Getting into your breath

Happy Spring!

When I started this blog 16 month’s ago my aim was to share tips and tricks on how yoga can help you manage your diabetes.  I was going to upload practices each week and create a body of work that would eventually lead to an online resource. Well … in my excitement I kind of got off track. I came across so many inspiring people who live with diabetes and do yoga that I wanted to share their insights too and then I wrote a book, which by the way is on the cusp of being ready.

But besides the diabetes related stuff I do I actually have a day job. I travel nationally and internationally teaching yoga workshops, retreats and teacher trainings with my partner and fellow yoga teacher, John Weddepohl.

Last month our work took us to Japan. It was my 10th visit and Johns 1st and besides teaching a ton of yoga we visited temples, Mt. Fuji, saw plum blossoms and went bowling! It was cold but refreshing and my blood sugar levels staying in range for the entire trip. You can imagine how exciting that was.

After spending 30 days writing, talking and sharing all about my life as a type 1 LADA diabetic in order to raise funds to publish the book, I had almost forgotten that most of the time my focus is on sharing yoga with people who don’t have diabetes. My trip to Japan was a great reminder. No matter what’s going on, yoga works. It worked for me before my diagnosis and it definitely works for me now. My emphasis on why might be different, but the results are the same.

As part of my day job I also teach private sessions and am currently working with someone who wants to increase their breath capacity. It’s been amazing to see instant results when I share how to feel and find the breath. Like how certain poses open up the chest to increase the lungs ability to take in more air, or how some postures release the muscles that can tighten up and restrict our breathing.

In my book on Yoga for Diabetes I devote a whole chapter to breath and breathing. But for todays blog I just wanted to share 3 simple postures that can improve your breath capacity and calm and restore your nervous system.
With great respect…Rachel

And … If you’d like to find out more about when the book is coming out and how to get your hands on a copy you can sign up for my newsletter here.

open the chest for blog

1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet placed firmly on the floor inner hip width distance apart. Raise your arms up over your  head, backs of the palms touching the floor. Keep the arms wide so there is no tension in your shoulders. Notice how easy it is to breathe into your chest in this position. Hold and breathe for 10 breaths. Then lower your arms and breathe normally and notice if your breath feels lighter.

breathing into the belly

2. Keeping your knees bent and your feet flat and have your arms relaxed alongside your torso, palms facing down. Raise your pelvis towards the sky. Make sure there is no pressure on the back of your neck. If there is, place a blanket under your shoulders. Begin to breathe into your belly. Watch it rise and fall. In this position your diaphragm (the muscle that sits underneath your rib cage and releases and contracts in order for your lungs to take in air) naturally releases. Hold here and take 10 deep belly breaths. Slowly lower your pelvis back down to the ground and relax.

Lunge to release psoas

3.  Come on to your hands and knees. Step your left foot in between your hands lining up the heel of your front foot with the base of your thumbs. keep your belly connected to your front thigh and breathe. Deepen the bend in the front knee making sure your front knee and ankle stay in a straight line. ( If you bend your knee too far and extend over your front ankle you could strain the knee joint!) Feel the stretch on the opposite front  thigh and groin. This stretches the psoas which is the only muscle in the body which connects the upper half of the body to the lower half. When the psoas is tight it also restricts your breathing. Hold here for 5 breaths and repeat on the other side.

 

 

What’s stress got to do with it?

More than  two years ago I connected with Dr. Lauren Tober, a clinical psychologist and yoga teacher. When we met there was an instant rapport. I loved her quiet, yet strong commitment to supporting others to be healthier and happier. She’s initiated projects like, Capturing Gratitude, a photographic happiness project and her e-course, a daily dose of bliss. Each one of Lauren’s offerings give solid tools in bringing you back to balance. I asked Lauren if she could share with us her understanding of the relationship between stress and the breath and to offer a mini practice from a daily dose of bliss.  I hope you enjoy her perspective and practice as much as I have. 

“Being stressed sets off a cascade of reactions in the body and brings us into Sympathetic Nervous System Dominance, otherwise known as the Stress Response, or the Fight-Flight-or-Freeze Response.  A number of stress hormones are released, including adrenaline, which signals to the body that our lives are in danger.  And when the body believes our life is danger, it slows down any non-essential functions like digestion, resting, healing and reproduction and focuses on responding to what is perceived to be an immediate and physical threat to our lives. Importantly for diabetes, when the Sympathetic Nervous System is dominant, epinephrine and cortisol are released, which raise blood sugar levels in order to boost energy.  If our life is in danger, we need to be able to run away or fight to save ourselves, so the rise of blood sugar levels gets more fuel to the cells so we can face whatever challenge we’re presented with.

The function of the Sympathetic Nervous System is to help us to save our life when it is being threatened.  It has a very important function, and without it we might not be here today at all. The problem is not that we have a Sympathetic Nervous System, or even that it is activated from time to time.  The problem is that we spend far too much time in this stress response. 

The Relaxation Response

Ideally we spend the majority of our time in Parasympathetic Nervous System Dominance, otherwise known as the Relaxation Response or the Rest-Digest-Repair-and-Reproduce branch of the nervous system.  And when our lives really are in immediate danger, like we’re being attacked or we step out in front of oncoming traffic, our Sympathetic Nervous System kicks in to save our lives. Then once the danger is over we move back into Parasympathetic dominance, and go about leading calm, balanced, happy and healthy lives.

a daily dose of bliss yoga for diabetes

The problem is that these days many of us are feeling stressed about non-life threatening events and are rushing around trying to meet largely self-induced deadlines.  Stress has become a part of our daily lives. Our bodies don’t know the difference between the stress resulting from an immediate life threatening situation and the stress of trying to cram too many things into one day.  So our body responds with these age-old life saving responses, whether our life is really in danger or not.

So what can we do about it? 

Life can be stressful, especially living with diabetes, and telling yourself to ‘just chill out’ doesn’t always work.

Thankfully, there are some wonderful breathing practices that are widely accepted by both the scientific and yogic communities, that can support us to move from Sympathetic to Parasympathetic dominance, or from stressed out to chilled out. Extending the length of the exhalation is my favourite way to calm the nervous system and instigate the relaxation response.

Find yourself a comfortable position to sit in, press play, and I’ll guide you through this simple but very effective practice.  It only takes a few minutes.

Dr Lauren Tober is a Clinical Psychologist, Happiness Coach and Yoga Teacher based in Byron Bay, Australia.  With a passion for health, healing and happiness, Lauren integrates the best of western psychology with ancient yogic wisdom, both on and off the mat. 

Lauren is the founder of Capturing Gratitude, a worldwide photographic happiness project, and A Daily Dose of Bliss, a highly acclaimed online yoga course for emotion regulation and bliss.

Lauren’s work has been featured in The Huffington Post, Australian Yoga Journal, the ABC, Well Being Magazine, Australian Yoga Life Magazine, Elephant Journal, Peppermint Magazine and more.

Lauren believes that happiness is our true nature, and that yoga, self compassion, gratitude, creativity and community help us to cultivate happiness in our lives on an everyday basis.

To join Lauren’s community and download a free gratitude meditation visit www.hello.laurentober.com.

adailydoseofbliss

Yoga for Diabetes

Bringing the Sunset into your Breath

Have you ever stopped and really watched a sunset? Here in Africa it’s something else. As the sun dips below the horizon, the sky turns gold, then pink and finally a deep violet. A single star twinkles amongst the silhouetted trees and everything goes still. In yoga, dawn and dusk are recognised as times for reflection, rest and rejuvenation. The perfect time for practice.

But what if it’s not feasible to stop everything and practice at the right time. Breathing for Diabetes   breathing for diabetes

When I started yoga I had a lot of time on my hands. I’d left my day job, was in a new relationship and busy planning a family.  I made the effort to rise every morning before dawn to practice asana and meditation. But when my son was born everything went out the window.  Who has time for anything when you’re busy feeding, burping, changing nappies and trying to get some much needed sleep!

And aren’t we all busy with some baby or other? What about your work baby, marriage baby, social media baby, health baby or whatever baby….you feel the need to do something to manage your health and wellbeing, but the question is when, what and how?

A physical yoga practice is a perfect tool. But it does require an interest in the modality, a connection with a style or teacher as well as persistence and patience.

The practice of Pranayama ( breath work) is more accessible . Why?  Because unlike the postural practice you don’t need a yoga mat on hand to do it. You can breathe anywhere, anytime. In fact you already do. You’re just not aware of your breath or what its actually doing in any given moment. Being mindful of your breath is an immediate stress reliever.

Change your breath and you change your state of mind.

 breathing for Diabetes Rachel Portraits 2015-89Breathing for Diabetes

My favourite breathing practice incorporates slow mindful breathing with visualisation. It comes from Laya Yoga, the practices of contemplative absorption. When you focus your mind in on one thing it pulls it out of it’s preoccupation with thoughts. When you’re no longer needing to identify or react to thoughts the whole body/mind system is at rest. It’s like experiencing the sunset on the inside. Complete peace, stillness and beauty.

For this weeks practice I invite you to join me in a simple breathing visualisation called the Equalising Breath.

With great respect…Rachel

When it all comes crashing down

I’m having one of those days again. I’m sure you can relate. My brilliant blood sugar management strategy has tanked with a million reasons why. Could be the almonds I ate a few days ago and sneaked in again today. Could be my period, that stubborn kidney stone that’s stuck and won’t come out. Could be the early mornings, the long walk I went on last week.

Wait! Let me get my pen and write a list.

It’s exhausting! And from what I’ve heard from fellow diabetics, I could be scratching my head forever trying to work out WHY everything went for a loop. Especially since I just got back the results from my A1c and they were positively glowing.

So is it really back to square one? Never!

Rachel Zinman Yoga for Diabetes

Something that I’ve learned from my Yoga practice is that mastery is not about getting to the end point of a posture. My body, the foods I’ve eaten, the type of stress I’ve been under, all affect my flexibility and strength. One day, I can jump freely into handstand and balance effortlessly, the next I’m tripping and falling all over the place. Frustration and a sense of failure only compound the problem.

So how do I achieve mastery? What’s the secret?

Simply put. I stop trying to get to an endpoint. Endpoints don’t actually exist.

Think about it. When you arrive there and then it becomes here and now. Plus, thinking my sense of achievement, health and wellbeing exist at that perceived endpoint and attributing my happiness to that can only land me in quicksand. Since when did any posture shout at you and say,“ Hey master me! I’ll bring you happiness!” You’re the one choosing to do the posture and choosing to attribute your happiness to the completion of that posture. Without you would it matter if the posture was there or not?

Taking that same principle and applying it to our health is a big ask. Our personalisation and identification with the body is completely instinctual. Especially when it comes to pain.

The first time I had to come to terms with pain was while I was in labour. I kept thinking, “ this is ridiculous, how do women survive this, and geez! men have no idea.” To my surprise, what supported me most was having a focal point. My doula asked me to gaze into her eyes and breathe through every contraction. She wouldn’t let me look away. The pain disappeared into the background and my steady breaths enabled me to bring my boy into the world. I felt like I’d climbed mount Olympus and my relationship to pain was never the same.

Every pain after that whether physical or emotional was met with focus and determination. I still shy away from it and get frustrated, but I know its not me, it’s the body sending a signal to pay attention, refocus and stop trying so hard.

Breathing through the practice is one of the ways I let go of the endpoint. Getting lost in the breath, time disappears. Counting the breaths gives my mind something to do. Breathing deeply and fully not only incites inner mastery, it’s energising, grounding, healing and brings vitality to all the organs and releases stress.

Ok so it’s obvious, I am a BIG FAN of breathing!

Join me for this weeks practice especially if its been a busy, overwhelming week. The practice is designed to be calming as well as focussing and to bring a sense of lightness to the heart. It includes a focusing meditation which works with breath, visualisation and sound … with great respect Rachel

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

Take it one breath at a time

I’m having a crap day. I know I shouldn’t start a positive blog about Yoga and Diabetes like that, but if I’m not real with myself who will be?  I could  blame my blood sugar levels, but I’m managing things quite well.  I have no idea how fast my pancreatic function is declining and how much longer I’ll have before I am on a pump or multiple shots and I understand that I can live a normal happy life with my levels under control, but it doesn’t change the fact that I still feel frustrated and like things are beyond my control sometimes.

Being a dancer from a young age meant that I learned to take pride in being physically in control of my body. Every new step and achievement inspired grace and expression. As a young adult Yoga captured my attention because the movements were so precise and supportive to my overall health and longevity. Knowing that a posture was good for my body made me feel that I was in charge of my health.

As a mature adult, discovering that no matter what I had or hadn’t done has had no affect on the eventual demise of my pancreas, has been a huge let down. Many type 1 Diabetics report improved blood sugars, reduced stress levels and huge benefits from the practice of Yoga. A fellow friend and Diabetic suggested that because I do Yoga all the time I wouldn’t know how bad things were if I stopped. I have to agree, having done Yoga for over 30 years nearly every day, how could I possibly know whether the progression of the disease has been affected.

What I do know from my deeper studies of Yoga and Yoga practice is that for the time that I am immersed in the practice, all the stresses and worries and fears and my need to identify with them are suspended. It’s in the suspension of the need to identify with myself as “this or that” that I remember my true nature.  Stress melts away when there is no “I” or “me” .

In any moment of happiness who do I need to be? Does a disease identify me? Or do I drag the label onto myself?

I see Yoga as something which teaches my mind how to come out of its preoccupations with thoughts, it gives it something to do, like physical postures, breathing practices, repetitive sounds ( mantras) and many more focussing and calming techniques.

I can clearly see amidst my bad mood that it’s a choice to identify with the body and all its aches and pains or to take a step back and remind myself I HAVE a disease, I can never BE the disease.

Below is a simple breath balancing practice that you can do anywhere anytime to come back to yourself…. with great respect Rachel

Rachel Zinman Yoga

Sit comfortably, spine long

Extend the arms out at shoulder height

Bring the four fingers together and extend the thumbs upwards

Cross the arms and place the four fingers under the armpits with thumbs still pointing upwards

Close the eyes

Relax the elbows and breath normally

Feel the breath pressure even in left and right sides of the chest

Breathe as fully as you can and bring all your awareness to the ribcage as it expanding and releases

If you feel like one hand is receiving more breath pressure then the other, gently open your eyes look down at the forearm that’s on top and place it underneath the other with the hand back underneath the armpit

When the breath becomes balanced move back to your original arm position

Your breath will naturally become stiller and your mind will become calm

You can practice this technique for as long as you like

When you are ready, release your hands down to your thighs and gently open your eyes

A Breath A Day Keeps the Stress Away

Wouldn’t that be the best if one breath really melted all the stress away? In Yoga it is said that if one is able to breathe easily without any discomfort then the body is in complete harmony and health. For most of us it’s hard to know what our breath is doing from moment to moment. Every thought, emotion or situation elicits a corresponding breath. Have you ever noticed how you breathe in a traffic jam? Take a moment right now and notice your breath; is it soft and slow? Fast and tense? Is it easier to breathe into the chest or belly? There is never a problem with our breath it does what it does through years of habitual responses to the everyday stresses that life presents. But if you watch a baby’s natural breath you’ll see it rests in the belly.

Abdominal breathing is the most healing and calming breath and perfect for settling us down. Teaching the body to breathe as fully and completely as possible using both abdominal breathing and chest breathing balances the nervous system. A chest breath engages the sympathetic nervous system, the energising part of the system and the abdominal breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system or the relaxed part of the system. Balance between energy and relaxation brings a sense of calm to the body, mind and emotions. Qualities needed to deal with a challenging and sometimes frustrating disease like Diabetes.

Follow the photos and instructions below to learn a Full Complete Yogic Breath. Even practicing this for a few minutes when you first wake up or at the end of the day will remind your body to breathe better in times of stress… have a beautiful breathing day… with respect Rachel

Rachel Zinman Yoga the importance of breath

Lie on the back with knees bent feet slightly forward of the hips. Place both hands on the abdomen, tips of the middle fingers touching. Become aware of the breath. Notice the inhale and the exhale

On the inhalation expand the abdomen so that the fingers come apart. On the exhalation feel the abdomen releasing and relaxing, fingers coming together. Repeat this a few times

Rachel Zinman Yoga the Importance of  Breath

Place your hands on the sides of the ribs. Have your thumbs at the back of the ribcage and your four fingers at the front

On the inhalation feel how the sides of the ribs expand and lift. On the exhalation notice how the ribs come together and the abdomen relaxes as per above.  Repeat a few times

Rachel Zinman Yoga Importance of Breath

Place one hand on the belly and one hand just below the collarbones

On the inhalation feel the abdomen expand, the side ribs expand and lift and the upper chest and collarbones lift. On the exhalation, feel the abdomen; ribcage and upper chest relax all at the same time. One movement melting into the next. Practice this Full Complete Breath a few times. Then relax and come back to a natural breath