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Yoga for the tough times

One of the main benefits of practising yoga regularly is that yoga is there for you when life becomes difficult. 

I especially noticed this years ago when I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis of my hips. I was told I would one day have to have hip replacements. I was levelled by this diagnosis.  I quickly ‘went down the plug-hole’, but then, two things saved me from despair:

  1. My long-term yoga practice. I started looking for yoga practices that would help my condition and learned much that I could do that would alleviate my painful symptoms. These practices then became a tool box of aids for helping other arthritic sufferers.
  2. Finding others who had forestalled the inevitable surgery for years. Post-surgery, they were successful in rehabilitating with new artificial hips. And, they became models for me when I finally underwent the operation.

It makes all the difference to face a serious medical condition head-on. As a yoga teacher, I perceived my diagnosis as a failure in taking good enough care of myself. When I got through this period of negative thinking, I used yoga to help me take control of my health and well-being. It became a fertile time for learning and growing as a yogi.

In today’s post, I’m very pleased to introduce Rachel Zinman, who has been dealing with type 1 diabetes. A yoga teacher of 30 years experience, she has turned the dilemma of having a disease into a journey of discovery. Rachel, in her generous way, now offers all she’s learned to any and all who suffer from diabetes, and to yoga teachers who want to learn how to best help their students.

Here’s Rachel….  Rachel Portraits 2015-8

Yoga and diabetes lessons: letting go

When I first started yoga I was so green. I can remember lying on my mat in savasana, sitting up halfway through and thinking, what am I doing here? This is weird. It took me ages to get that yoga actually did something. I was detached from my body and my emotions and so in my head that I couldn’t feel the subtle transformation working away below the surface.

I’m not quite sure when yoga became an anchor but once I was hooked there was no turning back. I felt the absolute urge to master every pose and every technique. I knew I wanted to teach and I was lucky. I found great teachers and their wisdom fuelled my passion. Soon I was giving back and I loved it.

My love of teaching led me to New York City and being able to mentor and facilitate at a well known yoga studio. I was at the peak of my career having a ball. But highs don’t last forever. I can still remember the intensity of the day the planes hit the towers. The feeling of shock and fear that struck me down. The sense that no matter how much I had learned about meditation and breathing, nothing could rescue me from that day.

About 6 months later I started getting sick. And it directly affected my practice. I found a lot of the poses aggravated my condition, the breathing made me skittish. I kept trying to meditate but my mind kept floating away. Quite soon it became apparent that the only poses that worked to keep me grounded were standing ones. So that’s all I did, until my diagnosis.

At 42, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I was devastated. How could this have happened. And what part did yoga play? Had it saved me or failed me?

It took me 6 years to accept the diagnosis. I refused to believe that something like this could happen to me. But as time passed and I found answers I realised, no-one is immune to stress, no-one is safe from illness. Anything can strike anyone at any age. When something happens we have to find a way to accept it and learn to live with what is.

My way through hasn’t been easy. I had to reframe the way I saw the practice, let go of concepts about how yoga worked. I had to stop and allow, rather than force and push. A disease like diabetes doesn’t pull any punches if you try to control it, it bites you where it hurts.

Every morning I step onto my mat and ask a question. What would help me soften, what would enable me to be more, try less. What do I need today?

Sometimes it’s the effortless act of taking a moment to be grateful. The placing of a flower on the top of my mat. At other times it’s taking a long slow practice, exploring the areas where I hold back. Most of the time though it’s about keeping it simple. A daily routine of asana, pranayama and meditation. I find that the everyday uncomplicated practice brings me back to basics. I’ve done all the fancy stuff. It’s okay to let go.

Rachel Zinman is a senior yoga teacher and teacher trainer with over 30 years experience teaching nationally and internationally. She is currently completing a book on Yoga for Diabetes. If you’d like to preorder a copy or want more info visit http://yogafordiabetesblog.com/yoga-for-diabetes-book/ and her blog http://www.yogafordiabetesblog.com