The Inner Smile

Happy Solstice! Today we woke up in the dark and marvelled at Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn all lined up in an ark across the dawn sky. We watched the sun rise as she blanketed the earth with her golden hues.

I built an altar to the hindu goddess Lakshmi who for me represents abundance in health. I invoked her for nourishment and as a prayer that we as a human race come out of this very challenging time with a new vision, where every human being is treated with fairness and dignity. Where we cherish the earth and its plants and animals. That we can forgive each other for our ignorance and find strength in common goals. That those of us who struggle daily with illness find acceptance and strength.

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These prayers fill my heart daily. As much as I can contribute through my actions to worthy causes like supporting our local village here in South Africa to have food during this humanitarian crisis. I also find that daily offerings and prayers allow me to humble myself to what is out of my control.

This week I shared a meditation in my online yoga class which was taught to me by my mentor Alan Finger. It’s called the Inner Smile meditation and it’s a beautiful way to reset the nervous system simply by placing a smile in different parts of your body. The meditation includes relaxation in Savasana ( lying down) at the end.

Enjoy!

with great respect…

rachel

Matters of the Heart: a yoga sequence

Like everyone else I am grappling with the new normal. Never ending self-quarantine, Covid19, watching the US meltdown and most recently with the incredible frustration and fury of police brutality and the murder of George Floyd. “I can’t breathe!!!”

Yes, I am white and yes, I am speaking from a place of privilege and yes, I could have done more and educated myself more. As a yoga teacher, I’ve often felt it’s better not to take sides in politics. This however is an issue that cannot be justified by my vocation. I acknowledge that not saying anything is a form of racism.

Black lives matter, they more than matter. Living in South Africa for the past six months I am painfully aware of the divide between black and white, rich and poor. We do what we can, give where we can, share where we can. Anyone who shows black people anything less than dignity and respect is abhorrent and inhumane.

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photo credit: Renza Scibilia

I have cried a lot over the last week. My heart breaking with the weight of our collective ignorance and lack of humanity. How can one human even hurt another in deed, word or thought? Are we not all inseparably part of creation?

I know I’m not alone in these thoughts and feelings. In fact, this article by my friend Ali Psuik puts things into perspective and poses some excellent questions.

While educating myself and doing what I can during this very turbulent time, I’ve been focusing on being kind to myself and others. For me it always comes back to yoga, whether dealing with my diabetes or not, yoga affords me a moment to reflect and remember what’s good and beautiful.

This week I’ve been practicing and teaching gentle heart opening postures. If you’re feeling the need to destress, reset and transmute difficult emotions. You’ll love this 55 minute practice. The class finishes with a beautiful meditation which includes, sound, (mantra), visualisation (yantra) and gesture(mudra).

P.s This class comes from my weekly Zoom yoga room class.

Enjoy!

rachel

15 minutes I can do

I’ve been setting the timer on my phone to 15 minutes a lot lately. 15 minutes to pre-bolus, 15 minutes to wait out a hypo, 15 minutes of yoga and meditation practices no matter what.

Before I was diagnosed I absolutely hated time. I never wore a watch or even looked at my phone. Even as a kid I never wanted to learn to tell the time. Why be constrained by a limitation like that?

Everything had more validity to me when time wasn’t involved. Why does anything ever have to end? Like a yummy meal, or time with a beloved or friend, a day at the beach. Maybe my abhorrence of time has to do with losing my mother at a young age. Having to face endings for me was complicated and traumatic. Being forced to rush through something felt unnerving. As a dancer I was bound by time and timing, but it never bothered me, because the timing of the music, or the timing of the movements to the music uplifted me, reminding me that all creative endeavours are happening in the presence of timelessness. Not that I could put that into words when I was dancing. It was something that touched me and made me cry with inexplicable joy.

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By the time I was nine my grandfather insisted I learn to tell the time. He bought me a Timex with a red strap. We went painstakingly through the details of the big hand and the little hand, what all the numbers meant and what each part of the day represented. My mum bought me a digital clock which rolled over numbers like cards. And then I got a clock radio, even cooler because I could wake up to music.

After I met and started traveling with my husband we would wander through international airports looking at expensive watches. He’d point out all the brands. I knew nothing about Panerai and Patek Philipe. I didn’t even know the difference between a Swatch and a Tissot. When I would badger my husband to tell me what time it was he would say, “you need a watch darling” and I’d reply, “my smartphone is good thanks.”

Then one day when I was stuck in an airport on my own, I decided to splurge. If I was going to buy a watch it would have to be the purchase of a lifetime. I decided on a gold Tissot with Roman numerals and a simple link band. I’ve only taken it off a handful of times since then. When I point at my watch to tell my husband, “it’s dinner time, lunch time, time to go, time to clean, time to ‘whatever’” he likes to chide and say, “I wish I’d never mentioned you needed a watch”.

Watches aside, time has changed my life.

Recently I’ve been navigating some soul crushing lows. Waiting for my blood sugar to come up sends me into a wild panic. What if it doesn’t come up? What if I run out of low snacks? What if…

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Initially I set the timer on my phone to 15 minutes so that I would know when to check again. But when the lows are scarier, in the low 3’s (below 70 mg/dl) watching the minutes tick down is a lifeline. If I can stay focussed for just 15 minutes, I’ll be okay. If it levels out at the end of those 15 minutes I can relax. If it still goes down after those 15 minutes, I can take more glucose, dates etc and start again. As long as I can watch the clock I know eventually I’ll be back to compos mentis.

Knowing I have a tool to support me during a low blood sugar has absolutely changed everything. I have a deep-seated fear of lows. It’s why I insisted on sticking to a regimented low carb diet for 7 years. It’s why I timed every single part of my day to avoid any deviation, and I why I would restrict my social activities.

My goal for 2020 was all about opening up to life, food and freedom. It’s been interesting to be stuck in one place while I navigate this new perspective. Asking myself…what do I want to eat?  What do I want to do today?

If I want to eat heaven in a bowl (a fruit smoothie bowl with crushed seeds and dates) I can. If I want to garden, go for a walk, do a strong yoga practice, I can. If I flub the ratios, don’t reduce my insulin enough or take too much, I’ll be okay.

15 minutes is easy. 15 minutes I can do.

with great respect…

rachel

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A Soul Crushing Low

It wasn’t 1.8 or 2.5. In fact, maybe in regard to numbers it wasn’t even that bad. But for me  3.3 was absolutely soul crushing.

I’ve had Diabetes for 12 years. In that time, I’ve had lows that freaked me out, inspired determination or forced me to face habits that weren’t serving me. This low, however, was different.

I felt numb, not just numb in my extremities, but numb to everything. My sole focus was watching the minutes tick over on my timer waiting for the sugar to kick in. When it didn’t it was hard to stay calm. Downing even more glucose gummies, resetting the 15-minute alarm and watching my breath were my only allies. My husband held me tightly from behind promising me my blood sugar would come up. “It always does,” he reminded me. “You got this.”

I kept thinking, “Why don’t I have a hypo kit? Why are we so far from town? What if I lose consciousness? What will my husband do? How fast will an ambulance come in lockdown?

I don’t think we talk about our lows enough. Sure, we post pictures on Instagram, express our frustration, tell each other to feel better or commiserate. In the short term it helps. It’s the aftermath that gets me. Like how today not even 24 hours later I’m feeling a subtle anxiety after eating my breakfast or how that rebound high took hours to resolve. Or my feelings about the interaction with my husband during the height of the hypo and shortly after; how hard it was to explain the feeling of being held underwater for 20 minutes, starved of glucose, mind slowing to lead and then how just like that I’m up for air, without really feeling like I’ve stopped drowning.

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Photo by Taylor Leopold on Unsplash

Being determined to get it right next time doesn’t always work with so many factors at play. Are my ratios correct? Is my basal set? Was there more fat, less carbs, did the carbs spike or didn’t they? Did I wipe down the mirrors in the bathroom for a little longer than I’d planned? Did I wait too long to eat after pre-bolusing? Did I weigh that last meal correctly? Is my correction factor too low or high? Did my yoga practice make me more sensitive to Insulin today?

Even when I do everything right, it’s like dancing on a tight rope. Turning, extending one leg, teetering, lifting and falling only to land back on the same foot again. I love dancing, but not like this.

After a hypo I usually cry. This time was no different, except maybe wailing was my way of expressing my pent-up frustration in general at being quarantined. I miss my family, I miss the beach, I miss the feelings of certainty and safety.  It’s awful thinking that grocery shopping is potentially life threatening or that breathing, laughing and hugging in close proximity is no longer ‘normal’. I’m heartbroken at how many people just five minutes down the road from us have no food, nor adequate shelter in which to ‘social distance’. With all these personal and not so personal things going on most days I feel at a complete loss for anything to say when everyone ‘out there’ is saying it anyway. I know I’m not alone in this.

And it’s hard not to push down feelings of guilt that I am in a beautiful place even while challenged with having a chronic illness.

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Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash

I often mention in this blog how yoga is my lifeline. Yesterday was no different. Having gone super high after treating my hypo I decided to do a vigorous practice to kick start my metabolism. It wasn’t long before I felt energised, calm and rejuvenated. No matter how bad I feel physically, no matter what goes on emotionally, a simple balanced practice of posture and breathing sets me up for a good night’s sleep and a healthy mental attitude.

In particular it also helped me to put my soul crushing low into perspective. I caught it, handled it and recovered well. It’s all anyone can do.

If you’d like to join me for livestream yoga classes during isolation I’m teaching on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Entry is by donation with 50% of the proceeds going to our local village for masks, food and medical supplies. Donations can be made via www.paypal.me/yoga4diabetes

Tuesdays at 8.30 am South Africa Standard Time/ Zurich Time  which is 4.30 pm Australian East Coast time

Wednesdays at 11 am US East Coast time and 5 pm South Africa Standard Time/Zurich time

With great respect…

rachel

 

 

 

 

 

Rest, restore and get creative

I don’t think anyone expected to go through what we are going through right now. Who could imagine a situation so beyond our understanding and control. I have been holding back from writing anything here on the blog mainly because I have been spending the majority of my time getting grounded and taking practical steps to be able to self-isolate for an extended period of time.

As someone living with a compromised immune system it’s important that I look after myself. This is a hard one for me. I love ‘being there’ for others. I’ve been reminding myself that ‘being there’ doesn’t have to look how I think it should look. It could be as simple as reaching out to a friend to check in or sharing a positive post, cool recipe, fun activity or what I shared yesterday on Instagram and facebook, a dance on the beach.

Because yoga is my lifeline you can absolutely assume I have stepped up my personal asana practice and am spending even more time working with breathing and meditation. Taking time out to balance mind, body and immune system is essential.

I’ve seen many yoga teachers rushing online to teach yoga. For me it’s not about joining the fray. It’s about doing things that help me to slow down, breathe and be still. I can’t teach when I’m stressed out. I learned this the hard way.

The only comparable experience was when I was in 9/11. On that day and subsequent days, I was a bundle of nerves. The shock that ran through my body was worse than any anxiety I’d ever experienced before. Instead of being able to stop, rest and restore I dove straight back into teaching. I was quaking on the inside while appearing ‘strong’ for my students. Suppressing my fear, shock and many other feelings led to a collapse which affected my immune system, my digestion, my marriage and my ability to parent. It has taken me years to recover and integrate the lessons from that time. Now that humanity is being faced with its biggest challenge yet I’ve been asking myself; how do I want to show up? How can I last the distance? How can I be a leader?

The answer:

Stop, rest, restore, get creative, take my time, dream, reach out for support. Find beauty in simplicity and make sure to play. Then when my cup runneth over teach and share.

So that’s what I’m doing. Being gentle with myself. Not pushing into anything. Not expecting anything of myself.

Just being.

For anyone wanting a little glimpse into one of my daily practices, here’s a simple joint and mobility warm-up series I shared  yesterday in our facebook group.

with great respect…

rachel

A yoga pose for our times

I am at a loss for words. Reading so many friends posts about the bushfires in Australia I notice that some feel guilty. Guilty that they are okay, living in relative comfort while others are suffering so much. Finding it hard to promote their 2020 offerings because who is thinking about that anyway?

I feel the same. That’s why I am grappling with “what next”. One thing I know for sure, the healing benefits of yoga, which by the way are free, work.

Breath, body, mind are free to use as we wish. Our hearts are also free. No one has taken our hearts hostage. It is the incredible outpouring of support and compassion which makes sense when nothing else does.

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I’m addicted, dumbfounded and political. Addicted to following what’s happening with a crazy cartoon president. Dumbfounded by our Australian Prime minister whom I’m convinced believes he’ll be saved while the world crumbles. And yes, even though experts might try to convince me that’s it’s bad for my brand to be political and take a stand. Screw that!

I am not happy with the state of things, period!

How do I cope with frustration and feelings of helplessness? My daily yoga practice. It helps to suspend the negativity, the constant identification with the thoughts and stress. Ultimately the practice reminds me, I am not this, not that. But the one in whose presence this and that takes place. It’s not about becoming the witness. It’s about knowing that the feelings of calm and peace are the natural state of every human being. Yoga gives me this insight. Day after day.

Today I want to share with you one simple yoga pose, which has helped me in so many ways. It’s from the Yin Yoga tradition. It’s called Saddle pose and it calms the nervous system. Opens the chest facilitating better breathing and also increases circulation into the legs and feet while stimulating specific energy pathways that link to the stomach and spleen. It also opens and frees the Psoas. If you have tight or muscular thighs or knee issues, this pose might be challenging. There are variations, which I will share in the video below.

Holding this pose for 10 to 15 minutes is a game changer. I can’t even begin to describe how it has helped me in all aspects of my diabetes management. After a long hold I sleep better, digest better and just plain FEEL better.

I hope you’ll join me in this short video tutorial.

With great respect…

rachel

The serenity prayer

I’m absolutely struck dumb by what’s happening at the moment. New year is usually about setting goals in my diabetes management, upping my personal yoga practice and setting out a plan for the year. With my newsfeed and mind consumed with the unbearable tragedy of the bushfire crisis in Australia, the craziness of the presidency in the US and the spectre of the Climate Crisis, yoga is my rock of support.

It was in the aftermath of 9/11 that I learned that having a committed yoga practice could make a difference to how I responded to the crisis at hand. Yes, I made donations and did what I could to help others, but I also recognised I needed to care for myself. As the stress and tension mounted in the weeks and months after 9/11 we had the anthrax scare, the Iraq war and the very real destruction at ground zero. I remember feeling terrified to head out into the throng of NYC to teach. I forced myself to face my fears because I knew that teaching yoga and attending classes would bring me back to set point.

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Since that time, I have learned through the deeper teachings of yoga called Atma Vidya that the nature of self is peace. Peace doesn’t disappear. I do. I’m the one identifying with the fear, uncertainty and shock.  Yoga helps me to calm down and direct my energy towards what I can do to make a difference. It might be to share on my FB feed an article or story to spread awareness, a physical donation to an organisation, or something as simple and personal as nurturing a seedling in my garden.

Whatever I can do, I need to be calm and grounded to do it. Making decisions out of fear doesn’t work. When everything feels completely out of control, and there is no one to turn to for comfort because everyone is in the same circumstances, there is great support in taking responsibility for what can be done.

 “God Grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”-serenity prayer

I consider prayer one of those responsibilities, and it’s something I work with daily in the form of Bhakti yoga, the yoga of surrender and devotion. Another way I take responsibility is to catch myself in the act of reacting to a situation, thought or circumstance.

This is what enabled me to act in the chaos of 9/11. Instead of dissolving into a puddle I took practical steps to cope with the feeling of overwhelm and devastation. What could I do to get our family home and safe? At the time walking over the 59th street bridge was the answer. Now in the midst of an obvious climate and ecological crisis, with Australia in the limelight, I am determined to do my best to take practical steps to be part of a global shift.

When I got married in the 90’s we built our house on an intentional yoga community out of mud bricks. I also built my own composting toilet. We had solar power, rainwater and huge veggie gardens. I had a home birth in water and brought my son up on organic food and a minimum of TV and tech. We spent hours outside in all types of weather. I read to him constantly. We baked and sang and lived very simply.

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By Jacob Zinman-Jeanes

Looking back, everything I did in my 20’s and 30’s was a blessing. I was healthy, grounded and idealistic. Little by little though my idealistic bubble began to burst. We needed to use pesticides to poison alien trees on the property, our solar batteries crashed. It was easier to run our new computer and other electrics on mains power. It was more convenient to have an indoor toilet. Cell phones came into being and we all know how things have changed in the last 20 years.

Our advancement seems to have been our undoing.

Going back to basics, starting a garden again, looking at how we can be more self-sufficient, recycling, reusing, reducing and travelling less are all good places to begin. However, there are still millions and millions of people out there who refuse to change their habits. It’s hard not to feel frustrated and helpless. I refuse to let it get me down. Instead I have added them into my responsibility prayers.

“Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.” – Serenity prayer

With great respect….

rachel

Please watch this very sad yet beautiful tribute to whats happening in Australia at the moment. You can find out more about how you can help the bushfire crisis here 

The 5 go-to yoga practices that saved my life

For todays post as part of Diabetes Awareness Month I am reposting a segment of an article I wrote for Beyond Type 1 in 2015. Make sure to read more on their site to find out what yoga practices are perfect for Diabetes management

I’ve been practicing Yoga since I was 17; right up until my sudden diagnosis of Type 1 at the age of 42, I was convinced that Yoga made me invincible. After my diagnosis everything changed. Instead of thinking Yoga would stave off the boogieman, I took responsibility and came to terms with the role that Yoga played in my life.

I discovered that Yoga is more than a good stretch. It’s a tree with many branches, each limb a path back to harmony and balance, a way to mitigate stress. Yoga is not a trend, it’s been around for over 5000 years.

The Yoga practices are powerful because they are subtle. The physical aspect is just one component of a multilayered methodology that looks at the flow of energy in the body. Life force and immunity can be cultivated and built through posture, breathing, meditation, the right diet and lifestyle adjustments.

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The word Yoga means, “wholeness, completeness, oneness.” Yoga is not a state. Rather it is the natural state of everything in the creation including ourselves. We are naturally peaceful, happy and whole. It’s only our thoughts about something, and our identification with those thoughts that create a sense of incompletion.

Yoga practice does two things — it pulls us out of the habit of identifying with our thoughts and reminds us of our true nature. When you feel all “zen” after class … it’s not the practice that’s doing it. The practices merely remind you that the peace, stillness and harmony you feel at the end of a practice are your natural state. For me, going deeper with Yoga has enabled me to better manage my relationship to diabetes and manage the stress associated with diabetes.

So what are my five Go-to Yoga practices that put me in the zone each and every day?

Read more  on Beyond Type 1

see you tomorrow…#NDAM #DiabetesAwarenessMonth

with great respect…

rachel

Chair yoga for everybody

There have been two times in my life where no matter how much I wanted to I couldn’t do yoga. Near the end of my pregnancy and 2003. Late stage pregnancy for me was a killer. Every joint and muscle had softened to the point where stretching just caused more pain. The baby was sitting low and towards the back of my spine. It felt like I was carrying around a bowling ball. Every try to do yoga with a bowling ball in your belly? Forget it.

2003 was the year the sh..t hit the fan with my nervous system. I had been having strange symptoms after 9/11 in 2001, but things really got heavy after holding my breath too long in a yoga class. A few hours later I was out with my girlfriends at dinner and started to get crazy dizzy. The six of us ended up in the ladies room, with me stooped over the sink feeling like my whole world had upended. A few days later I had some sort of heart arrhythmia in the middle of the night. My yoga mentor thought I might be dealing with a nervous system overload and looking back he was sort of right. It was most likely the beginning of my beta cell breakdown, but not knowing anything about diabetes I assumed it was some sort of spiritual emergency. You know…WOO WOO stuff.

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I now know it wasn’t but at the time I found anything that made me feel ungrounded which included yoga, breathing and meditation a no go zone.

Many of us diagnosed with diabetes struggle with all sorts of physical issues. We might have tight muscles, restricted joints, injuries or trouble getting up and down from the floor unassisted. Luckily there are simple ways to get around these challenges by practicing yoga on a chair.

When I work one on one I like to tailor a practice to what’s supportive and accessible. A group class doesn’t give me as much leeway, so in the practice below there might be some things that still feel challenging. I encourage you to do what you can and leave the rest.

As always your feedback is invaluable. Let me know how you travel.

see you tomorrow #NDAM #DiabetesAwarenessMonth

with great respect…

rachel

Catching a relax

Today the whole of our shire is blanketed in a smokey haze. The smoke is everywhere. It’s awful and there doesn’t seem to be much respite on the way. Meanwhile life seems to continue as normal…or does it? It’s pretty hard to ignore what’s happening not just on a local but global scale. The word that comes to mind is chaos.

When I think of managing diabetes I also think of the word chaos. Not because I can’t manage it, because overall I do that really well. Rather its the unpredictable nature of diabetes that keeps tripping me up. One day I’m struggling to stay above 4 mmol and the next I can’t get under 9 mmol (in range numbers are between 4-8 mmol). There is no X=Y with diabetes. The pancreas is a strange and elusive animal which doesn’t like stress. And how many times have I been stressed without even knowing I’m stressed? A lot.

The opposite of stress and what the pancreas loves is relaxation. Recently I’ve been catching those moments when I’m relaxed. Noticing a nice deep relaxed breath, a feeling of calm, soft tingles through the body, mind slow and centred. Every time I feel a ‘relax’ coming on I remind myself with a verbal prompt. This is me relaxed, this is what it feels like. Simply acknowledging these moments has helped me to sleep better, digest better, even think better. In fact, Relaxing makes everything better.

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This morning I went to a yoga class with my teacher and friend Louisa Sear. Her classes are hard. Not because there are complicated postures or sequences, more because she asks you to be in the pose with every fibre of your being. She instructs the class to hold the pose, fix the gaze and still the mind. Every pose is taught like this so that by the end of the class there is a sense of being cleansed from the inside out.

The ultimate agitation is our habitual need to identify with the moving miasma of the mind. Thoughts will always be there, including thoughts about diabetes, its up to each one of us as to whether we uptake that thought or not. Thoughts don’t have power. You do!

Understanding the triggers for relaxation and  fixing the gaze on that is a profound way to deal with the constant stress of living with diabetes. Instead of focusing on the tension you’re experiencing, mentally, emotionally or physically try and find somewhere in your body that is at ease. It could even just be your big toe. As soon as your mind goes there all the awareness and focus goes there too. When I do this, within seconds I’ve forgotten what the problem was.

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As I write this I’ve decided to take my own advice. There’s not much I can do about the external factors such as the choking smoke or annoyance with erratic levels. What I can do is take a full breath, be kind to myself and catch a relax.

See you tomorrow #NDAM #DiabetesAwarenessMonth

with great respect…

rachel