yoga for diabetes

Is Yoga for You?

Yoga is no longer a buzz word, nowadays everybody and their mother does yoga. But it wasn’t always like that. Fifteen years ago yoga was still the new kid on the block. There was a vibe about yoga; real, simple and honest. In 2015, Yoga is reaching its saturation point and perhaps your thinking, “yoga just isn’t my style, it’s too commercial, too ZEN.”

I totally understand. My first yoga class was hell.

Back in the day, and I’m talking 1985, Pilates was IN. On any given day you’d find me hanging upside down in gravity boots. On one such occasion an Indian lady showed up and announced that she was offering a yoga class.

I actually can’t remember why I signed up, but I did. Turns out I was the only student. How embarrassing! I felt like an idiot bending and stretching in ways that hurt. She wasn’t like the nice bubbly yoga teachers we have today either. She was mean and precise. She barked at me and slapped my thighs.  She was downright aggressive at times. I tried to slink out of there halfway through the class, but she strapped me into a chair. I couldn’t get away fast enough and was sure that yoga was NOT for me…

But life has a way of making other plans.

Yoga for diabetes

What to do when all your friends are doing yoga? Eventually you bite the bullet forget that first experience and give it a really good try. I still felt like an idiot, especially when it came to the relaxation part of the class, but gradually it worked its magic on me.

Imagine a candle being slowly sculpted into a flower. That’s how yoga changed me over the years. I can remember feeling challenged to go beyond limits, struggling to master some small detail and feeling warm and nurtured by the end of the session. The more I practiced the more I sensed something shaping me from the inside, something familiar yet indescribable.

Yoga begged me to explore things I only thought about in childhood? Questions like; why am I here? what’s life all about? what’s love? where’s happiness?

Everybody’s different. You might not be interested in all that woo-woo stuff. That doesn’t mean that yoga’s not for you. What’s so beautiful and exciting about the practice is that it’s not a one size fits all. There’s a yoga practice that’s right for you. Do you want to get fit and lose weight? Try dynamic yoga. Need to manage your stress? Check out yin and restorative yoga. Longing to increase your stamina? Why not experience the yoga of breath. Want to develop mindfulness? Explore meditation in conjunction with yoga.

Yoga for Diabetes

Ultimately any yoga practice should energise you, promote a calm and balanced state of mind, and support you in responding to the challenges that you face every day in trying to manage your health.

And yoga’s the ultimate stress buster !

Having a low? Yoga teaches you to slow down your breath and stay calm. Heading into a high while juggling kids, work and your relationship? A simple yoga practice will soothe you back into balance. Feeling overwhelmed, burnt out and just wishing the whole thing would go away? Yoga supports you in releasing pent up emotions and allowing for greater compassion, empathy and awareness.

yoga for diabetes

When you think about it yoga is amazing! But don’t take my word for it, I’m biased.

On the other hand…DO take my word for it. If someone like me can get diabetes in the first place then surely my yoga practice has been the one thing thats helped me to stay positive, relaxed and absolutely sure that I can have this disease and live a long and healthy life.

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With great respect…. Rachel

Express Yourself

What sort of things do you feel help you to let go, lighten up and relax? Do you get physical? get cooking? Love being creative? Watch a movie? Head out for drinks? Everyone is so different went it comes to letting off steam.

Being a self reflective person, dare I say “ self “ centric (I just made that up) it’s hard to imagine that some people just don’t find creative pursuits relaxing. If you cringe when you put pen to paper, feel embarrassed on the dance floor or run and hide on karaoke night, I dare you…

Keep reading!

Growing up as a kid had its challenges and its not what you think. Imagine a big rambling house, a basement filled with barbie dolls, sequins and glass sculptures, musicians playing quartets in the living room, late night pizza sessions with the likes of Yo Yo Ma.

Living with my Dad was a non-stop music fest. What was normal for me was eccentric to my friends. I was actually the odd one out in my family because I chose dance over piano. Even still I was encouraged to do my best. My mother also loved the arts. My grandfather had some of her art works proudly displayed on his walls. As we walked by a painting he’d stop and reflect on the work, a splash of dark greens and blues under a smouldering sky,

“It’s quite moody… like your mother,” he’d muse

I don’t remember her that way. What I remember most was our attic playroom filled with chalkboards, crayons, paints and play dough. When we were bored my mum would declare, “ Go forth and create!” and so we did. My brother and I not only made art, we made up plays, songs, musicals and dances. We lived in worlds where crates became spaceships and shows like the bionic man became a super 8 film where I did fancy things like lift cars with my bare hands and knock down doors.

Ah those were the days!

Art therapy for stress management

Those heady times of creative free play were soon replaced by goals of “making” it as a dancer. I spent hours in training with little time for anything else and forgetting how much fun it actually was to just make stuff for no reason. I even started to feel like I was kind of bad at art.

When my son was four, I decided its was time to express myself again creatively. Something about getting out of that whole mommy and me thing. I enrolled in a writing intensive, joined a painting class and taught myself guitar. I didn’t think I could really do any of these things well but I didn’t care. I just needed some me time. My inspiration was a book by Julia Cameron called the Artist’s Way-daily explorations, writing exercises and ways to remember the inner artist. It was super pleasurable and relaxing and the best part was I didn’t have to share it with anyone. The process and the actual act of making something was more important then the end result.

Yoga and art for stress management

Those days of just making stuff for no reason were super supportive when I was diagnosed. I was too weak to do Yoga and in too much denial to reach out, so heading to my yoga room to decorate my altar, paint and draw pictures and make yantras ( sacred mandalas) with flowers soothed my grieving heart. Making art again became a powerful touchstone and I was surprised at how my simple childlike drawings and flower creations not only facilitated my own healing but somehow reached out and touched others. What started as a relaxation tool turned into something I could share as part of my Yoga workshops and trainings. And this was before social media took off.

I’ve always seen yoga as art. The body, the perfect canvas, the breath as sculptor and the postures, splashes of colour illuminating the inner landscape. But making art with the body and getting your emotions down on the canvas really are two different things. When I’m feeling challenged, stressed, bored, even frustrated I get out my art stuff and go to town. Before I know it I’m feeling relaxed again, stimulated and ready to tackle the next moment. You may not feel like you have have the time , inclination or talent to pick up a paintbrush. So don’t…

Dream big!

Art therapy for stress management

If you were a creative person what’s the one creative art you’ve always wanted to explore?

Dance? Drama? Writing? Cookery? Craft? Sculpture?

Whatever it is do it!

Get a book, sign up for a class, get a tutorial

and let me know how it goes…. with great respect Rachel

And below’s a peek at what grew out of my own exploration with art for relaxation…

I Have Type 1 Diabetes. Here’s How I’ve Learned To Stay Positive

how I stay positive with Type 1 Diabetes

To some, it might seem like I have the perfect life. I teach yoga in exotic locations, have a stable, loving relationship, support my friends, keep in touch with my family and do my best to practice what I preach.

But life does have its challenges: I have late onset adult Type 1 diabetes. And that’s the kind that can’t be cured.

After years of blaming myself for my illness, I’ve learned to accept that it isn’t my fault.

Stop, Drop and BREATHE

Breath. We can’t live without it. So why is it that we forget the most essential ingredient in keeping every single part of the body working properly? I think it’s the very fact that we take breath for granted that’s actually the problem.  It’s only when we’re out of breath that we notice the breath. Like when you have a cold or an allergy and you’re gasping for air. That’s when you think,  “ hang on a second I’m not breathing all that well.” If you could take note of what’s happening moment by moment with your breath you’d be surprised. The breath has so many intriguing variations, waves and moods. It’s a whole culture unto itself.

I never really knew much about the breath until I took up yoga. Whenever we started breathing I wanted to run a mile. I kept feeling nervous and afraid every time we had to lie back over blankets and breathe. I didn’t really trust my body and was convinced that one day I’d get some sort of disease and die. My mother died when I was young. Her death had a huge impact on me not only emotionally but physically. It’s why I took up Yoga in the first place. Yoga was my lifeline, a way to tranquillize all my insecurities and fears and the breath was the starting point.

Pranayama for Diabetes Rachel Zinman Yoga

Accessing the breath and learning to breathe fully and deeply is even more of a priority now that I know I’m Diabetic. When the numbers go up I take a breath. When the numbers go low I take a breath. When I feel overwhelmed I take a breath. When I want to cry, scream and disappear….I take a breath.

One of my first teachers stressed that the breath could be manipulated and extended, but only once the body was completely relaxed and aligned. Another teacher said exactly the opposite, insisting that the body and its movements fit around the breath.

Whether the body guides the breath or the breath guides the body, working with the breath is a powerful tool in relaxing the nervous system.

Why is breathing so beneficial?

Besides the fact that breathing is the one thing we can’t do without,  Deep conscious breathing ‘called diaphragmatic breathing’ has a ton of benefits. 

  • It engages the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, regulating digestion, elimination and sexual function.
  • The steady exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide feeds the lungs and at the same time clears out toxins
  • Massages the internal organs
  • Breathing through the nose filters the air so that what comes in is free of dust and debris
  • Improves our ability to eliminate waste through the lymphatic system

What’s amazing about the breath is that is has two functions:

Unconscious, automatic breath, which continues regardless of whether we think about it or not

Conscious breath, where we are aware of the breath and can use the breath to change our response to any given situation.

For example: You test your sugar, it’s low, you freak out. Your heart rate goes up, breathing is agitated and the adrenaline is pumping. Taking a few slow deep breaths into the belly while getting what you need to raise your sugars can greatly improve the impact that the stress of a low has on your entire system.

Holding your breath, forgetting to breathe, being overly identified with emotional states, physical tension and external stressors all contribute to the dumbing down of the breath. Not breathing well limits your body’s ability to find balance. Without balance you don’t have the reserves to deal with the every day details of managing your condition.

Stop…take a moment….BREATHE… can do this!

Join me in the practice below and learn how to take a full complete breath….. with great respect, Rachel

yoga for diabetes blog

Coming to terms with Diagnosis and Treatment

As part of the healing process I have made it my business to reach out to people like me who are passionate about yoga, and its ability to manage the emotions that surface when dealing with a chronic disease like diabetes.

Last week I featured a post by Michelle Sorensen. I  found her via a random facebook post which dealt with grief and diabetes. From there I reached out and we struck up a conversation. She urged me to write my story and approach the online magazine a sweet life, which is based in Canada.

The article I wrote for them was not an easy one to write. Especially as I absolutely believe in the power of yoga to energise, rejuvenate and heal the body. But I had to get real with myself and face some cold hard truths. Since coming to terms with my diagnosis, I use the yoga practices to keep the body running at its optimum and to manage any associated stress that comes from the inevitable daily ups and downs. Below is a small excerpt from the blog …..with great respect Rachel

yoga for diabetes blog

The Danger of Treating Diabetes with Alternative Medicine

Yoga was food for my mind, but it wasn’t food for my body. Throughout my many years of practice and teaching yoga, I suffered from chronic digestive issues. I kept them at bay with numerous alternative treatments until one day I fell down and couldn’t get up. My whole body was shaking. I knew something wasn’t right and I needed to rest. A week later my blood work came back from the lab.

My doctor prided himself on the fact that he combined holistic healing with allopathic medicine. His approach to my condition, however, was appalling. He blurted out that I was diabetic. He’d checked my A1c after noticing my fasting sugar was slightly high. He told me I would be responsible for healing myself. He said there was no cure. I was confused and tried to get him to slow down. I madly scribbled notes in my notebook and felt completely overwhelmed. I was supposed to fly to India in three days time to lead a yoga teachers’ training. The trip was set and I couldn’t cancel. The doctor wasn’t interested in my plans. He ignored my questions and concerns and shoved some pamphlets in my hands suggesting I take some brown rice protein for the trip and that I “google” diabetes….. Read more


A Guest Blog from Therapist, Yogi and Type 1 Diabetic, Michelle Sorensen

I recently attended a conference on mindfulness meditation and how to incorporate it into cognitive behavioural therapy. The room was full of mental health professionals like myself, looking to integrate these skills into their practice. Many openly spoke of their desire to learn the skills for personal use as well. One health psychologist sitting next to me commented, “Mindfulness is really about preparing for dying. We are all going to need these skills.”  I am currently watching my father decline with advanced Parkinson’s disease, and watching my mother struggle to accept the changes, and I completely understood what she meant. My father is so accepting of what he cannot control, and so he did very well for a long time with his disease by focusing his efforts on what he was able to control. And simply accepting the rest.

Fighting a battle against illness makes sense in terms of aiming to extend life, maintain quality of life and nurture our spiritual development. However, there is also strength in accepting that death is inevitable for all of us, as is suffering and disappointment throughout life.  Acceptance can help us to develop resilience and flexibility. To develop resiliency we need to be able to better separate out what we cannot control from what we can control. There are problems in life with diabetes that we cannot always eliminate…. but we can develop better resiliency in facing those problems.

Accepting your diabetes

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes a few short weeks before turning 25.  There had been a lot of stress in my life in the years leading up to the diagnosis, as well as lot as of happy moments and exciting developments.  My stressors were the usual stressors for that time of life.  For example, I had to complete a thesis study for my psychology undergraduate program.  The statistics and defence took me out of my comfort zone.  However, the intensity of my stress was higher than it needed to be.  That part was self-imposed and rooted in my need to perform well and please others. I think being more mindful about locus of control would have made me more resilient and less stressed.

Then I took a year to work, save money and apply to graduate schools.  I had many friendships I tended to.  Phone calls always had to be returned, plans always had to be kept, requests always had to be responded to.  Disappointing someone was never an option for me.  I was not self-aware, no one had ever taught me that people pleasing was a problem.  That was my most problematic disease.

When I was diagnosed with diabetes, it was a tipping point. I began to recognize how exhausting my social commitments were, how stressed I felt by the idea of letting someone down.  It took me much longer to realize that I had some very dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs. If someone doesn’t like you, that means you are unlikeable.  If someone is disappointed in you, that means you are not worthy. 

In grieving my diabetes and the ensuing changes in my life, I had to go through some very painful emotions. I experienced denial, believing I would discover I did not have diabetes after all. I experienced the fear of an uncertain future and was terrified by the description of horrible complications stemming from diabetes. This led to a period of depression. I felt angry towards those around me at times, who did not know how to support me.  I bargained with the diabetes gods, striving for perfect control and hoping in turn I would avoid long term complications. Instead I was left shaken by terrible lows as I overcorrected my highs. 

But as I grieved and moved towards acceptance of my diagnosis, I had to accept other things. I had to accept I could not please everyone, and that did not mean I was not good enough. I had to accept that life was not perfect, and that’s okay…. it never was before diabetes either. I had to accept myself and who I am, with all my imperfections.

Today I still have moments I feel frustrated or fearful about my diabetes. However, I try to be mindful and focus on the present moment. After all, that is all any of us have for sure: right here, right now.

Accepting your diabetes

Michelle counsels people with diabetes, combining her knowledge of cognitive behavioural therapy with the experience that comes from living with Type 1 diabetes for 16 years. She is registered with the College of Psychologists of Ontario in Canada. She also enjoys speaking to health care professionals about how to incorporate more counselling into their interactions with patients.  Michelle sees psychological support as often being “the missing piece in diabetes care”.

Change is Here to Stay

Todays topic for Diabetes Blog Week is all about change.

The biggest personal change I have made and one that I hope really comes to the forefront in the management and care of diabetes is the merging of functional medicine with conventional approaches. I know it’s happening on a small scale. But I would love it, if on diagnosis, conventional doctors encouraged their patients to look into the diet and lifestyle changes that are on offer in the functional medicine world. I have learned so much from reading books like “Diabetes Solution” By Dr. Bernstein, Keto Clarity, by Jimmy Moore and attending The Diabetes Summit, which supports all types of diabetics in alternative approaches to self care and management.

Nearly a year ago today I paid my own visit to a functional medicine GP. During the visit we discussed what he called my “narrowing corridor of food issue”. I was controlling my carb intake but I was also suffering from food sensitivities due to leaky gut syndrome. Bottom line? I ate a total of 6 foods and had done so for nearly a year.

After feeling like a pincushion at the lab and shipping my poo off to the U.S.A  it was determined that my system was severely depleted due to an overgrowth of candida. I breathed a sigh of relief, candida was an old friend. I’d met her in my early twenties and had managed to quell her before. This was going to be a piece of cake. I naively held out hope that my BG levels were out of control because I had candida. It was all HER fault.

Boy was I wrong!

I was put on a host of remedies, creams, shots and more and crossed my fingers. Much to my surprise and disappointment my blood sugar levels went higher.  I told myself it was the detox, but after three months of high levels and the beginning signs of neuropathy it was time to get real with myself. We repeated the tests. There was good news and bad news. It was clear that the candida was in remission, but the diabetes hadn’t budged.

My functional medicine GP recommended I start insulin which was later re-affirmed by my endocrinologist.  It was assumed by both health care providers that I would keep up my diet and lifestyle management strategies as that’s what had kept me honeymooning for so long.  They both reiterated that being on insulin would increase the range of foods I could eat and rather than being a death sentence would make my life a whole lot better.

Diabetes blog week changes

And they were right! I am happy to report I am no longer tunnelling down a narrowing corridor.

Being able to eat properly again has completely changed my relationship to food. Instead of putting together a drab meal of egg and spinach omelette. I’m getting creative. Making hempseed coconut bliss balls, egg and avocado salads and feta cheese and spinach soufflés. I even lashed out and made coconut cauliflower pancakes. To those of you who eat these things as part of your regular low carb regime and think, no biggie.

For me its a BIGGIE… it’s like finally having chocolate and ice cream again.

With great respect….Rachel