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

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

Rachel Zinman Yoga

Energy flows where attention goes

I have been reflecting on the axiom, “energy flows where attention goes.” Whatever we are identified with; be it our health, thoughts about our health, what we are doing right or wrong; that’s where the energy gets locked and held as stress in our bodies. Most of the time this is so unconscious that we don’t even realise it and we might question why we are so tired or feel burnout. Often it’s easy to blame the depletion on something external to us, especially with Type 1 Diabetes, a condition which requires strict vigilance. What we forget is that no matter what’s happening in the body and how hard we are working to deal with the associated stresses it’s our responsibility how we react to the ongoing ups and downs.  The beautiful thing about Yoga practice is that it has the ability to take the mind out of it’s habitual preoccupations with thoughts, fears and worries. This in turn brings tremendous energy and vitality. For a brief moment the need to react is lifted as the mind comes to a one pointed focus.

Rachel Zinman Yoga

Today I offer this simple listening meditation practice which you can do anywhere anytime to calm the thoughts and bring you back to your SELF

Simple Listening Practice for focusing the mind

If you would like to do this meditation, rather than having to remember it, you can record yourself leading it and then play it back

Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Become aware of your breathing. Notice the feeling of the breath as it moves in and out of your nostrils. Become aware of the sound of your breath. Is it loud or soft or irregular? Don’t try and change it. Be with it as it is. Once you feel your mind settling become aware of the sounds all around you. Notice the sounds close by and the faraway sounds. Reach and stretch your awareness to the furthest sound. See if you can follow it. Does your mind get distracted? Don’t worry, bring it back to the closest sound and start again. Reaching and stretching your awareness to that far away sound once again. Now become aware of the silence. At first it appears as though the silence is in between the sounds, but notice how each sound comes and goes in the presence of silence. Notice how silence is never disturbed by the sound, how silence absorbs each sound effortlessly. Listening to the sound is effort, listening to the silence is effortless…remain here a few more moments then bring your awareness back to the breath and gently open you eyes.