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

Just Say YES

I’m proud of myself.  I’ve managed to face one of my biggest fears this week. Being a total health freak I avoid anything to do with doctors, hospitals or medication. It’s one of the reasons I avoided insulin, but my ideals couldn’t prevent the inevitable. I’ve been struggling with a kidney stone for over a month and had to have it surgically removed.

I decided, that like childbirth, I was going to go through the procedure au natural ( no pre or post medication) I even went so far as to ask the doctor if he could remove the stone with local anaesthetic but he assured me that I wouldn’t want him poking around while being fully conscious.

My last hospitalisation was at the age of four. I remember breathing in a foul smelling substance, dreaming that piglet came to visit me and waking at 3 am with a full bladder, screaming for a nurse who never came. It was a highly traumatic memory and added to my distaste of the medical establishment.

Luckily my experience here in South Africa was quite the opposite. It was a relief to be greeted by smiling nurses, led to a swish room called under milk wood and eventually wheeled into the operating theatre. I had imagined a place of quiet, decorated with dark hues and faint classical music playing over loud speakers.

In stark contrast, the theatre was cold, bright and teeming with people. I was lumped onto a thin table, covered in a space blanket while a nurse assured me that anybody who messed with me had her to contend with. The next thing I knew the anaesthetist was telling me I would have nice sleep,

Rachel Zinman Yoga

I awoke to an orderly handing me my 8mm stone in a specimen jar.

So that was it! No biggie, a few hours later I’m in my bed wondering what all the fuss was about.

I’m talking about the fuss in my head. I mean people have routine procedures everyday, people get kidney stones everyday. Doctors do this EVERYDAY!

As I lie here post surgery, dealing with the discomfort of healing, I have to admit, the body is a miracle. It can take so much more then we think. I’ve pummelled it with drugs, stents, tubes, minute camera’s and more in the last 78 hours and I’m still alive and kicking. This body is designed to survive and thrive.

It took quite a bit of courage on my part to get out of my own way, and it’s taught me an invaluable lesson. In spite of what I think might happen, or what I project, life has its own plans. When something happens don’t resist. Just say YES! It might not be comfortable but you’ll survive.

This week I offer you a different kind of Yoga practice

Practice saying YES

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With great respect…Rachel

Rachel Zinman Yoga

Stretching It All Out

Grief! It’s a big one. Just recently I read a wonderful piece written for the Diabetic online magazine, A Sweet Life, by Michelle Sorensen on Grief and Diabetes.  It touched me enough to write to her, “Thanks for reaching out! ” she replied, stressing how powerful it is to make friends with other people who are in the same boat.

How often do you find yourself toughing it out, thinking you can do this all on your own or feeling unsupported and misunderstood by family and friends. It’s been an absolute blessing for me to discover a huge community out there which thinks like I do. But I still find myself falling into despair at the smallest change in levels or when something else happens with my health. It reminds me that grief is not something I can ignore, even though I’ve come a long way in accepting this disease.

Grief has a lifespan and like a garden it need tender loving care. For me Yoga is the perpetual gardener.

When I first started practicing Yoga I’d find myself bursting into tears just about any time I put my body into a compromising position. I reassured myself that I was crying from pain. But deep down I knew that I was releasing deep seated grief and shock. It took me years to understand why and how that happens in a Yoga class.

As children we freely express our emotions, but as we get older an outburst or crying spell gets suppressed. It’s really not a good look going ape at your desk or crying on the subway. So where does that unexpressed emotion go? It buries itself in the body, preferably where we can’t feel it.

We have a complex and detailed nervous system. It kicks in to protect us by sending energy to the limbs, so we can run away from danger or it sends energy to the vital organs to replenish and revitalise our system. The brain, spinal column, stomach and heart are saturated with both major and minor nerves whereas the legs, have very few.

Something my teacher Alan Finger shares is that our stress accumulates in the back of our legs because there are less nerves there. Hence the tight hamstrings and tight lower backs. The best way to free up the tension is to stretch the hamstrings.

I can see you grimacing as I write. I know, I know… those hamstrings are tight!

I’m going to share a secret from another one of my favourite yoga teachers, Simon Borg Olivier.  It’s called the principle of reciprocal inhibition. Which means; when you contract one muscle the opposite muscle releases. By working the thigh muscles in a leg stretch your hamstrings release and with it goes your emotional stress.

Below is a simple stretching sequence you can do in a supine position to open and release the hamstrings. Make sure to accommodate the fact that you might not be able to reach your foot and have a belt, long strap or sarong handy.

Sequence for Hamstrings

Lie on your back with both legs extended, feet flexed and legs together arms relaxed along side the body

hamstring sequence Rachel Zinman Yoga

Bend your right knee and clasp the front of your shin while keeping your left leg extended with the left foot flexed

half hand to foot posture for Hamstring Sequence Rachel Zinman Yoga

Take hold of the outside of your right foot and straighten the leg halfway. Press your foot into your hand while pulling your foot towards you. You should feel your thigh muscle working and your hamstring engaged as well

reclining hand to foot pose Rachel Zinman Yoga

Next clasp both hands behind your thigh and slowly straighten the right leg. pressurise your hands with your hamstring as you pull the leg towards your chest.

Full hand to foot pose Rachel Zinman Yoga

If you can easily straighten your thigh, reach your right hand to take hold of the outside of your right foot, keep engaging you right thigh as you pull the right leg towards you.

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To finish, bend the right knee clasp the shin with the hands and then release the leg and life flat. Repeat on the other leg.

Sequence for Hamstrings

Lie with both legs straight for a few moments before moving into you day

Is Yoga a Cure All for Diabetes

Is Yoga a Cure-All for Diabetes?

I am excited to share that a piece I wrote on Yoga and Diabetes has been published in a popular online Yoga Magazine. My passion is to support and inspire fellow diabetics of all types to try Yoga and see the myriad benefits. Hope you enjoy the piece…with great respect Rachel

Is Yoga a Cure-All for Diabetes?

I always thought that yoga was a cure-all. In fact I was absolutely convinced it was. That’s why it was so hard to believe that someone like me, a yoga teacher for over 23 years, could end up being a late onset adult type 1 diabetic.

But now, almost seven years since my diagnosis, I’m convinced that it’s because I’ve practiced yoga almost half my life that I’ve been able to a manage it so well.

Diabetes Is Complicated

Diabetes is a complicated disease. On the surface it seems to be about sugar. And it is, because the body runs on sugar and sugar feeds the brain.

But diabetes is really about how the sugar is managed by the body. Too much sugar in the body is like having too much acid in your car battery; it corrodes the machinery.

Read the full article on DoYouYoga.com

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

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

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.