A week in the wild

I’ve just returned from the Kruger National Park in South Africa, a vast tract of land teaming with wildlife. What a privilege to spend seven days watching the natural lifestyles of wild animals. And guess what…it’s all about the food.img_9488Animals are either ground grazers, tall leaf eaters or wild hunters (like leopards and lions) I’m talking rhinos battling it out in a nearly dry river bed, herds of elephants eating trees covered in thorns, giraffes crossing and re-crossing roads in search of the freshest and tastiest leaves. And not only do they eat, but they fight for the right to eat. We watched giraffes weaving their necks together, elephants pushing and shoving each other and kudus locking horns. My partner mentioned that it was all about survival of the fittest. If you win the battle you get your pick of the best. It made me think about living with diabetes and how we work twice as hard as someone with a functioning pancreas to stay fit and still we deal with that feeling that it’s never enough!img_9457Unlike our complex needs for exotic combinations on our dinner plates, animals keep it simple. Their primary directive is survival. If I can’t get it on the ground and I can reach it in a bush, I’ll eat that. Basically, like animals all a human body needs is nutrients to survive. I can get caught up in personal taste, be fussy about presentation, but if I was on a desert island? I’d probably behave like any wild animal and eat whatever!img_9555Besides watching all the munching and crunching there was a lot of digesting and sleeping going on too. We came across twenty crocodiles asleep in the sand along the banks of a watering hole, lions stretched out in a riverbed and a leopard straddling a high branch completely dead to the world.img_9496I never thought watching animals would be so soothing, fascinating and timeless. We spent over 6 hours in our car at one time and literally had to drag ourselves back to camp for a refresher before we jumped back in the car for more. Before the trip I worried that I’d get frustrated by sitting in the car all day. It’s completely against the rules to get out even for a pee (apparently a lion or some such other wild creature can come out of the bush at any moment and eat you up) But surprise, surprise it was easy. When you place your focus outside yourself time falls away and you forget all the little niggley things including the fact that your blood sugars might not be behaving.img_9631As the days went by I felt lighter and lighter and as a bonus my blood sugars levelled out. Maybe all any of us really need is a week away in the wild.

Check out these sweet little films below and if you’d like my free ebook on how I survived my first year on Insulin go here

Be the Sweetness You Are

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about loving kindness. We are told by countless self-help gurus that in order to move forward on ‘the path’ we have to love ourselves. I can remember way back in the 90’s having a counselling session where I was told that unless I learned to love myself I’d never find a way to move forward in my life. Looking back all I can say is, hogwash! I’ve realized through trial and error that loving oneself isn’t an action. We can’t do loving because we are the love itself.

Rachel Portraits 2015-6 copyBut what exactly does that mean?

Love is such a powerful feeling. Think about how it feels when you hug someone. Tingles and warm shoo-shoo feelings in the heart and a sense of safety and completion flooding every ounce of your being. Feeling love for someone is so powerful that somehow we are convinced that that’s what self love should feel like too. But what if love isn’t a feeling. What if love isn’t tangible and what if… we are loving ourselves 24/7 and the only thing standing in our way is that no one has ever told us that love is not an action.

Put simply, love is being yourself. And how hard is it to be yourself? It’s easy… you’re doing it every single day.

As a reminder I often think about when my son was born. Just a few minutes after his birth I understood something I couldn’t have possibly understood before. Babies are pure love. They ooze love, exude love just by simply existing. So what’s the difference between a baby and you? Absolutely nothing. That love baby is still looking out of your own eyes how ever many years later. If there is anything that separates you from the baby it’s the ideas, beliefs and conditions you’ve innocently absorbed and taken on. Sometimes it’s described as the layering affect. You identify with emotions, feelings, situations as yourself and then you believe you are the shame, guilt, depression, misery etc. But you can never be those things…they are just things you have.

IMG_8952It’s easier to drop what you have than what you are. Try dropping your awareness? I dare you. Try to be unconscious right now! Unless you hit yourself over the head with a hammer it’s impossible.

So being love is a no-brainer and loving yourself is effortless. What’s effortful is clinging to your concepts about love, about what love should look like and what it takes to love yourself. Think about how many times you’ve berated yourself for not taking care of yourself, for not going that extra mile, for not getting it “right’. Whose imposed those expectations? Where are those ideas about what self love should look like coming from? Un-peeling the layers is not some psychological process it’s not even about letting go, it’s actually the opposite of that.

By being you and and simply existing in the creation you are enough. In fact, you’re more than enough.

Think about it. What do you take with you when you drop your body? Do you take an emotion? An object? A relationship? Money? An idea or belief? At the moment of death, quite naturally you let go of everything. And imagine understanding that by simply existing, you are enough. How loving would you feel? Where would you need to direct love? What work would you have to put in to love yourself?

Absolutely none!

IMG_4490Love is already gained; like a drop in the vast ocean of water. No matter how much the drop thinks it’s a drop it can only ever be water. No matter how separate you feel from love the truth is, love is all there is.

So being sweet to yourself is easy because without trying, without even knowing it you are the sweetness itself.

I’d love to hear what you think! Leave a comment below or send me a message and if you’d like a free copy of the first chapter of my new book click here …. with great respect, Rachel

Is that the bad kind?

The first time I encountered diabetes was when one of my teenage classmates had it. I can remember asking her what the diabetic alert bracelet she wore was for and why she couldn’t eat sugar. I never once saw her have a hypo, she never complained and to me she seemed completely normal.

Now that I live with type 1 diabetes I get how naïve I was and how amazing she was. She woke up every day and dealt with so many calculations, lows and highs. She was a super hero.

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When I was first diagnosed as pre-diabetic I thought I had type 2 diabetes. To me that meant I had every chance of reversing my diagnosis and the opportunity to continue living my life as I saw fit. Sure I’d have to eat a low glycemic diet and exercise more but that was easy. I’d been disciplined my whole life. It didn’t occur to me that because I didn’t fit the typical profile for a type 2 diabetic, something was awry.

It didn’t take long for things to come unhinged. About 6 months after my diagnosis the doctor let me know it was an autoimmune condition. “Your pancreas isn’t going to miraculously start producing insulin,” the doctor stressed, “eventually you’ll be on medication.” I can remember sitting in that office and feeling like I was being handed a death sentence. I was angry, confused and convinced myself he was wrong.

I didn’t want to admit that I had the same diabetes my childhood friend had. That kind of diabetes happens to kids, not too adults in their 40’s.  That’s the bad kind.

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Recently at a wedding I was caught in the act of eating my home cooked quiche and asked why I’d brought my own food. “I have diabetes,” I shared.

“Is that because you ate too much candy as a kid?”.

“No, sugar does not cause this kind of diabetes,” I replied, It’s autoimmune, my pancreas doesn’t produce insulin I have to control my carbs, inject or die!”

A bit dramatic I know, but I wanted to drive the point home.

I admit at times I find myself being envious of people who live with type 2. Somehow I imagine they must struggle less. But in reality I am sure they deal with as much stress as a type 1 diabetic. It just has different moods and flavours.

It’s not my fault that fate has lumped me with this condition. And at times I feel like such a failure. I can’t predict how each injection will be absorbed, how much is the right amount to take for travel, the weather or that lunch out with friends.

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As a young yoga teacher, when working with pregnant woman, I’d get them into a posture and encourage them to breathe through the intensity explaining that this was what childbirth was like. After having my own child, I felt like such a fraud.  Nothing can prepare you for childbirth, certainly not a prenatal yoga class!

And that’s exactly how I feel about living with diabetes. No matter how much I quizzed my type 1 friend, read about it or watched stuff on YouTube nothing could prepare me for what’s happening now as my beta cells slowly call it quits.

The one thing that has helped, besides my awesome yoga practice, is keeping my sense of humour. As I troll Facebook groups and connect with other type 1’s those clever type 1 memes get me going!

Here’s one of my favorites

I cant diabetes today

Something that my yoga teacher used to say, is that the joy is felt in the space after the laughter ends. With regards to keeping it upbeat in the face of the daily diabetes challenges his words certainly ring true for me. No matter what goes on joy, stillness, peace, love,  and all that good stuff are ever available.

That’s one thing having “the bad kind” can’t undo!

DIY wedding bells and diabetes

Last weekend I attend a three-day farm wedding with a twist. I can’t actually put into words what it means to see someone you love give their heart and soul to someone else.  But what I am bursting to say is… this was the best wedding I’ve ever been to!

The happy couple wanted all their friends to come together, meet each other and experience community and the power of co-creation. A Do-It-Yourself wedding.

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Gone were the wedding planners, elaborate tents, hired caterers and contracted musicians. Forget celebrants and fancy rings. Imagine 58 people staying in busses, tents and haylofts. From the moment we arrived the farm was a hive of activity. The farmhouse kitchen spilled over with home-grown lettuces and courgettes, homemade cakes and breads. Once we unpacked we were encouraged to roll up our sleeves and join in.

A huge barbecue was lit, picnic tables were erected and people began putting together vegan foil parcels to throw on the grill. By the time the sun went down the grill turned into a massive fire pit surrounded by laughing, smiling eyes.

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The next morning under a clear blue sky about 15 people showed up for early morning yoga. At the end of the practice I asked the group to place their hands on the earth and imagine planting seeds for the bride and groom. I decided to join in on the exercise and imagined them living a successful and heartfelt life together. It was hard not to cry.

After Yoga everyone contributed to brunch. Someone had made a giant fruit salad, someone else had cut slabs of cheese, the breads remerged as did vegan pancakes. My partner and I slipped out for a walk into the surrounding wheat and corn fields and by the time we returned the wedding preparations were in full swing. People were hanging photos of the happy couple from trees, Others were busy setting up a photo automat booth with costumes and an old fashioned camera. There was an activity to make a “memory game” with hand drawn cards and a close knit group were busy decorating the area for the ceremony with paper flowers (hand made of course) and flags. There was literally an army of people cutting up vegetables for the vegan feast to come after the ceremony and then there were the cooks busy making the food.

IMG_8972I decided to get involved in the flower arranging with the bride. She wanted bouquets for the parents and flowers for the tables and an elaborate garland to decorate the table for the wedding party. As my hands touched each stem and I began to bring the flowers together I thought of her grandmother who had a gift with growing and arranging flowers. We both agreed this was actually the best part of the preparations, being knee deep in roses, cornflowers and baby’s breath. What a pleasure to watch her create her own bouquet and choose the flowers for her headpiece.

When it finally came time for the ceremony we were greeted with a classical trio of flute, cello and violin for the wedding march (the cello player was one of our cooks, the violinist had made the lights for the trees and our flautist had created the wedding cake.)

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We heard the story of how they had met, they exchanged their vows and rings and planted a tree together. Then it was our turn to sing a song and offer our congratulations. As the ceremony merged into the celebration dinner there were speeches, skits, movies, stories and more amidst the cutting of the cake and the first dance. The celebrations continued till the early hours and there were still a few stragglers greeting the dawn when I woke up to make my breakfast.The morning after was yet another marvel as the group banded together after another amazing brunch to slowly ‘bump out’.

IMG_9047On the train ride back to Berlin I took a moment to reflect on the whole experience, especially as it was the first time I’d done something like this since I was diagnosed. It wasn’t easy to cook my food or eat at regular times while having on average five hours sleep each night but to my amazement my blood sugars managed to stay level. In fact, on the Sunday I woke up slightly low.  It was quite a surprise and contrary to my idea of what makes a perfect diabetes day.

Perhaps a dose of joy, love and celebration is just as good as a controlled diabetes management plan.

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photo by Jessica Zumpfe

I’d love to hear what you think! Leave a comment below or send me a message and if you’d like a free copy of the first chapter of my new book click here …. with great respect, Rachel

What it means to come home

I haven’t been home in a while. My life on the road is a series of suitcase bumps up and down escalators and relentless packing and unpacking.

Six years ago things were different. I had a home, a son in high school, a marriage, a stable income and my pancreas was still producing insulin. I can remember swimming laps in my pool and thinking, this is the life.

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But just when I thought things were hunkey dorey, the shit hit the fan.

My particular brand of crisis didn’t actually happen because I was diagnosed with diabetes. It happened before then. It was happening because I was sick and I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was convinced that my marriage, my home and everything stable was dragging me down. I wanted adventure and radical change.

Then all hell broke loose.

The details are irrelevant (a whole book in itself ) but within a year or two I was no longer married, my son had moved to Melbourne, someone else owned my home and I was living out of a suitcase in India. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times that phrase, “ be careful what you wish for, ” rolled around in my head!

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That moment of radical crisis forced me into a corner and made me question everything. Especially my roles. The big question? If I’m not a mother, wife, yoga teacher, who am I? I’d lived through so many ideas about who I thought I was that I realised I didn’t have a clue who I actually was. It’s the existential question most of us soul searching bohemian types ask at one point or other right?

Lucky for me I slam dunked into a person, who having been through something similar, was now out the other side. We met in India, as you do when your in the middle of an eat pray love adventure. He led me to a teacher and a teaching which answered every single soul searching question I’d ever had. Sound unbelievable? I thought the same. But it just so happens that a crisis is the only time in your life that you are forced to question. And in India a traditional teaching, which has existed for thousands of years, is designed to provide the answers.

As a westerner I was so full of my own ideas, conditioning and beliefs I never thought I could drop all that, but I did. As the simplicity of it all dawned on me I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. And rather then being devastated I felt like a huge weight had been lifted. Suddenly everything made sense. It enabled me to accept my diagnosis and get on with life. Living as artfully, passionately and fully as possible.

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Coming out of crisis for me was finding home in myself. And to be real, words cannot adequately describe what I’ve been assimilating since being exposed to the wisdom of the upanishadic tradition in India. What I can say is that in spite of living with a chronic illness I’ve found peace.

So when friends ask me how I manage to travel constantly, teach yoga, manage my relationship and live with diabetes. I keep it simple, practicing yoga every day, eating small nurturing meals. Walking in nature, taking time to be still and be with myself.

I’d love to hear from you how you come home to yourself.

Leave a comment below or send me a message and if you’d like a free copy of the first chapter of my new book click here

The day the world stood still

While the rest of the world still thinks it’s April 6th and is sending me birthday greetings from far and wide the dawn is breaking on a  very different kind of celebration for me. The 39th anniversary of my Mothers passing. 

It’s always been a conundrum celebrating the excitement of my birthday with the bittersweet of my mothers death.

I can remember so vividly my dad and step mother talking with me about the arrangement to fly across the country for my mothers funeral and me insisting I didn’t want to know about it. Who wants to talk about death on the day of their 11th birthday.

me and mum

What I love about living down under is that even though the sun has set on April 6th here, it continues on in other parts of the world and the spilling over of my birthday into a second day, means I just get to keep celebrating. Before I know it its April 8 and tragedy, loss and all the other associated emotions are merely faded memories.

That doesn’t mean I don’t mark the moment, I just don’t let it cast a shadow over the excitement of a new year ahead, the challenges to overcome,  the new friends to make and  all the exciting places to go.

This year is a little more special than others.

I’ve been here 50 years, nearly 40 of those without my mother. How has time moved so fast? It seems like just yesterday that she was brushing my cheek to wake me up for school. Driving me to various dance lessons or scolding me for running away that time with my friends. I wish I could remember more about her, but the loss of a parent at 11 means the memories have grown fainter.

My dreams of her however, have stayed clear.  Like the time she spoke to me when I  was pregnant or her long embrace during my divorce. In my dreams her hair is long and her smile wide. When I look at my cousins daughters I see that smile. Beautiful, happy and expectant.

altar for Leslie

When I turned 40 I remember thinking that was it: my mother had only just made it past her own 40th birthday before passing and I was absolutely convinced the same fate awaited me. I’ve heard similar stories from friends… and how once you cruise past that date you feel invincible.  That’s why my own feelings as I approached my 50th surprised me. I found myself asking questions like; have I done enough? Explored every corner of possibility?

Is this happiness and contentment I feel the beginning of the end?

Catching up with my grade school friend, she asked me what were my plans for my 50th? She was thinking of doing something daring.  I admire her gumption but I’m definitely not a spills and thrills kinda gal. I wanted to do something simple, personal and meaningful. I wanted to be with my beautiful beloved in nature with time to reflect, watch the ocean and just be.

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It was a truly special day, a secret beach, warm ocean, circling hawks, we stripped bare and dove in. Letting the ocean wash away the previous 49 years. Feeling purified we couldn’t stop remarking on the perfection of the day.

And I know that if my mom were alive today  she’d be proud of the woman I have become.

Her legacy lives on in me.

with great respect…Rachel

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Diary of a Bliss Ball

Todays topic for Diabetes Blog Week is Food food food….what we eat, how we manage and the lists we make.

I’m in Italy after a winding drive through the mountain vistas and picturesque lakes of Switzerland. Italy is famous for the Love of Food. So what’s a low carb yogini do when she rocks into town? Head to the local trattoria and have a pasta? I wish!

Instead it’s off to the supermercato to check out the green veggies on offer and the staples that will last me through the weekend.

And I’m in luck…Italians love salad!

My shopping list?

Fennel, green beans, swiss chard (which has an exotic name here like bietola) chicory leaves, insalata mista and lots and lots of variates of zucchini, Bio eggs, limone…and Italian burro (butter)…oh and olive olio…lots of it!

The supermarket aisles are full of cheeses, cured meats, biscotti’s, pasta, tomato sauces and more. Everything looks incredible and it’s hard not to reflect on my pre diagnosis days where I could literally pig out on all these foods. The funny thing is I never did. Even when we rented a Villa in Tuscany one year and I literally cooked everything a la Italian.

Diabetes Blog week Yoga for Diabetes     Rachel in Italy

I think my Yoga practice has a lot to do with it.  With the stronger practices of pranayama the body absolutely knows what’s nourishing and what’s depleting. I’ve learned over the years to eat to my ayurvedic type. I’m pitta/vata which means foods need to be warm, but not too spicy, naturally full of good fats and not too rich.

It was actually easier to let go of all the carbs then I thought it would be. That’s because it all happened so gradually. Insulin wasn’t in my plan so at first I let go of bread and wheat products, then eventually grains and legumes and finally the higher carbohydrate vegetables and dairy.

Instead of feeling hungry all the time and tired I had even more energy. It was at odds with my lab results which showed the signs of someone who was suffering from the symptoms of severe chronic fatigue.  My doctor and I agreed that it had to be my consistent yoga practice and my transition to the ketogenic diet that had made me asymptomatic.

But all that doesn’t mean it’s easy to replace my passion for pizza and that I don’t long for a sweet treat. And I know I could bite the bullet and just start bolusing for the extra carbs. But I’m also inspired by everything I’ve heard and read about having as little Insulin on board as possible. The less Insulin, the less likely a hypo. Sounds like a good recipe to me.

So how do I feed my sweet tooth?

Hemp Chia Coconut Butter Balls

Hemp seeds are packed with protein and phytonutrients and Omega 3’s and brilliant for healing the gut lining as are chia seeds. Unsweetened desiccated coconut provides healthy fats and protein as well as being super low carb and has a natural sweetness. And butter is the glue that sticks it all together. One bliss ball a day is enough for me, but sometimes I have one for breakfast when I don’t have time to make a bigger meal. I’ve added other ingredients to the recipe like a mixture of black and white sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds or even ground almonds. But sometimes all those varieties upset my digestion. After lots of trial and era I am happy with the basic recipe below.

Rachels Bliss BallsItalian ButterCompleted bliss Ball

Why not give it a try and tell me what you think. I’d love to know.

With great respect…. Rachel

Rachel’s Recipe for Bliss!

1 tablespoon unhulled hemp seeds

1 tablespoon chia or less if you are sensitive to the carbs in chia

2 tablespoons or a little more of desiccated sugar free coconut/or you can grind the two tablespoons

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon butter

Put all the dry ingredients into a shallow bowl, add the water first stir until the mixture is just a little damp and starts to stick together ( it shouldn’t be gloppy or wet) add the butter and mush everything together with your hands till thoroughly mixed, then form into a ball. You can wrap in baking paper and freeze for half an hour if you want it to be hard and crunchy, or refrigerate… or just eat as is.

Diabetes blog week clean it out

It’s a Wild Ride!

Todays topic for Diabetes Blog Week is all about getting the skeletons out of the closet. What can we let go of in order to fly?

I’l never forget my first trip to Disney world.  I couldn’t wait to see Mickey and Minnie and the enchanted castle. But my big  8 year old dream was to see the dolls dancing in costumes to the lilting tune of it’s a small world after all.  I wasn’t that keen to go in the spinning teacups, they made me dizzy, but I liked the idea of the tomorrow-land ride… until I saw people stepping onto the ride and then magically being reduced to miniature people. Being 8 and quite impressionable I had no idea that what I was seeing was a model, not the ride itself.

I began to scream, stamp my feet and declare that there was NO WAY I was going on that ride. I clambered out of my seat leaving the rest of the family to go ahead without me. I was petrified! What would become of my family? Would they survive the shrinking procedure? Would they come out the same as they went in?

Rachel Zinman Yoga for diabetes blog

Luckily they greeted me with smiles on the other end, but I’ll never forget the feeling of helplessness and despair.

Thinking about my 8 year old self reminds me of how I feel about things I don’t understand and can’t control. Yep I’m a control freak.

Now along comes Diabetes.

Something A: I can’t understand

And B: I can’t control.

Being an adult I can’t kick, scream, cry and jump off the ride. Instead I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’m not special, that just like everyone else things happen, the body is problematic.  And the only thing I can do is get out of my own way.

To sum it up; let my hair down, go with the flow, get a hold of my control freak and trust the process, trust that there’s a world full of people just like me who are dealing each and everyday with the ups and downs. Trust that I have what it takes to go the distance.

And just like my parents appeared whole and happy at the end of the ride so will I!

with great respect…. Rachel

On a personal note

I’ve just signed up for Diabetes Blog Week with the intention to write for the next seven days to a specific topic. Todays topic is deeply personal… What are the things I wouldn’t share about myself with regards to my illness…

As I discover more and more about the diabetes online community and all the support that’s out there I feel incredibly lucky. For the first 6 years after my diagnosis I felt completely isolated. The only other person I knew with diabetes was a friends son who’d had it since he was 8. He was already on Insulin while I was still managing with diet so we couldn’t really compare notes. To say I was roaming around in the dark would be an understatement. To top it off my job required constant travel, meeting new people and appearing the model of perfect health.

Yoga Teachers don’t get sick!

I’ll never forget a time, when I was teaching in Kyoto, where our host had organised us a hotel room instead of an apartment. I’d agreed to it thinking I could find something to eat even if it was just a salad and boiled eggs with an avocado from a local supermarket. What I hadn’t factored in, was a frustrated hungry husband and son who wanted more than just take away. An argument ensued which left me a quivering mess with soaring BG levels. Somehow I managed to placate the situation, feed myself and head out the door in time to teach my class.

I remember smiling through clenched teeth for most of the yoga class reflecting on all the moments, as a dancer, where I had to go on stage and smile when it was the last thing I felt like doing.

Diabetes Blog week Rachel Zinman

The beauty of being  dancer is that you use your body as the instrument of your heart. You don’t need to say anything. But society and life requires the word. So is it possible to keep my thoughts and feelings about Diabetes on the QT?

Not really…. because I am a share-a-holic

Perhaps the only thing I wouldn’t readily divulge is the minutia of thoughts that parade their way through my mind.

Luckily my meditation practice takes care of that!

with great respect…. Rachel