+ Rachel Zinman Yoga

Your Body as Perfectly Imperfect

It’s so easy to forget the absolute miracle that we are when facing the daily onslaught of Diabetes. While most people are taking their bodies for granted we wage war. Well…let me speak for myself, at the worst of times I do.

War for me has to do with self doubt and uncertainty and the feeling like nothing is ever enough. Even with the tools of Yoga and Meditation under my belt I forget that the body has an intelligence, a living awareness that keeps everything going regardless of what my pancreas is doing.

To remember the preciousness of the body I think about my son and when he was a newborn. I marvelled at his perfection and innocence. I remember thinking what if I do something wrong? What if he breaks. But I learned fast that he was way more resilient than that. While I was freaking out about this, that or the other he was just being himself which included a perfectly functioning immune system

In Yoga when we want to describe the quality of immunity we call it Ojas. Ojas comes from the densest tissue in the body, reproductive fluid. It’s the densest tissue because it carries the seed of life. Without reproductive fluid? No propagation of the species. That some of us are born with less immunity then others or develop immune system problems as we age has to do with the loss of Ojas. In Ayurveda it’s believed that everyone is born with just 12 drops. It’s easy to lose Ojas and very hard to build once its lost.

So how do we lose Ojas?

Stress! It’s a no brainer. Stress can be physical, mental, environmental, seasonal, time specific and deeply emotional. You name it, just about everything is stressful. But it doesn’t have to be. When your Ojas is strong the stresses might come knocking but they can’t come in.

So how do we build Ojas?

As a Diabetic it’s impossible to change the stressor, we can’t snap our fingers and be un-diabetic. We can change our diets, use medications, do all sorts of things to manage the disease but we are living in imperfect perfection.

Our mental attitudes, environmental conditions, exposure to toxins even our relationships all play a part in depleting Ojas. But what’s important to acknowledge is it’s our reaction to the disease that matters. Not the disease itself.

Rachel Zinman Yoga

Yoga offers a brilliant solution. Because purely as a physical practice it teaches us to respond rather than react. It takes the mind and focusses it on one thing, YOU. YOU expressing yourself in the practice as the breath, as movement, as flow. And stretching the muscles and activating them releases excess toxins and takes glucose out of the blood stream. It’s a win win situation.

If Yoga isn’t for you. Then any physical activity has the same ability. But Yoga is a great place to start because it works so specifically with breath and movement.

For todays blog I’ve put together a simple breathing exercise via YOUTUBE that you can do anywhere anytime. It’s called Vinyasa- movement on the breath

All you need is enough room to raise and lower your arms. You can do the exercise seated in a chair, standing or sitting on the floor. Just a few minutes a day will calm the mind and enable you to be with yourself…. with great respect Rachel

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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

+ yoga for Diabetes

The Slowness of Things.

Just outside our front porch is a rose bush with one resplendent rose. Over the last week it’s slowly opened, blossomed and dropped its petals. The slow unfolding of the rose, its delicacy and fragrance reminds me to take things slowly. I’d like to rush the process of healing but I have only been taking insulin for the last 5 months and my BG levels are only adjusting now. Starting Insulin was a big decision for me, not just because it meant going with allopathic medicine, but in taking it I had to admit to myself that I couldn’t cure myself or my condition. For years I told myself it was a parasite, an allergy or some such thing. It never occurred to me that I actually might have a genetic incurable disease and that no amount of herbs, homeopathics or Yoga exercises could fix me. I was so busy rushing to find a cure that I didn’t bother to actually find out what was going on.

Just a few days after starting Insulin I had lunch with a friend who is an Ayurvedic practitioner, Naturopath and Nurse , “ I’m glad you started Insulin, it’s going to be a whole new start for you. It will slow you down quite a bit, but you need that.” She couldn’t have been more right. Now that my energy has returned I have no desire to run around solving the worlds problems, it feels quite natural to take my time with things, to relish in a daily practice, to plan and prepare nourishing low carb meals and to think about what’s next without having to constantly consider my stress levels. It’s taken 6 years to admit I have a disease, I am not the disease.

Yoga for Diabetes

Just today my partner shared with me a beautiful thought, “The whole creation, including thoughts, emotions, ideas, beliefs, worries, joys all rise and fall in the presence of never-ending, eternal stillness. The stillness, peace, consciousness is unaffected by the thoughts, beliefs and comings and goings of creation. Just as the ocean is unaffected by the wave. Only we human beings with the ability to identify and name our experiences, take on the experiences, beliefs, thoughts  etc, thinking we must resolve a situation to come to peace. The question to ask is; does peace need a resolution to exist?

Sitting quietly, watching the breath, practicing slow mindfulness we experience ourselves as the peace itself. We think it’s the practice thats enabling the peace, but in reality we are never not peace. The body is peace, the thoughts are peace and all of nature, all that has come before and all that will ever be is peace.

Even a body riddled with illness is peace. When I was younger I wondered how people could overcome physical pain, trauma or extreme suffering. I always thought that either trying to ignore the pain or distracting myself would be the best strategy. It wasn’t until I gave birth that I experienced something different. In giving birth I couldn’t deny that the body had its own intelligence, the contractions were happening, the baby was coming and there was nothing I could do to rush the process. No matter where I put my mind the pain and the intensity kept increasing.  It was in between contractions that I experienced powerful moments of stillness and peace. Eventually the feeling of peace predominated over the pain, its ever present nature became the focus and then before I knew it the baby was there, in my arms.

In any moment whether peaceful or not peace is there. The question to ask yourself is what is preventing me from recognising this? Slowing down and taking time to “smell the roses” is the perfect way to stop and reflect.

Here’s a simple visualisation you can take into your daily asana practice or when ever you feel the need to slow down. 

If you’d like an audio version of the meditation here it is  

Come into pose of the child, if it’s uncomfortable separate your knees a little and let your torso rest between your thighs on the floor, you may want to rest your belly on a bolster

Become aware of your breath, feel the breath filling the belly, ribs and upper chest, now become aware of your heartbeat

Visualise a rose in your right hand, twirl the stem of the rose between your forefinger and thumb

As you twirl the rose imagine you are close enough to see the coloured petals of the rose laced in delicate dew drops, and imagine its fragrance rich and sweet

Become so focussed on the rose that you almost feel yourself becoming the rose

Once again become aware of your heart beat, come back to your breath, feeling it filling your belly, ribs and upper chest

Slowly come up, feel your body adjust and move into your day

+ Balance the nervous system with sun salutation

A Simple Start

I love the idea of keeping things simple, it’s something that really appeals to me about Yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda. When you go for an Ayurvedic consultation you’re encouraged to ease into a new routine slowly.  When you add one thing at a time the body and mind have time to adjust. When we bombard ourselves with too many changes and go for the quick fix it’s hard to sustain and maintain. According to Science and Yoga it takes the body/mind about 6 weeks (40 days) to adopt a new habit or routine. Often we beat ourselves up for going too slowly, and call it procrastination. I prefer to think of it as determination. Keep it simple, take your time and eventually you’ll reach the goal. And by the way… did you ever stop to think that when you set a goal (somewhere to reach there and then) that THERE becomes HERE and THEN becomes NOW? 

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I like to ask myself what can I do HERE and NOW that will make a difference and help me to manage the ups and downs associated with having Diabetes. For me, it’s my daily Yoga practice. I actually find it quite hard to get on my mat every day because discipline doesn’t come naturally.  That’s why I use a simple Sun Salutation ( Surya Namaskar) with lunge to get me motivated. Sun Salutation does require a degree of flexibility and strength at the outset so if you’ve never done one before I would suggest you check out my previous post to start to build the strength to join in on the video below. I hope you’ll join me in A Simple Start …with great respect, Rachel

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The Truth about Fear

Fear! We all have it and we all loathe it. Especially with a disease like Diabetes. We can’t just be casual about things, especially illness, as our whole life depends on staying as healthy as possible. I have always been pretty driven by fear. Even before I knew I was Diabetic. Being a more sensitive type my nervous system literally hops into overdrive whenever I perceive a threat, whether mental or emotional. I had hoped that my yoga practice would stave off fear but to be honest although it does keep me calm, I have spent a great deal of my life habitually reacting to thoughts. That’s why I love Gyan Yoga, the Yoga of the mind, as it explains in simple terms what fear is and how to work with it.

Many people feel that fear is False Evidence Appearing Real, or that fear is the opposite of love, but in reality fear is an emotion which begins as a thought. A thought about something that threatens our stability or happiness. It’s amazing how fear magnifies when we keep replaying a particular thought. I.e What if I get worse? What if my blood sugar doesn’t come down? What if this… what if that… Once we start bugging that thought it builds in momentum and turns into a forest fire. So what’s the antidote?

The first step is to catch yourself reacting to the thought and to ask yourself why am I reacting? Why do I feel threatened in this situation? Rather then trying all the new age tactics of replacing a fear thought with a love thought or speaking some affirmation try and hold onto the thought  and if it tries to get away bring it back. Notice that no matter how hard you try to hang on it doesn’t stay. Thoughts are elusive, they have no existence of their own. Without you being present does a thought have any meaning? And how many thoughts have come and gone in your life? Did a thought ever kill you?

Logically working through fear and reasoning with yourself is a practical and supportive way to see things as they are.  A thought can never bug you. You BUG the thought.

Sitting quietly for a few moments is a great way to experience yourself as the one having the thoughts. What follows is a simple mindfulness exercise.

Rachel Zinman Yoga

Sit comfortably with a long spine.

Bring your awareness to your breath and simply observe the breath as it flows in and out of your nostrils, softly letting go of all thoughts.

Notice the coolness of the breath on your nostrils as you inhale, and the warmth of the breath on your nostrils as you exhale.

You can also place your finger on the spot right above the centreline of your top lip and tap it a few times to bring more awareness to the area where the breath leaves and enters the nose.

Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered, simply bring your focus back to the breath and feel the sensation of the breath on the nostrils; bring your focus back to the breath without judgement.

As many times as your thoughts may wander, use the action of breath awareness to refocus your mind gently away from your thoughts.  It does not matter how many times the mind wanders, this is simply a practice to quiet the mind to develop a deeper mind/body connection.

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ARE YOU CREATING THE BEST POSSIBLE START TO YOUR DAY ?

A Guest blog from Yogi and Ayurvedic Chef, Jody Vassallo

I believe that mornings are the foundation of our day, it is when our feet first come in contact with the earth and we can consciously set our intentions for the day ahead. Taking time out to sit and really take in the morning is so important, this is when I make decisions about the food that I will prepare and eat and how I will approach my day. I check in with my body and allow myself to notice how it is feeling, not comparing it to yesterday but giving its own voice on this day. I look outside and see what the weather is doing as this really forms the basis of the choices I make for my day, if it’s hot I will have a cooling breakfast, perhaps a salad or two that day, if it’s cooler, a cooked breakfast is a must, then a warming soup for lunch and something spicy and satisfying for dinner.

Reading a passage from a book and meditating are habits that now come naturally to me though this has not always been the case, when I was in a crazy, busy, overworked Vata phase of my life I resisted settling and being still as this was too confronting for me, my driven ambitious pitta brain was more focused on result based living and unless things instantly made me feel better they were tossed aside.

Because I was so busy I often skipped breakfast or quickly fed myself but there wasn’t a lot of nourishment in the meal, there may have been nutrients but the whole meal was eaten without awareness or appreciation. After years of doing this, my head just got crazier, the seat of Vata is in the head and in the gut so too much rushing, skipping or mindlessly eating meals will eventually cause a life riddled with anxiety, fear and gut problems.

These days more and more people are experiencing digestive issues – coeliac disease, food allergies or diabetes. All of these diseases mean that food becomes the focus of ones life which can be stressful and overwhelming. There is so much info out there on what not to have. I think the most important thing for anyone to keep in mind is that simplicity is the key.

Certain food nourish us without needing the help of too many other ingredients. I am a huge fan of eggs because they provide me with fat and protein and they leave me feeling satisfied and nourished, if I want to jazz them up  I throw in some herbs or ricotta cheese or scramble them with some spring onions and black sesame seeds, eggs are both warming and grounding in nature so they are the perfect breakfast choice on windy cooler mornings. In summer I like to start my day with a coconut based breakfast, it is cooling and really satisfying.

So I encourage you to slow your mornings down, take time out to create a calmer approach to the ritual of breaking your fast. If it is a cool morning  put on the appropriate clothes,  make yourself a warm cup of ginger tea or if the morning is hotter have a refreshing mint tea. And then lovingly prepare yourself a nourishing meal that will  provide you with the fuel that takes you up to your next meal. I avoid high carbohydrate breakfast as they cause my blood sugar to spike and I find myself hungry again soon after breakfast.

I would like to share a cooling recipe with you a low carb, high fat brekkie which is very simple to prepare and great for those warmer mornings.

Beautiful Food p. 33Beautiful Food p. 34

Raspberries chia pots with maple coconut tops

500 g (1 lb) frozen raspberries, thawed

3 tablespoons white chia seeds

1/2 cup (125 ml/ 4 fl oz) coconut cream

1 teaspoon pure maple syrup

1 1/2 tablespoons white chia seeds

Use a fork to crush the raspberries. Stir in the chia seeds and mix to combine. Divide the mixture between four 1/2 cup capacity ramekins, cover and chill for 4 hours or until just set.

Put the coconut cream, maple syrup and chia seeds into a bowl and mix to combine. Spoon over the raspberry mixture cover and chill for 2 hours or until set.

Serves 4

My approach to food and life is based on the traditional Indian medical system of Ayurveda which encourages people to live a holistic way of life based on their body type and the five elements.

There are 3 body types Vata – a combination of air and space, Pitta – a mixture of fire and water and Kapha – earth and water. These body types influence or body shape and our personalities and behaviours. For more info on this you can purchase my book Beautiful Food

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www.jodyvassallo.com

Jody Vassallo is a passionate foodie who believes in the power of food to heal and transform ones life. She dedicates her life to sharing her message with the world.

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Take it one breath at a time

I’m having a crap day. I know I shouldn’t start a positive blog about Yoga and Diabetes like that, but if I’m not real with myself who will be?  I could  blame my blood sugar levels, but I’m managing things quite well.  I have no idea how fast my pancreatic function is declining and how much longer I’ll have before I am on a pump or multiple shots and I understand that I can live a normal happy life with my levels under control, but it doesn’t change the fact that I still feel frustrated and like things are beyond my control sometimes.

Being a dancer from a young age meant that I learned to take pride in being physically in control of my body. Every new step and achievement inspired grace and expression. As a young adult Yoga captured my attention because the movements were so precise and supportive to my overall health and longevity. Knowing that a posture was good for my body made me feel that I was in charge of my health.

As a mature adult, discovering that no matter what I had or hadn’t done has had no affect on the eventual demise of my pancreas, has been a huge let down. Many type 1 Diabetics report improved blood sugars, reduced stress levels and huge benefits from the practice of Yoga. A fellow friend and Diabetic suggested that because I do Yoga all the time I wouldn’t know how bad things were if I stopped. I have to agree, having done Yoga for over 30 years nearly every day, how could I possibly know whether the progression of the disease has been affected.

What I do know from my deeper studies of Yoga and Yoga practice is that for the time that I am immersed in the practice, all the stresses and worries and fears and my need to identify with them are suspended. It’s in the suspension of the need to identify with myself as “this or that” that I remember my true nature.  Stress melts away when there is no “I” or “me” .

In any moment of happiness who do I need to be? Does a disease identify me? Or do I drag the label onto myself?

I see Yoga as something which teaches my mind how to come out of its preoccupations with thoughts, it gives it something to do, like physical postures, breathing practices, repetitive sounds ( mantras) and many more focussing and calming techniques.

I can clearly see amidst my bad mood that it’s a choice to identify with the body and all its aches and pains or to take a step back and remind myself I HAVE a disease, I can never BE the disease.

Below is a simple breath balancing practice that you can do anywhere anytime to come back to yourself…. with great respect Rachel

Rachel Zinman Yoga

Sit comfortably, spine long

Extend the arms out at shoulder height

Bring the four fingers together and extend the thumbs upwards

Cross the arms and place the four fingers under the armpits with thumbs still pointing upwards

Close the eyes

Relax the elbows and breath normally

Feel the breath pressure even in left and right sides of the chest

Breathe as fully as you can and bring all your awareness to the ribcage as it expanding and releases

If you feel like one hand is receiving more breath pressure then the other, gently open your eyes look down at the forearm that’s on top and place it underneath the other with the hand back underneath the armpit

When the breath becomes balanced move back to your original arm position

Your breath will naturally become stiller and your mind will become calm

You can practice this technique for as long as you like

When you are ready, release your hands down to your thighs and gently open your eyes

+ Rachel Zinman Yoga

Energy flows where attention goes

I have been reflecting on the axiom, “energy flows where attention goes.” Whatever we are identified with; be it our health, thoughts about our health, what we are doing right or wrong; that’s where the energy gets locked and held as stress in our bodies. Most of the time this is so unconscious that we don’t even realise it and we might question why we are so tired or feel burnout. Often it’s easy to blame the depletion on something external to us, especially with Type 1 Diabetes, a condition which requires strict vigilance. What we forget is that no matter what’s happening in the body and how hard we are working to deal with the associated stresses it’s our responsibility how we react to the ongoing ups and downs.  The beautiful thing about Yoga practice is that it has the ability to take the mind out of it’s habitual preoccupations with thoughts, fears and worries. This in turn brings tremendous energy and vitality. For a brief moment the need to react is lifted as the mind comes to a one pointed focus.

Rachel Zinman Yoga

Today I offer this simple listening meditation practice which you can do anywhere anytime to calm the thoughts and bring you back to your SELF

Simple Listening Practice for focusing the mind

If you would like to do this meditation, rather than having to remember it, you can record yourself leading it and then play it back

Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Become aware of your breathing. Notice the feeling of the breath as it moves in and out of your nostrils. Become aware of the sound of your breath. Is it loud or soft or irregular? Don’t try and change it. Be with it as it is. Once you feel your mind settling become aware of the sounds all around you. Notice the sounds close by and the faraway sounds. Reach and stretch your awareness to the furthest sound. See if you can follow it. Does your mind get distracted? Don’t worry, bring it back to the closest sound and start again. Reaching and stretching your awareness to that far away sound once again. Now become aware of the silence. At first it appears as though the silence is in between the sounds, but notice how each sound comes and goes in the presence of silence. Notice how silence is never disturbed by the sound, how silence absorbs each sound effortlessly. Listening to the sound is effort, listening to the silence is effortless…remain here a few more moments then bring your awareness back to the breath and gently open you eyes.

+ Rachel Zinman Yoga

Variations on a Theme

When I first started Yoga I didn’t have a clue what was going on. My body was tight and uncompromising  and I felt stupid moving my body into shapes that hurt. Don’t get me wrong I have always loved being physical, I was a dancer from a young age. But Yoga was a whole different story. As a dancer my body was athletic and muscle bound, years of jumping and minimal stretching plus weak arms meant that I broke a sweat in just about every Yoga posture.

So what happened? How did I change my attitude towards Yoga and start to reap the benefits? For that matter how have I managed to see Diabetes as a plus in my life?

I love a challenge, thats it ! If it looks like I can’t do something – that’s when I flip it around and try my best.  I figure if I don’t give it my all what’s the point?

I’ve been lucky, years of discipline as a dancer has given me the ability to persist against my own resistance and that’s what’s enabled me to stay disciplined with my eating habits and consistently checking my blood sugar levels. But for those of us who aren’t naturally disciplined? What’s the solution.

To make something a habit, there needs to be a desire to repeat the habit. What ever we do needs to feel good. This is how I overcame the initial stages of resistance to doing a daily Yoga practice. Rather than going for the end result I built up my strength and ability to hold a pose. I took the pose in stages until I was ready. Sometimes it took a few tries, sometimes it took years. It didn’t matter. We all know the old adage, it’s the journey not the destination.

To start our journey with Yoga today below is a short sequence to build your strength in one of the most popular Yoga postures, Down Dog. Down Dog is a great pose to strengthen your arms, open your hamstrings and stretch your spine. It’s an inverted pose so it lowers blood pressure, it’s good for the glandular system including the thyroid and it opens the lungs. I have put the sequence in stages and recommend that you start with the easiest variations first, stopping and breathing along the way. Have a beautiful practice… with great respect Rachel

Easy Sequence Rachel Zinman Yoga

Start in Childs pose take your seat to your heels and have your belly against your thighs. Reach your arms out in front and lift your elbows, Breath deeply so you can feel the back of your body breathing.

Half Dog

Come into Half dog. This is a perfect variation to Down Dog. Make sure your hips and knees are in line as you stretch you arms out in front. Place a blanket under your knees if they are sensitive. Rest your forehead on the floor.

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Another great transition pose is Cat pose. Have your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Breathe and relax here.

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from Cat or Childs pose send your sitting bones high to the sky. Keep your knees bent which helps to lengthen the spine especially if you are tight in the hamstrings. Make sure your feet are no wider than your inner hips. Bring your weight towards your hips away from your hands. Feel your spine long and extended.

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To come into  the full posture straighten your legs, make sure there is no pressure in your lower back or pain in the hamstrings. If there is, bend the knees again. Push the floor away from your hands sending the weight towards your hips. Engage your thigh muscles and breathe deeply into your chest. If you feel tightness behind the shoulders round your upper spine a little to relieve the pressure. Hold for 10 breaths unless you feel fatigued. Come down and rest in childs pose

IMG_5070If Down Dog is too challenging and you can’t do Half Dog because you have knee pain or its hard to get down to the floor, place your hands on blocks underneath your shoulders. Extend your spine and breathe. This is also a great variation if you have high blood pressure because the head stays level with the heart. If you don’t have blocks you can also do this with your hands at the wall with the arms extended. If the hamstrings are tight bend the knees.

+ Rachel Zinman Yoga

There will always be Beauty

When I was first diagnosed in 2008 it was a complete shock. I’ll never forget the moment my ex-husband rushed into my Yoga room and announced that the doctor had told him my blood work was odd and I needed to make an appointment straight away. I thought it was Yoga Burnout, working too hard for too many years, nothing a good rest and some herbs couldn’t cure. The doctor was tough, “You’re Diabetic and you’ll need to be responsible for your own cure if you don’t want to end up on Insulin.” He didn’t know what type of Diabetes I had, he assumed it was Type 2. But after visiting the specialist, who was equally puzzled we deduced it was Pre Diabetes and that it could be reversed. I was put on a strict diet and exercise regime, had to shun my vegetarian ways and build up my Iron, B12 and try and balance a host of other anomalies like pituitary and thyroid issues. Instead of pushing myself harder and doing more physical Yoga I turned to the devotional aspect, Bhakti.

Bhakti is the Yoga of emotion, devotion and surrender. If my Type A personality had driven me to this point surely I could learn to soften those rough edges through bringing more surrender to my daily life. I began to go for long walks enjoying the sights, smells and beauty of the flowers that lined the streets. Soon I began picking the flowers and bringing them home and shaping them into patterns called Yantras which represent the invisible and visible patterns we see all around us such as leaves, spiderwebs and snowflakes. Science tells us that when we concentrate on shapes it invokes the parasympathetic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that relaxes us after a stressful event). Sight is one of our predominate senses so any form of artistic activity calms and nurtures us, but according to studies children learn best when working with geometrical shapes and colours first, before moving on to letters and numbers.

For me, the daily absorption of placing flowers into simple geometrical designs took my mind out of its need to get lost in the fears and projections of what might be. It brought me to a place of acceptance and surrender. Even if I could not enjoy sweets like I used to I could still create something beautiful.

Rachel Zinman Yoga

Through my daily practice and the art of surrender I was able to make the choice to go on Insulin and accept my diagnosis. Now I see the sweetness in everything and feel lucky that there is something like Insulin to keep me alive and sharing what I love. Yoga, no matter what style or form, helps me to manage the disease on a daily basis. That’s why I am so passionate to share some of the things I have learned with you.

Why not take some time today to reconnect with your own beauty and sweetness and let me know how it went…with great respect Rachel

Rachel Zinman Yoga

When you go out into your day take some time to look at something beautiful. It could be a flower on the sidewalk, a tree, a bird, the face of a child – anything that touches your heart. Remind yourself that the beauty you see is how beautiful you are.  You are the beauty itself.  Find something beautiful to bring home with you. Something you could put in a special place so you will see it every day.

And a big thank you to Lauren Tober from Capturing Gratitude for the beautiful photos above

+ Mudras Rachel Zinman Yoga

Take my hand

Don’t you love it when someone takes your hand and holds it lovingly? It could be your partner, a child, a friend or that handshake when you meet someone new. The sense of touch is essential to our development. Studies have shown that children learn better when they are hugged and touched by their parents because touching releases oxytocin, the feel good hormone.  In Yoga there is a practice called Mudra which involves the hands. Mudras are hand gestures that act like switches and turn on the part of the brain responsible for movement and emotion. By bringing fingers together, interlacing them or holding them in certain positions the mind and emotions relax. Instead of holding someone else’s hand, you hold your own.

In Yoga each side of the body has a different quality. The right side is the sun energy and is active, masculine, heating and relates to our rational and logical side of the brain. Whereas the left side of the body is the moon energy and is reflective, passive, feminine, cooling and relates to the creative and receptive side of the brain. When we bring the hands into different gestures we balance the magnetic forces of the sun and moon in our own bodies.

Bringing the fingers together in a Mudra also has significance as the fingers relate to the 5 elements. There are some beautiful books available on the subject if you’d like to explore further.

Today the focus for our practice is to balance the emotions and nervous system through three simple hand gestures that you can do every day either after a breathing, meditation or asana practice or whenever you need to relax and come back to yourself.

Anjali Mudra

Start with Anjali Mudra bring both hands together and feel the pressure between the left and right palms. Imagine the forces of the Sun and the Moon coming together, balancing your entire system. Gently close your eyes and breath normally. Hold between 2 and 5 minutes and let the thoughts come and go without judgement.

Lotus Mudra Rachel Zinman YogaBring the heels of the hands together and extend your fingers like a flower. This is Lotus Mudra. Imagine you are holding your favourite flower in your hands and smell its fragrant perfume. Imagine that all your emotions favourable and challenging are resting in the palm of your hands. Feel all the emotions coming and going in your presence. Gently close your eyes and hold the gesture between 2 and 5 minutes. Breathe normally.

Inner Mudra Rachel Zinman Yoga

Our last mudra is the Inner Mudra. Cross your hands at the wrists and bring all the fingers to touch resting the tips of the fingers at the sternum so that your cupped hands surround your heart. Feel the space between the hands and imagine your heart like a precious jewel shining in the centre. Feel how there is nothing you have to do to be yourself. Like the wave is naturally part of the ocean you are not separate from your thoughts or feelings. Without you, a thought or feeling means nothing. You are the meaning in every thought and feeling. Gently close your eyes and hold the gesture for 2-5 minutes and enjoy yourself, the stillness peace and beauty itself.

Open your eyes come out of the Mudra and have the best day…. with great respect Rachel

Routine Routine Routine

Routine, we love to hate it, especially with a demanding disease like Diabetes which requires hyper-vigilance. No sane person would set their alarm to wake through the night to check their blood sugar, diligently count carbs before a meal or force themselves on the treadmill at 9 pm. But we do it because without the effort? The science speaks for itself.

So how can we turn a have to into a want to. This is where the sister science of Yoga, Ayurveda takes centre stage. The word Ayurveda means the science of life.  As a traditional Indian method of healing, it uses the natural world to help us understand what creates balance and imbalance.

Ayurveda works with the five elements; earth, water, fire, air and space. We have all 5 elements in our constitution but usually only two hold the limelight.The combination of elements are called Doshas. Vata dosha being the predominance of air and space, Pitta dosha, fire with a small amount of water and Kapha dosha, the predominance of water and earth.

It follows suit that Diabetes is not a one size fits all disease. In medical terminology we have type 1 (Juvenile onset) Type 2 ( Diet and lifestyle related) and 1.5 LADA ( Late Autoimmune Diabetes of Adulthood) and as I write more types of diabetes are being categorised.

In Ayurveda, Diabetes is classified by the Doshas, Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Kapha Diabetes is treatable through diet and exercise. Pitta Diabetes can be controlled with strict management where as Vata Diabetes is much harder to treat and stabilise  My understanding after working with several different Vaidya’s ( ayurvedic doctors)  is that both Vata and Pitta Diabetes deplete the  nervous system. Whereas Kapha Diabetes clogs the system and is a disease of excess.

So what simple things can we do everyday to bring harmony and balance to our lives?

In Ayurveda, setting a regular rhythm is key. In our fast paced life it’s easy to ignore our natural rhythms . We go to bed late, wake up late, eat on the go, spend too much time on devices and work at odd hours. With a disease which is already depleting and/or clogging our systems it’s doubly challenging and we feel pressured to get it right.

Here are three simple ayurvedic practices you can implement right now no matter what your constitution.

Ayurveda for Diabetes

1. Wake up before the sun rises and greet the day with gratitude. Rising before the sun means you will have more energy available to you throughout the day. At dawn the prana (life energy) is still low in the atmosphere and easily absorbed by the body. Perfect for Type 1’s who need to build energy. For Type 2’s it’s a great time for dynamic breathing or a beach walk.

2. Sip hot water instead of tea throughout the day. Plain hot water is cleansing and eliminates toxins and is also warming and nurturing. For Type 1’s it lubricates and soothes the nervous system, for Type 2’s it eliminates accumulated waste.

3. Give your self a nurturing foot massage before bed. No matter what your type, massaging the feet before bed balances the nervous system and promotes sound sleep. In Ayurveda specific oils are used depending on your constitution. But to keep it simple any plain massage oil will work or any cream you use to keep your feet soft especially if you suffer from skin cracks or neuropathy. Make sure to massage the whole foot focussing on the pads of the feet, around the heel and achilles tendon and between the toes.

Implement these three simple practices every day and notice how you feel and stay tuned for more Ayurvedic tips along the way…with great respect Rachel