Diabetes is tough! Especially right now while I am on the road spreading the word about how Yoga is a lifesaver when it comes to the day to day management of diabetes. I’m using test strips like there’s no tomorrow while navigating unexpected lows, raging highs and doing my best to stick to daily routines amidst early morning flights and media calls.
Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the opportunities but like anyone, there are good days and not so good days.
In the end, it comes down to mindset. How I respond to my life with diabetes is more important than the number on my meter, the daily grind of counting carbs or the overall physical drain from a week of higher levels or too many lows.
What gives me the mental strength to weather the storm? YOGA
More specifically the art of meditation.
I started meditating when I was 23. It wasn’t something I had heard about or even planned to do. It was my best friend and my first yoga teacher who convinced me to try it. She suggested we head to a three-day meditation intensive with a former Buddhist monk. When I asked her what we would actually be doing she just smiled.
After sitting and watching my breath for three days straight and walking in slow meditative circles I soon discovered that meditation isn’t something that can be described. It’s intangible like space. Have you ever tried to describe space? Words like open, vast, infinite can’t really explain a feeling which has no words.
The feeling of meditating is very different to the act of practicing meditation which in yoga is called “concentration” or dharana. Dharana is described in the Miriam-Webster dictionary as “fixed attention; especially: a state of mental concentration on an object without wavering”
So what does that actually mean? Think about what it feels like when you do anything you love; it could be a physical activity like running, reading a book, performing a creative task like painting or writing, you couldn’t do that activity if it didn’t have your full attention. That’s exactly what’s happening when you practice dharana (concentration). You place your full attention on the breath, or an image or even a posture and immediately there is an opportunity for your mind to be in “the zone.”
Ok…so when you are in the middle of a low is it appropriate to try and practice dharana? Let’s get real. It’s friggin impossible. Your brain is starving for glucose and you want to consume everything in sight.
Once you’ve treated the low you can make a start. The more we teach the mind to focus in on one point the quicker the nervous system comes back into balance. Like training a dog, positive reinforcement and reminders enable the nervous system to find its feet faster and faster after a stressful event.
We are designed to be relaxed 80% of the time and to be ready to run from a tiger 20% of the time. In this day and age, we live the other way around. Put diabetes in the mix and it amps up the volume. Having simple tools to destress are super important.
But first, we have to want to relax. We need to know what relaxation feels like and understand how beneficial it is. Not only does it support the nervous system. We sleep, digest and feel better emotionally and mentally. Less stress means less cortisol circulating through the system and overall better blood glucose management.
I know for myself after years and years of being uptight, overly sensitive and riddled with anxiety, yoga was the only thing that gave me some respite. It’s taken years of mind over just about everything to get on top of myself. I’m convinced that if I hadn’t learned to meditate at a young age I’d be a basket case.
Knowing that meditation/concentration happens naturally helps to put the mind at ease. Anyone can meditate because anyone can relax. It’s about understanding what meditation is and what it is not.
Meditation is not a state or something that only happens when you are calm or peaceful. It is not a moment, place or goal to be attained.
The word meditation is interchangeable with the word peace, contentment, bliss, wholeness.
You being whole and complete…are the meditation itself.
You might not get what I’m saying right now but rest assured…nothing beats the feeling you get from taking time to slow down and be still. Learning to concentrate is just the beginning.
For this week’s blog, I’ve included an excerpt from the chapter on contemplation from my new book Yoga for Diabetes, How to Manage your Health with Yoga and Ayurveda
The Soham meditation for pitta
As a fiery type, the act of trying to concentrate can often incite frustration. To balance that Pitta, we need to counteract that fire. And what counteracts fire? Water.
The sound of the ocean is like the sound of the breath when you cover your ears and listen carefully. To balance Pitta, you’ll be using sound (mantra) to focus your mind. One of the most profound mantras is the natural sound the breath makes as we breathe in and out. This is happening automatically 24,600 or so times a day. If you place your hands over your ears and breathe in, you’ll hear the sound So. Keeping your hands over your ears when you breathe out, you’ll hear the sound Ham.
The Soham Meditation is an ancient technique that works effectively to calm and cool the nervous system and mind.
Set an intention for your practice. It could be anything, something simple like “I want to feel relaxed at the end of the practice” or more personal like “I dedicate this practice to accepting things as they are”.
Engage ujjayi breath. Long slow inhalation, long slow exhalation.
Feel the breath become even. Even count for inhalation, even count for exhalation. Continue counting the breath.
Move the awareness to the pelvic floor, sensing the space between the pubic bone and the tailbone.
On your next inhalation, for an even count, visualise the breath flowing up the centre of the spine to the middle of the brain.
On the next exhalation, for an even count, visualise the breath flowing down the centre of the spine. Continue like this for as long as is comfortable.
Add the sound (mantra) So on the inhalation and Ham on the exhalation.
Chant the mantra internally to yourself.
Keep breathing in the sound So and breathing out the sound Ham for about 3 to 5 minutes or as comfortable.
Want to know more about how yoga can help you manage your life with diabetes? Order your very own copy of my book here and if you love it I would be so grateful for a review 🙂
With great respect…
It’s still Diabetes blog week and I’m a bit late today with my submission. That’s what happens when you fly thousands of miles and have to do everything on your to-do list first before you can write!
Now seems like a great time to explore the emotional side of living with diabetes. What things can make dealing with diabetes an emotional issue for you and how do you cope?
I often wonder what life would have been like if I hadn’t been on the slow boat to diabetes. I mean what if it had never happened? Would I have ended up visiting a naturopath at 18? Would I have started yoga? I guess I’ll never know.
So many of the choices I made as a young adult were based on the fact that I never really felt healthy. There was always something wrong with my digestion or with my energy levels. Looking back I know it was all to do with the fact that my onset of type 1 was super slow.
As a young adult, I was racked with anxiety, shame, and guilt and there was often a feeling in and around the area of my spleen that felt like I was being sucked into a vortex.
I’m convinced that every health issue was related to the demise of a beta cell. The weird emotional feelings were probably also related. As a young person, I didn’t really know what to make of it. As an adult thankfully I do.
I’ve never really been a depressive type but since diabetes, that’s changed. It’s not that I get so depressed that I can’t get out of bed, it’s just that the whole thing gets so overwhelming sometimes that I feel a sense of hopelessness and despair. The worst part is I keep those crappy feelings to myself.
I know it would do me good to talk it out but to be honest I couldn’t be bothered. Being a yoga teacher and having a reputation has some stigma attached to it. We are the ones others look to for inspiration. We are supposed to rise above it all. Well, surprise, surprise… trying to hold myself to some sort of standard doesn’t work at all!
Diabetes is by far the single most challenging thing I have ever had to deal with and I can do yoga till the cows come home and still feel pissed off, moody, angry and down about it.
So how do I climb out of my own hole when the going gets rough?
By cutting myself some slack. By taking it one day at a time, one step at a time, one insulin dose at a time.
And writing. Writing it out is like talking it out, only better. When I write I don’t care about the reader. I write for myself. As I write I can see what it is I actually think and feel. Once it’s out there I can decide if it’s true for me or not. Words are a beautiful mirror in which one can objectively reflect. What that axiom? The mirror never lies.
Another thing I love about self-expression through the written word is that it connects me with other writers. In the Diabetes space, we are all passengers on the same boat. We may have different cabins and have brought our own belongings but we share the same trajectory. I love meeting with my fellow passengers on deck. This week has been especially healing for me. Reading everyone’s blogs, and commenting and receiving comments has helped to heal the wounds of diagnosis and beyond.
When it comes down to it we all face this disease in our own unique way. But knowing I’m not alone, that there is a thriving community has made all the difference.
With great respect…Rachel
Today is Day 2 of Diabetes Blog Week and already it’s been amazing to read and share with our thriving #DOC. I feel completely inspired and in awe of the writing talent out there and if you are reading this, you guys are my diabetes heroes! Even though I was diagnosed 9 years ago I still feel like the new kid on the block when it comes to managing this disease. After yesterday’s topic, I feel armed with a whole new arsenal of tools to manage my diabetes. Thank you!
Here’s today’s prompt…
So today, let’s discuss how cost impacts our diabetes care. Do you have advice to share? For those outside the US, is cost a concern? Are there other factors such as accessibility or education that cause barriers to your diabetes care?
I feel like I am one of the lucky ones. I was born in Holland, grew up in the U.S and moved to Australia when I was 18. I can still remember the day I received my medicare card and my shock at how anything related to doctors and medical tests was free. While my siblings and parents complained about the costs of doctors and insurance in the States and worried about my health care, I told them not to worry. Australia isn’t called the lucky country for nothing.
That was when I was 18… things are definitely more costly now, but as my friend, Frank from Type 1 writes just shared on his blog,
” If I have to have diabetes, then there’s no place I’d rather have it than in Australia.”
Living in Australia with Diabetes has been affordable and it’s one of the reasons I feel grateful to call it my home. But I do live and travel often to other countries and have come to realize that Insulin, test strips, needles and diabetes devices aren’t always on tap and don’t come gift-wrapped.
Recently I’ve been living in South Africa. It’s a land of contradictions with a huge disparity between the people who have and the people who have not. I’m basically a tourist here so not really part of the medical system but recently the harsh reality of what it’s like for the people here hit home.
A friend came for a visit and with her was Abongile. Somehow it came up in conversation that I had type 1 diabetes. Abongile just happened to be a dietician in a clinic in Johannesburg for about 30 kids with type 1 diabetes. I was showing her my freestyle libre flash glucose monitor and how it worked. She was astonished. The kids she cares for and their parents can’t even afford the insulin they need to survive. Not only that, because there is no awareness of type 1 in the school system, the kids can’t take the risk of being on more than two shots a day. Apparently, hypos are a no go because the teachers don’t have the skills to respond appropriately. So all the kids in the clinic are on mixed insulin and do something called ‘carb blocking.’ They are allowed a certain number of carbs per day, based on the types of foods they eat. A packet of sweets is one block, a bag of potato chips another.
As a nutritionist, Abongile works hard to educate parents about the types of foods that are good to help the kids manage their levels. But some parents can’t even afford healthy fruits and vegetables. When I asked her if there was any money from the government to help the kids she laughed and shook her head. The one thing they have been able to achieve is to give each child a glucometer.
After speaking with Abongile I was completely floored and felt ashamed. How could I even consider complaining about the fact that the freestyle libre was $90 out of pocket, or that my favourite brand of test strips was on back order, or that I have to pay very little for a years supply of Insulin when these kids don’t even get to take the Insulin they need.
It immediately made me want to help. Before Abongile left I made sure I had her contact details I told her about an organization called Type 1 International which helps people get access to Insulin and medical supplies. I wrote a letter to one of the founders about the clinic and my meeting with Abongile. It felt good to put them in contact with each other and that somehow I could make a difference.
Abongile wrote back to me a few days later…
“Thank you very much for your quick connection with the T1 international on my hospital’s behalf. I am very grateful for your keeping to your word as well :). I will keep you updated with any/all positive developments for the clinic from the T1 foundation. “
Something I learned from my exchange with Abongile was that whatever we can do to help others have access to Insulin and diabetes-related supplies we must do. Whether it’s helping someone with less access, lobbying our governments, writing about it or networking to spread awareness.
Even the smallest action helps.
With great respect…Rachel
Woohoo! It’s here! Diabetes Blog Week!
For the next 5 days I’ll be writing on a specific topic along with other diabetes bloggers, sharing how I navigate the world of diabetes. Below is the first topic and my corresponding thoughts.
Tell us about some good things diabetes has brought into your life that you never could have expected?
The nervous system is a delicate thing, tiny fibers that crisscross the body and send signals from your brain to different key areas, telling it to move, breath, digest, feel etc. For some reason nine years ago, mine started to go haywire. Being a long time yogi I consulted my yoga books to see what the problem might be. After months of research, I reached my conclusion.
I was in the middle of a spiritual crisis.
Thinking that I was on the fast track to enlightenment wasn’t necessarily the best approach. For starters, it kept me from questioning my physical symptoms or seeking medical answers. If I had known that diabetes isn’t something you get from poor diet and lifestyle, or that it doesn’t just affect children, I would have dug deeper.
Back then there wasn’t much awareness about the signs and symptoms of diabetes. Even now when I tell people I have Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults ( LADA) they scratch their heads and look at me funny.
Finding out that there was a reason for the strange jittery sensations, erratic digestion, food sensitivities, a constant sugary taste on my tongue and the feelings of exhaustion was a total relief. It’s not that I was happy to have diabetes, it’s just that my search for answers caused so much internal havoc, that having an actual diagnosis released the pressure valve.
I cried a lot those first few weeks after diagnosis. It felt so good to let go.
It’s been quite a journey since then and aside from those initial feelings of relief, I spent years trying everything I could to conquer the beast. What I’ve learned though is that you can’t ‘conquer’ diabetes. It’s not a country you can invade and call home.
Am I the proud owner of a life with diabetes? hmmm….it’s hard to put that answer into words…
What I can say is that diabetes has changed me for the better. It’s made me raw, honest and put my feet on the ground. It’s also motivated me to open up and share through my writing more about what it means to live with chronic illness and spread awareness about the disease.
Diabetes has also inspired me to be deeply grateful. I used to take life for granted. I’d wake up every morning, dive into the day and never stop and think. Wow! I’m alive.
Now, I make a concerted effort to stop, look around me, drink in the beauty of this life and remember…
Life is precious. It’s not a given.
With great respect…Rachel
This month is Diabetes Awareness month and today I wanted to share more about the vulnerability I experience while living with Diabetes.
I can remember the moment of diagnosis like it was yesterday. The feelings of confusion and disbelief as my GP hurriedly told me, “YOU HAVE DIABETES” There was no sugar coating, no silver lining and I was terrified and convinced there was some mistake. I didn’t get to see a specialist straight away so for at least two days I just sat in my house in tatters. I didn’t know what to do. The doctor had given me all sorts of instructions to change my diet, google diabetes and find out how to fix myself.
I didn’t know whether to call my parents, tell my best friend or just be quiet about the whole thing. The biggest overriding feeling I felt was shame. I kept thinking how could a yoga teacher who was supposedly healthy get this disease. 8 years ago I knew nothing about type 1 diabetes and that it was possible to get this as an adult and that mine was a particularly slow onset.
At that stage I thought I had type 2 diabetes which can be brought on by stress, diet, lifestyle choices and other factors. The two diseases are very different. In type 1 the pancreas loses beta cell function and the ability to produce insulin. In type 2 the body does produce insulin but the cells resist the insulin. In LADA which is what I have, it’s sometimes called 1.5 which means I can do both. Not have much insulin and resist the insulin. This means I have to do everything I can to make my cells more open to receiving insulin and preserve my beta cell function at the same time.
Understanding my disease was the first step in letting go of the shame I felt. When I was finally at the stage where I needed Insulin, the diabetes educator said in no uncertain terms that this disease is not my fault and that there is absolutely nothing I could have done to change its onset and progression.
The tears that flowed from that moment were tears of relief. letting go of my shame has helped me to be more compassionate too. Not one person living with chronic illness, mental health issues, personal tragedy or any other crisis should ever feel ashamed.
It’s up to us how we respond to our circumstances. I am grateful every day for the gift that diabetes has given me.
with great respect…Rachel
November is Diabetes Awareness Month and I can’t believe it’s been just over a year since I started Insulin and broke open my own understanding of a disease I’ve had for 6 years. When I first discovered the #DOC ( diabetes online community) I was blown away by how much advocacy was out there. One of the most inspiring advocates is Daniele Hargenrader. Her personal story and passion for making sure you stay on top of your condition is beyond admirable. I asked Daniele if she would share on the blog her goals in not only interviewing so many inspiring diabetes dominators on her popular YOUTUBE channel but why she wrote her new #1bestseller Unleash Your Inner Diabetes Dominator. Thanks Daniele for all you do and are!
“More people are going to passively sit back and succumb to the complications of poorly controlled blood sugars in the next few years than ever before. Your job is NOT to be one of those people, and my mission is to show you how.
My goal is not to create more fear, because there is entirely too much of that in the diabetes community as it is, but to inspire the diabetes community to take more directed action that will lead to living our lives feeling empowered, liberated, educated, protected, and confident in our abilities to manage our choices and decisions when it comes to our own diabetes care. More than anything, this is a call to action, a challenge to step up our game of self-love, take things to the next level, and make that next level our new standard. Each of us must become the standard bearers for our own diabetes management. We cannot always have total control over diabetes, this much we all know to be true, but we can control the choices we make with what is available to us regarding our diabetes care, and those choices, in turn, shape our day to day realities.
Every day, we hear on TV, in a magazine or newspaper, online, or from a friend or family member about this amazing new diet program, pill, spray, or some other form of miracle that has been doing wonders for their waistline. That in itself is the first and truly most gargantuan problem of all, one that, if we don’t eradicate it from our minds, will almost definitely ensure the failure of any venture into the realm of healthful living. The idea that there is or ever will be any quick fix, magic pill or drink that will make up for the years of damage we have imparted on our bodies (trust me, I spent ten years weighing over 200 pounds with an A1c of 13+%, and I didn’t get healthy overnight).
The idea that we can just treat our bodies poorly for any indeterminate amount of time and just take some unregulated supplement to fix the damage we have done in a couple of weeks. The sooner we are able to openly admit that the damage we have done to our bodies, through the lack of attention paid to and priority put on our diabetes care, has taken time, and that the reversal of the damage will also take time, the sooner we will be on our way to healing and recovery, and a resurgence of sustainable energy and confidence that will blow our minds.
We must be willing to let go of our old beliefs, habits, and routines, the ones that got us to where we are today. This quote from one of my most influential mentors, Jim Rohn, is along the same lines: “The greatest reward in becoming a millionaire is not the amount of money that you earn. It is the kind of person that you have to become to become a millionaire in the first place.” I’m still working on that one, but for now, I can speak to the changes that must be made to change the state of our health. Essentially, we must change who we believe we are and what we believe we are capable of, to some degree, to create sustainable healthy habits. Change is not a bad thing or something to be feared or resisted. Change is truly the only thing that is constant in this world, and our ability and willingness to adapt and roll with the proverbial punches is what shapes our reality day-to-day.
The only thing that will allow our minds and bodies to reshape and restructure themselves, to let go of excess fat and toxins and negative thought patterns, to produce the energy that we desire and deserve every day to make our lives more enjoyable and fulfilling is a healthy lifestyle. A healthy mindset, a healthy nutritional lifestyle, a healthy exercise lifestyle. A lifestyle built around self-love, self-appreciation, choice, community, and action, armed with the knowledge that we are worth it, worth every bit of effort, and we are more than enough for this world. A lifestyle that, without a single word, shows those around us that we are each incredibly valuable, that we all have a purpose in this life, and no passion or dream is too small or seemingly trivial to pursue and share with others if it makes our hearts sing.”
Daniele Hargenrader, AKA the Diabetes Dominator, is the bestselling author of Unleash Your Inner Diabetes Dominator. Daniele is a nutritionist, diabetes and health coach, and certified personal trainer. She was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1991. She is an international speaker, has presented at Fortune 100 companies and top-ranked hospitals and universities, and has dedicated herself to teaching people how to live the life they imagined through optimal health. Daniele ballooned up to 200 pounds a few years after her diagnosis and the unexpected and sudden death of her father. She also battled depression and a binge eating addiction. Through these adversities, she eventually took herself from obese to athlete, and now shows others how to do the same.