for anything diabetes and life throws your way.

With great respect…

rachel

P.S Want to know more about Yoga and Diabetes and how to find the right practice for you? Check out my new book or sign up for my newsletter here and get the first chapter for free.

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