A work in progress

There’s a blizzard outside and today we’re snowed in. In Rochester, NY where I grew up, we rarely had snow days. Being close to Canada and having snow for almost 8 months of the year meant the city was well equipped to meet extreme weather.

But here in New York state, it’s been snowing in snowballs. It’s been too cold to go outside, too cold to go anywhere and did I mention… it’s frigging cold out there!!! I am not sure what I was thinking leaving behind endless summers but it’s been quite a shock to my blood sugar levels. I really thought I had things down but I’ve realized that my diabetes management is still a work in progress.

In spite of the cold, I went into the city this week to meet with Craig Kasper the creator of the Bravest Podcast. Craig also lives with Type 1 and created the podcast so he could learn and explore what it is that enables people to live extraordinary lives in spite of their Diabetes.

In the interview, we talked about levels of bravery. As our discussion progressed I shared that acceptance continues to be a process. There was that moment of diagnosis, where I felt like I had to swallow a bitter pill, the long years of denial where I kept thinking that controlling my diet and walking up hills would cure me, the moment where I gave myself my first injection through a rain of tears, the day where I knew I needed to change my management strategy by splitting my basal dose and finally yesterday pulling up a ½ unit of bolus Insulin into a syringe and taking the plunge.

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Living with LADA (Latent Autoimmune Diabetes in Adults) is no picnic. A friend recently commented that it’s easier to calculate your insulin to carb ratio when your beta cells don’t produce any insulin. Living with LADA is like playing roulette. Some days the ball lands on the money and others I leave the table in despair.

The only way I get through each and every wonky moment is with the varied practices of yoga. I love working with the medium of sound in my practice because sound is so direct and immediately calms and centers me.

Working with sound in Yoga is called Mantra. The word Mantra comes from two words, Manas, meaning mind and Trayati meaning freedom.  A Mantra is a sound, which frees the mind by giving the mind a focus so it’s naturally drawn out of its preoccupation with thoughts, ideas, and beliefs.

I know it’s natural to be obsessed with thoughts about the ins and outs of daily management. In working up to that first bolus injection I would sit down to meditate and replay worst case scenarios over and over.

That thought loop went on for days until I caught myself. It’s up to me to stop my need to identify with the thought by asking myself; what kind of investment do I have in that thought? Can a thought make me happy? How can a thought, which has no substance or dimension get the better of me?

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It’s like trying to catch a snowflake. Impossible!

And it’s not about stopping the thought either. Try and banish any thought, another impossible task.

Mantra is such a profound way to bring the mind into a one-pointed focus, it can be chanted out loud or internally. Each nuance has a different effect on the mind and body. Chanting audibly affects the pituitary gland, the master gland in the body. It vibrates during chanting which tones and tunes all the other glands in the body. It also affects the Vagus nerve which is responsible for increasing immunity

Chanting out loud increases the length of exhalation too. The longer the exhale the calmer the nervous system. Finally, mantra increases our ability to recognize that moment of getting lost in a thought. Thoughts come and go. It’s the thinker of the thoughts that matters.

For today’s practice join me in a simple chanting practice with the sound OM

 

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