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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Another great transition pose is Cat pose. Have your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Breathe and relax here.
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.
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
If 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Bring 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.
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, 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.
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
Wouldn’t that be the best if one breath really melted all the stress away? In Yoga it is said that if one is able to breathe easily without any discomfort then the body is in complete harmony and health. For most of us it’s hard to know what our breath is doing from moment to moment. Every thought, emotion or situation elicits a corresponding breath. Have you ever noticed how you breathe in a traffic jam? Take a moment right now and notice your breath; is it soft and slow? Fast and tense? Is it easier to breathe into the chest or belly? There is never a problem with our breath it does what it does through years of habitual responses to the everyday stresses that life presents. But if you watch a baby’s natural breath you’ll see it rests in the belly.
Abdominal breathing is the most healing and calming breath and perfect for settling us down. Teaching the body to breathe as fully and completely as possible using both abdominal breathing and chest breathing balances the nervous system. A chest breath engages the sympathetic nervous system, the energising part of the system and the abdominal breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system or the relaxed part of the system. Balance between energy and relaxation brings a sense of calm to the body, mind and emotions. Qualities needed to deal with a challenging and sometimes frustrating disease like Diabetes.
Follow the photos and instructions below to learn a Full Complete Yogic Breath. Even practicing this for a few minutes when you first wake up or at the end of the day will remind your body to breathe better in times of stress… have a beautiful breathing day… with respect Rachel
Lie on the back with knees bent feet slightly forward of the hips. Place both hands on the abdomen, tips of the middle fingers touching. Become aware of the breath. Notice the inhale and the exhale
On the inhalation expand the abdomen so that the fingers come apart. On the exhalation feel the abdomen releasing and relaxing, fingers coming together. Repeat this a few times
Place your hands on the sides of the ribs. Have your thumbs at the back of the ribcage and your four fingers at the front
On the inhalation feel how the sides of the ribs expand and lift. On the exhalation notice how the ribs come together and the abdomen relaxes as per above. Repeat a few times
Place one hand on the belly and one hand just below the collarbones
On the inhalation feel the abdomen expand, the side ribs expand and lift and the upper chest and collarbones lift. On the exhalation, feel the abdomen; ribcage and upper chest relax all at the same time. One movement melting into the next. Practice this Full Complete Breath a few times. Then relax and come back to a natural breath
Happy New Year! It’s the beginning of another year and like everyone I am so excited to implement some new routines and try to let go of some challenging habits. I learned long ago that New Years Resolutions don’t really work. In the short term they might motivate us back to an exercise program or encourage us to change our diet but ultimately we want to make a lasting change; one that can carry us past the initial excitement of trying something new.
I always start the year with a beautiful meditation to set my intention. An intention is different to a resolution. An intention gives you room to breathe. You might have the intention to check your blood sugar more often, be more vigilant with counting carbs or even work on your emotional relationship to your health. An intention says, “I’ll do my best” rather than “I must get this right”. In Yoga when we practicing a posture if we feel we need to resolve the pose it will actually limit us. Having the intention to do our best means we may not do it perfectly but eventually we will learn to surrender to what is.
Meditation practice works in the same way. If you have always avoided meditation because you think you need to stop thinking, or you can’t sit still or meditation just isn’t for you. Think again. Meditation is actually concentration and studies have found that two factors need to be present in order to elicit whats called the Relaxation Response. 1. You need to perform a repetitive activity. 2. With the intention to let go of the thoughts in the mind.
So why not join me in setting your intention for the New Year …. with great respect Rachel