Take Care: How Yoga Can Help With Diabetes

Jun 21, 2018 | Uncategorized | 2 comments

Image of hands cupping tree blossoms

We’re fortunate to have yoga teacher,  Rachel Zinman, contributing her wisdom in today’s post.

I met Rachel when she was the twenty-something yogini she describes below–passionate about yoga but needing to push herself to the limits.

Then, as it happens, life intervened. Type 1 diabetes became her unforeseen teacher and has led Rachel to be able to share her learning with many others.

She will be launching her book Yoga for Diabetes in Taree and teaching at the Yoga Shed in early July.

Here’s Rachel:

I’ve often struggled with finding the best way to nurture myself. When I started yoga in my late teens I thought I had to push myself to clear out toxins and strengthen my system. I spent years moving into postures and holding them until breaking point. Although it definitely opened up my body and developed my ability to stick things out I am not sure it was always effective. Often I would feel strained after practice not just physically but mentally and emotionally.

Then at 42, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I knew right away that fighting my diagnosis by pushing harder wasn’t going to work, I had to learn to soften, rest and take each experience for what it was.

During those first few months after my diagnosis I used my yoga practice to keep my stress levels at bay. I had to work hard not to feel like a failure or embarrassed about my condition. As part of my process, I used the deeper aspects of yoga to help me understand more about what was happening to me. Through my studies I learned that I am not my condition. I have a condition, just like I have a name, but I can never be what I have. I learned that I am not my thoughts either, especially my thoughts about my condition. Giving myself this little bit of distance emotionally and mentally from what was happening to me physically helped me to come to terms with my diagnosis.

As I gently moved into acceptance I developed a daily routine to help me manage. These simple self-care practices have been a healing balm to the day to day challenges. If you don’t know much about Type 1 diabetes. It’s a disease where the insulin producing beta cells are attacked by the immune system. Without Insulin the delicate blood sugar balance in the body is impaired. Too much sugar and your organs are damaged, too little sugar and your brain is starved of glucose.  Injecting Insulin to manage the condition is like a walking a tightrope. Give too much insulin and you go low, too little and you’re high. I often overshoot or undershoot and spend the day trying to rebalance.  Sticking to simple ayurvedic daily regimes has literally saved my life.

These self-care routines are nurturing for everyone, particularly in winter. In Ayurveda a dry, cold aggravated condition is called Vata Dosha. Vata is the combination of the elements of Air and Space. We are all subject to Vata aggravation due to the different 21st century stressors like environmental pollution, excess stimulation through media and general societal pressure to do more and be more.

When I wake up in the morning I make a point of putting my health and wellbeing first. If I am grounded and nurtured I can achieve anything no matter what the pressures.

Here are my five favorite self-care practices

Wake Before Dawn

Make a habit of rising just before 6 am. This is the time when prana (life force) is closest to the earth and the most easily absorbed into the system. Before getting out of bed check to see which nostril is dominant. Then step onto the floor with the opposite foot. This will immediately harmonize the flow between the right and left side of the body and facilitate balance throughout the day.

Scrape Your Tongue

Recently I watched a fabulous summit on Ayurveda with a host of ayurvedic experts. Every single person on that summit emphasized the importance of clearing the tongue in the morning of accumulated toxins. The tongue is a mirror of your wellbeing. By cleaning your tongue in the morning you are placing your wellbeing in your own hands. Cleaning the tongue is also a great way to wake up the system, reset the nervous system and prepare you for the different tastes and moods of the day. I use a stainless steel tongue scraper and clean from back to the front four times while rinsing the scraper in between each clean.

Practice Full and Deep Breathing.

Either sitting or lying down commit to stopping and taking 10 full deep breaths every day. I have added them to my daily yoga practice, but you can do them anywhere any time. Deep breathing facilitates better digestion, respiration, reduces stress and improves sleep. As someone living with diabetes I rely on those deep breaths when I am dealing with a low blood sugar. Each breath reminds me that I am alive and okay.

Drink a warm hot lemon, ginger and honey tea

Sipping a hot drink with a squeeze of lemon, a small slice of ginger and a dollop of honey when you first wake nourishes all the tissues in the body and helps with elimination and detoxification. Ayurveda recommends that instead of drinking coffee or tea you sip hot water throughout the day. Why not carry a flask with you so you can feel warm and nurtured wherever you are?

Have a Gratitude Practice

This is actually my favourite. Take a moment to look around you and see the blessing of being alive. Notice how the whole creation is facilitating your experience. How each item you use, each food you consume, each person you meet is inseparably part of the whole. As an example, say you are eating pumpkin soup, remember that a person planted and harvested that pumpkin, then sold it to a store or brought it to market. Someone else stocked it on the shelf, someone helped you at the checkout line. There are so many people involved in your enjoyment of that soup. Gratitude is a potent way to see the blessings and let go of the burdens.


  1. Inspiring words and easy practices to incorporate into daily life. I don’t feel awake until I scrape my tongue ! thankyou Rachel

  2. Very good article. I saw a video of Rackel’s presentation a few months ago via a link from Yoga Australia. I hoower close to diabetes but probably do not do enough yoga.


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