Today’s guest blogger is author, yoga instructor, and diabetes advocate, Rachel Zinman. Rachel was diagnosed with T1D at age 42. Initially, Rachel relied on the profound health benefits of yoga and Ayurveda to help preserve her insulin producing cells. As time went on, she realized the only way forward was to incorporate insulin into her diabetes management plan. She shares how yoga helps her manage her diabetes on her blog, Yoga for Diabetes. Rachel will be Carb DM’s guest speaker next month, when she will give the community an overview of her new book, Yoga for Diabetes. Register now for our October 5 event: Type 1 Topics with Rachel Zinman .
I began practicing yoga when I was 19. It was recommended to me by my chiropractor not only to help me with some physical problems in my lower back but because he felt it would help calm my mind and strengthen my nervous system.
The benefits were immediately apparent. I stopped having aches and pains, my digestion improved, I slept better and was healthier and happier. I was convinced that if yoga could make me feel this good surely it could help everyone. That’s when I knew I wanted to teach.
I started my career as a yoga teacher when I was 23.
I’d been teaching for about 10 years when I left my home in Byron Bay, Australia to live and work in NYC. It was there that I discovered the deeper and more philosophical aspects of yoga. My teacher, Alan Finger taught me about Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga and introduced me to the holistic benefits of working with breathing and meditation. Learning from Alan, I noticed another jump in my ability to live well with yoga.
But then something awful happened… 9/11.
I was in Manhattan at Alan’s yoga studio when the planes hit the trade towers. We were far enough away that we were safe, but not immune to the shock and terror of what was happening.
They say that the onset of type 1 diabetes can be triggered by a stressful event, this was mine.
I remember breathing in the ash that barreled up the avenues as I tried to find my way out of the city and back to Brooklyn where I lived. The only option was to walk across the bridge into Queens. It took me eight hours to get home but it’s taken a lot longer to recover from the stress and trauma of that day.
About 6 months later I began to notice a range of troubling systems. Tingling up and down my body, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, a feeling of being overly expanded, frequent urination, hives and skin rashes, racing heartbeat, difficulty with my digestion and many more symptoms that turned my life into a living hell.
I spent most of my time trying to work out what wouldn’t trigger me, restricting my diet and my activities, but all the while I had to make money and keep teaching yoga.
Then a year or two later, while on vacation I went into a local clinic for what I thought was a bladder infection. After evaluating my symptoms, the nurse suggested we do a quick finger prick test to see if there was any sign of diabetes. The reading was normal and I was beyond relieved. Surely someone like me who had done yoga for over 20 years couldn’t get something like diabetes.
But then I collapsed.
I’d been getting dizzy from sweet foods, suffering from bouts of unexplained hypoglycemia and then one day just couldn’t get out of bed. My husband insisted I get blood tests to find out what was wrong.
I’ll never forget that moment of diagnosis and how my heart stopped in my chest. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, worse the doctor seemed clueless as to how I should even begin to manage my condition. After telling me I needed to do my own research he shoved some pamphlets at me and told me to google diabetes.
Unsatisfied, I garnered a second opinion from an endocrinologist who did further testing. He confirmed that the source of my diabetes was autoimmune and that I was still producing a small amount of insulin. He suggested we take ‘a wait and see’ attitude encouraging me to change my diet, work with my existing yoga practice and make sure I managed my stress.
After almost 6 years of honeymooning my levels became unstable. No matter how much breathing yoga and meditation I practiced the number on my meter kept going up. I wanted to hope against hope that yoga was a cure-all but I had to admit it wasn’t.
At first, I felt defeated, but that was because I didn’t understand that there’s no blame or shame with a diagnosis of any type of diabetes. Once I began taking insulin and my levels stabilized, I recognized the vital role that insulin plays in maintaining health and well-being.
In my personal experience yoga had also played a pivotal role in helping me to preserve my insulin production. More importantly, it has helped me stay positive.
Accepting my diagnosis was also a turning point for me. And it’s what inspired me to think about how I could help others living with diabetes to thrive.
It’s led me to connect with people all over the world and inspired me to write a book which offers the practical application for yoga alongside a daily diabetes management plan.
My main message?
If you think you need to be fit and flexible to start yoga, think again. Yoga is for every body!
Since my diagnosis Yoga has given me:
Courage to face the highs and lows
A focus outside of having to manage diabetes 24/7
The strength to tackle uncertainty
And faith in my ability to live beyond my diagnosis
Finally, yoga and its varied practices have taught me to be kind to myself, to honor what is and do my best every single day.