Routine Routine Routine

As part of my 7-day free online challenge , Better Diabetes Management in 7 steps with Yoga, I’ll be reposting some blogs with relevant content to the challenge. If you’d like to join us it’s not too late. You can sign up here. The theme for day 1 is getting to know your ayurvedic type…

Routine, we love to hate it, especially with a demanding disease like Diabetes which requires hyper-vigilance. No sane person would set their alarm to wake through the night to check their blood sugar, diligently count carbs before a meal or force themselves on the treadmill at 9 pm. But we do it because without the effort? The science speaks for itself.

So how can we turn a have to into a want to. This is where the sister science of Yoga, Ayurveda takes centre stage. The word Ayurveda means the science of life.  As a traditional Indian method of healing, it uses the natural world to help us understand what creates balance and imbalance.

Ayurveda works with the five elements; earth, water, fire, air and space. We have all 5 elements in our constitution but usually only two hold the limelight.The combination of elements are called Doshas. Vata dosha being the predominance of air and space, Pitta dosha, fire with a small amount of water and Kapha dosha, the predominance of water and earth.

It follows suit that Diabetes is not a one size fits all disease. In medical terminology we have type 1 (Juvenile onset) Type 2 ( Diet and lifestyle related) and 1.5 LADA ( Late Autoimmune Diabetes of Adulthood) and as I write more types of diabetes are being categorised.

In Ayurveda, Diabetes is classified by the Doshas, Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Kapha Diabetes is treatable through diet and exercise. Pitta Diabetes can be controlled with strict management where as Vata Diabetes is much harder to treat and stabilise  My understanding after working with several different Vaidya’s ( ayurvedic doctors)  is that both Vata and Pitta Diabetes deplete the  nervous system. Whereas Kapha Diabetes clogs the system and is a disease of excess.

So what simple things can we do everyday to bring harmony and balance to our lives?

In Ayurveda, setting a regular rhythm is key. In our fast paced life it’s easy to ignore our natural rhythms . We go to bed late, wake up late, eat on the go, spend too much time on devices and work at odd hours. With a disease which is already depleting and/or clogging our systems it’s doubly challenging and we feel pressured to get it right.

Here are three simple ayurvedic practices you can implement right now no matter what your constitution.

Ayurveda for Diabetes

1. Wake up before the sun rises and greet the day with gratitude. Rising before the sun means you will have more energy available to you throughout the day. At dawn the prana (life energy) is still low in the atmosphere and easily absorbed by the body. Perfect for Type 1’s who need to build energy. For Type 2’s it’s a great time for dynamic breathing or a beach walk.

2. Sip hot water instead of tea throughout the day. Plain hot water is cleansing and eliminates toxins and is also warming and nurturing. For Type 1’s it lubricates and soothes the nervous system, for Type 2’s it eliminates accumulated waste.

3. Give your self a nurturing foot massage before bed. No matter what your type, massaging the feet before bed balances the nervous system and promotes sound sleep. In Ayurveda specific oils are used depending on your constitution. But to keep it simple any plain massage oil will work or any cream you use to keep your feet soft especially if you suffer from skin cracks or neuropathy. Make sure to massage the whole foot focussing on the pads of the feet, around the heel and achilles tendon and between the toes.

Implement these three simple practices every day and notice how you feel and stay tuned for more Ayurvedic tips along the way…with great respect Rachel

Travel ain’t for sissies

It’s been a while so I’ll cut to the chase. I’ve been in South Africa for two weeks and besides the stunning landscape, incredibly pure air and peace and quiet, my body has been on strike. Within three days of arriving I had a head cold, outrageous levels and my internal plumbing backed up. I’m using a euphemism to save face but seriously, international travel ain’t for sissies.

Just to set your mind at ease my levels have returned to normal and my cold is gone. But my digestion has been slow to move. I’m chalking it up to the drier environment (we are in a Mediterranean climate here), the change in food and the fact that travel can rough things up quite a bit.

Now that I’ve totally exposed myself and the machinations of my digestion, I thought I’d share with you a sequence which has helped me to get things moving again. It’s fast paced and you will need some knowledge of yoga postures to move through it, but it definitely works. It’s also a great abdominal work out!

Check it out and let me know what you think

with great respect…Rachel

Do You Love a Challenge?

I’m in Switzerland to teach Yoga at the moment. I’ve travelled for most of my life and have always enjoyed the different experiences that travel engenders. I even secretly enjoy the packing and unpacking. But since my diagnosis in 2008 travel has forced me to go way beyond my comfort zone.

At first I had to watch my blood sugar like a hawk.  It was like walking on the edge of a slip stream. I didn’t have the help of Insulin, so all I knew was that If I stayed on a strict diet I could keep things in range.

Now imagine you’re a yoga teacher, you teach on weekends and are hosted by a variety of studios, some of whom you’ve never been to before. Not only do you teach in western countries like Australia and Europe you travel to India and Bali flying between 12- 24 hrs to get there. The diabetic meals on planes suck, so you travel with pre-cooked food and as soon as you hit the ground, you head to the nearest supermarket to stock up. And you hope and pray that the apartment you went to extra trouble to rent has decent cookware and a working fridge.

It’s not the ideal scenario for anyone, let alone a clean living, healthy yogini whose diabetic to boot!

I used to  tell my students and hosts that I had “ blood sugar “ issues. Then a bit later I admitted I was pre diabetic, emphasising that I had high hopes that it could be reversed. It was hard not to feel ashamed or guilty every time I taught.

But now thats all changed.

8 months on Insulin and I feel liberated! It’s like I’ve taken my top off and gone braless. I feel completely shameless in my classes sharing that I am an Insulin dependant Type 1 diabetic. And further to that it’s been incredible to have energy again. For the last 6 years I was practicing on empty. Trying to cultivate energy I didn’t have. Dragging my suitcase on and off train platforms and feeling somewhat of a fraud while I touted the benefits of Yoga.

Recently I had a really great conversation with Dr. Jody Stanislaw, an american naturopathic doctor who also happens to be a Type 1 diabetic. She has had profound results in supporting people to achieve optimum A1c levels. “ You know Insulin is your friend, because it preserves and protects your beta cells,” she shared while we were discussing the topic of exercise and diabetes, “ If you’ve got them you might as well hang onto them.”

I knew exactly what she meant. Once I started on long acting Insulin, my blood sugar levels changed dramatically. I felt like my cells did a happy dance and went back to business. I’ve become more sensitive in my practice again and I can feel how food, exercise and sleep are affecting my system. Before I was sensitive to my detriment. Everything I did felt like an attack on my immune system. Even the thought of trying to change was exhausting.

It’s been quite a learning curve keeping up my commitments as a traveling yoga teacher and educating myself on the ins and outs of managing blood sugars while on insulin.

But hey I Love it!

It’s why I chose to focus on challenging yoga postures and practices for this current tour.  I mean, how fun is it to master a tricky arm balance or handstand when you never thought you could. Or for beginners finally being able to stay in down dog for more than a few seconds without collapsing in a heap.

If you feel like joining me for a more challenging practice this week head over to AirYoga’s online studio and try the Kapha Balancing Practice…. with great respect Rachel

kapha Balancing yoga practice with Rachel Zinman

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

Stretching It All Out

Grief! It’s a big one. Just recently I read a wonderful piece written for the Diabetic online magazine, A Sweet Life, by Michelle Sorensen on Grief and Diabetes.  It touched me enough to write to her, “Thanks for reaching out! ” she replied, stressing how powerful it is to make friends with other people who are in the same boat.

How often do you find yourself toughing it out, thinking you can do this all on your own or feeling unsupported and misunderstood by family and friends. It’s been an absolute blessing for me to discover a huge community out there which thinks like I do. But I still find myself falling into despair at the smallest change in levels or when something else happens with my health. It reminds me that grief is not something I can ignore, even though I’ve come a long way in accepting this disease.

Grief has a lifespan and like a garden it need tender loving care. For me Yoga is the perpetual gardener.

When I first started practicing Yoga I’d find myself bursting into tears just about any time I put my body into a compromising position. I reassured myself that I was crying from pain. But deep down I knew that I was releasing deep seated grief and shock. It took me years to understand why and how that happens in a Yoga class.

As children we freely express our emotions, but as we get older an outburst or crying spell gets suppressed. It’s really not a good look going ape at your desk or crying on the subway. So where does that unexpressed emotion go? It buries itself in the body, preferably where we can’t feel it.

We have a complex and detailed nervous system. It kicks in to protect us by sending energy to the limbs, so we can run away from danger or it sends energy to the vital organs to replenish and revitalise our system. The brain, spinal column, stomach and heart are saturated with both major and minor nerves whereas the legs, have very few.

Something my teacher Alan Finger shares is that our stress accumulates in the back of our legs because there are less nerves there. Hence the tight hamstrings and tight lower backs. The best way to free up the tension is to stretch the hamstrings.

I can see you grimacing as I write. I know, I know… those hamstrings are tight!

I’m going to share a secret from another one of my favourite yoga teachers, Simon Borg Olivier.  It’s called the principle of reciprocal inhibition. Which means; when you contract one muscle the opposite muscle releases. By working the thigh muscles in a leg stretch your hamstrings release and with it goes your emotional stress.

Below is a simple stretching sequence you can do in a supine position to open and release the hamstrings. Make sure to accommodate the fact that you might not be able to reach your foot and have a belt, long strap or sarong handy.

Sequence for Hamstrings

Lie on your back with both legs extended, feet flexed and legs together arms relaxed along side the body

hamstring sequence Rachel Zinman Yoga

Bend your right knee and clasp the front of your shin while keeping your left leg extended with the left foot flexed

half hand to foot posture for Hamstring Sequence Rachel Zinman Yoga

Take hold of the outside of your right foot and straighten the leg halfway. Press your foot into your hand while pulling your foot towards you. You should feel your thigh muscle working and your hamstring engaged as well

reclining hand to foot pose Rachel Zinman Yoga

Next clasp both hands behind your thigh and slowly straighten the right leg. pressurise your hands with your hamstring as you pull the leg towards your chest.

Full hand to foot pose Rachel Zinman Yoga

If you can easily straighten your thigh, reach your right hand to take hold of the outside of your right foot, keep engaging you right thigh as you pull the right leg towards you.

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 3.38.38 pm

To finish, bend the right knee clasp the shin with the hands and then release the leg and life flat. Repeat on the other leg.

Sequence for Hamstrings

Lie with both legs straight for a few moments before moving into you day

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

yoga for Diabetes

The Slowness of Things.

Just outside our front porch is a rose bush with one resplendent rose. Over the last week it’s slowly opened, blossomed and dropped its petals. The slow unfolding of the rose, its delicacy and fragrance reminds me to take things slowly. I’d like to rush the process of healing but I have only been taking insulin for the last 5 months and my BG levels are only adjusting now. Starting Insulin was a big decision for me, not just because it meant going with allopathic medicine, but in taking it I had to admit to myself that I couldn’t cure myself or my condition. For years I told myself it was a parasite, an allergy or some such thing. It never occurred to me that I actually might have a genetic incurable disease and that no amount of herbs, homeopathics or Yoga exercises could fix me. I was so busy rushing to find a cure that I didn’t bother to actually find out what was going on.

Just a few days after starting Insulin I had lunch with a friend who is an Ayurvedic practitioner, Naturopath and Nurse , “ I’m glad you started Insulin, it’s going to be a whole new start for you. It will slow you down quite a bit, but you need that.” She couldn’t have been more right. Now that my energy has returned I have no desire to run around solving the worlds problems, it feels quite natural to take my time with things, to relish in a daily practice, to plan and prepare nourishing low carb meals and to think about what’s next without having to constantly consider my stress levels. It’s taken 6 years to admit I have a disease, I am not the disease.

Yoga for Diabetes

Just today my partner shared with me a beautiful thought, “The whole creation, including thoughts, emotions, ideas, beliefs, worries, joys all rise and fall in the presence of never-ending, eternal stillness. The stillness, peace, consciousness is unaffected by the thoughts, beliefs and comings and goings of creation. Just as the ocean is unaffected by the wave. Only we human beings with the ability to identify and name our experiences, take on the experiences, beliefs, thoughts  etc, thinking we must resolve a situation to come to peace. The question to ask is; does peace need a resolution to exist?

Sitting quietly, watching the breath, practicing slow mindfulness we experience ourselves as the peace itself. We think it’s the practice thats enabling the peace, but in reality we are never not peace. The body is peace, the thoughts are peace and all of nature, all that has come before and all that will ever be is peace.

Even a body riddled with illness is peace. When I was younger I wondered how people could overcome physical pain, trauma or extreme suffering. I always thought that either trying to ignore the pain or distracting myself would be the best strategy. It wasn’t until I gave birth that I experienced something different. In giving birth I couldn’t deny that the body had its own intelligence, the contractions were happening, the baby was coming and there was nothing I could do to rush the process. No matter where I put my mind the pain and the intensity kept increasing.  It was in between contractions that I experienced powerful moments of stillness and peace. Eventually the feeling of peace predominated over the pain, its ever present nature became the focus and then before I knew it the baby was there, in my arms.

In any moment whether peaceful or not peace is there. The question to ask yourself is what is preventing me from recognising this? Slowing down and taking time to “smell the roses” is the perfect way to stop and reflect.

Here’s a simple visualisation you can take into your daily asana practice or when ever you feel the need to slow down. 

If you’d like an audio version of the meditation here it is  

Come into pose of the child, if it’s uncomfortable separate your knees a little and let your torso rest between your thighs on the floor, you may want to rest your belly on a bolster

Become aware of your breath, feel the breath filling the belly, ribs and upper chest, now become aware of your heartbeat

Visualise a rose in your right hand, twirl the stem of the rose between your forefinger and thumb

As you twirl the rose imagine you are close enough to see the coloured petals of the rose laced in delicate dew drops, and imagine its fragrance rich and sweet

Become so focussed on the rose that you almost feel yourself becoming the rose

Once again become aware of your heart beat, come back to your breath, feeling it filling your belly, ribs and upper chest

Slowly come up, feel your body adjust and move into your day

Balance the nervous system with sun salutation

A Simple Start

I love the idea of keeping things simple, it’s something that really appeals to me about Yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda. When you go for an Ayurvedic consultation you’re encouraged to ease into a new routine slowly.  When you add one thing at a time the body and mind have time to adjust. When we bombard ourselves with too many changes and go for the quick fix it’s hard to sustain and maintain. According to Science and Yoga it takes the body/mind about 6 weeks (40 days) to adopt a new habit or routine. Often we beat ourselves up for going too slowly, and call it procrastination. I prefer to think of it as determination. Keep it simple, take your time and eventually you’ll reach the goal. And by the way… did you ever stop to think that when you set a goal (somewhere to reach there and then) that THERE becomes HERE and THEN becomes NOW? 

 Rachel Portraits 2015-117Rachel Portraits 2015-118

I like to ask myself what can I do HERE and NOW that will make a difference and help me to manage the ups and downs associated with having Diabetes. For me, it’s my daily Yoga practice. I actually find it quite hard to get on my mat every day because discipline doesn’t come naturally.  That’s why I use a simple Sun Salutation ( Surya Namaskar) with lunge to get me motivated. Sun Salutation does require a degree of flexibility and strength at the outset so if you’ve never done one before I would suggest you check out my previous post to start to build the strength to join in on the video below. I hope you’ll join me in A Simple Start …with great respect, Rachel

Routine Routine Routine

Routine, we love to hate it, especially with a demanding disease like Diabetes which requires hyper-vigilance. No sane person would set their alarm to wake through the night to check their blood sugar, diligently count carbs before a meal or force themselves on the treadmill at 9 pm. But we do it because without the effort? The science speaks for itself.

So how can we turn a have to into a want to. This is where the sister science of Yoga, Ayurveda takes centre stage. The word Ayurveda means the science of life.  As a traditional Indian method of healing, it uses the natural world to help us understand what creates balance and imbalance.

Ayurveda works with the five elements; earth, water, fire, air and space. We have all 5 elements in our constitution but usually only two hold the limelight.The combination of elements are called Doshas. Vata dosha being the predominance of air and space, Pitta dosha, fire with a small amount of water and Kapha dosha, the predominance of water and earth.

It follows suit that Diabetes is not a one size fits all disease. In medical terminology we have type 1 (Juvenile onset) Type 2 ( Diet and lifestyle related) and 1.5 LADA ( Late Autoimmune Diabetes of Adulthood) and as I write more types of diabetes are being categorised.

In Ayurveda, Diabetes is classified by the Doshas, Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Kapha Diabetes is treatable through diet and exercise. Pitta Diabetes can be controlled with strict management where as Vata Diabetes is much harder to treat and stabilise  My understanding after working with several different Vaidya’s ( ayurvedic doctors)  is that both Vata and Pitta Diabetes deplete the  nervous system. Whereas Kapha Diabetes clogs the system and is a disease of excess.

So what simple things can we do everyday to bring harmony and balance to our lives?

In Ayurveda, setting a regular rhythm is key. In our fast paced life it’s easy to ignore our natural rhythms . We go to bed late, wake up late, eat on the go, spend too much time on devices and work at odd hours. With a disease which is already depleting and/or clogging our systems it’s doubly challenging and we feel pressured to get it right.

Here are three simple ayurvedic practices you can implement right now no matter what your constitution.

Ayurveda for Diabetes

1. Wake up before the sun rises and greet the day with gratitude. Rising before the sun means you will have more energy available to you throughout the day. At dawn the prana (life energy) is still low in the atmosphere and easily absorbed by the body. Perfect for Type 1’s who need to build energy. For Type 2’s it’s a great time for dynamic breathing or a beach walk.

2. Sip hot water instead of tea throughout the day. Plain hot water is cleansing and eliminates toxins and is also warming and nurturing. For Type 1’s it lubricates and soothes the nervous system, for Type 2’s it eliminates accumulated waste.

3. Give your self a nurturing foot massage before bed. No matter what your type, massaging the feet before bed balances the nervous system and promotes sound sleep. In Ayurveda specific oils are used depending on your constitution. But to keep it simple any plain massage oil will work or any cream you use to keep your feet soft especially if you suffer from skin cracks or neuropathy. Make sure to massage the whole foot focussing on the pads of the feet, around the heel and achilles tendon and between the toes.

Implement these three simple practices every day and notice how you feel and stay tuned for more Ayurvedic tips along the way…with great respect Rachel