Rising Above Diabetes with Yoga


Living with diabetes is an intensely personal experience. As much as we want other people to get it, it’s impossible.

Recently in one of my Facebook groups someone who like me, lives with latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA), said they felt like a fake. Anyone no matter what their diagnosis, no matter how much insulin they take, whether they’re on a pump or multiple daily injections (MDI) can never be a fake. We are all dealing with this disease in our own unique way. There should never be any judgment or criteria as to what makes up a person living with diabetes.

Still I find myself getting caught up, judging myself and comparing myself to others. It’s a habit I established as a young dancer and something that continued into my early years as a yoga practitioner and to be honest it’s been the hardest thing to shake.

The one tool that has helped me to rise above self doubt and judgment is my yoga practice. Yoga doesn’t understand criticism and abhors comparison. The word yoga means completeness. Being already complete, what can you do to be better or stronger or more of anything?


There is nothing you can do to be yourself. So why do we even bother comparing?

Because of all our thoughts and ideas about how we think things should be.

When I was first diagnosed I totally freaked out. I was still of the mind set that the physical practices of yoga were there to lead me to some sort of enlightenment. If I was really a yogi, I should have stayed absolutely calm in the face of crisis. I hadn’t fully grasped that mastering every posture under the sun would never stop the natural feelings of shock, fear and failure that arise when faced with a diagnosis like diabetes.

But that doesn’t mean the physical practices don’t work. We just need to understand what they do and how they can help.

In my experience yoga…

  • fosters community.
  • develops discipline.
  • inspires mindfulness.
  • deepens your relationship with yourself.

If you’ve tried yoga you’ll understand what I mean about community. There’s something pretty cool about sweating it out on the mat with a whole bunch of strangers. The commonality of effort breaks down barriers and engenders friendships. If you keep going to class and seeing the same faces week in and week out eventually you’ll strike up conversations and before you know it, you’ve found your tribe.

It’s exactly the same with the diabetes online community (DOC) When I joined my first diabetes related Facebook group I watched from the sidelines, but eventually I couldn’t help diving in and making friends. It feels awesome to be part of such a thriving community. I know that no matter what’s going on these people have my back.

In order to improve in yoga practice a commitment is necessary. I only noticed improvements after weeks of doing the same poses over and over. There were definitely times when I wanted to throw in the towel and give up, but the benefits of consistency far outweighed the challenges.

When I work on my diabetes management I find myself referring time and time again to my experience with yoga. Eating at the same time each day, keeping my carb intake predictable, waking up and going to bed on time, doing everything I can to minimize stress, enables me to accept the curve balls of a challenged pancreas. Sometimes I do forgo discipline for spontaneity but it’s no big deal, the routine has become such a habit that I know that no matter how far I roam, my habits will always bring me back.

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The word yoga is often coupled with the word mindfulness. When you move into awkward postures and feel tension it’s better to direct your attention to that area and breathe with awareness than to struggle through the pain.

Being mindful and present with yourself as you practice is a real takeaway when it comes to diabetes management. How often do you count carbs, inject and eat mindfully? Is it more important to rush or do you settle in and stay present? I always notice a difference when I am fully present while taking my insulin. It’s one of those moments where I accept that this is what I have to do to stay alive, that it’s a gift.

The yoga practices engender self reflection. Moments of being with you. As you take time to be still, to breathe and just be, all the stress and tension melts away. As individuals we thrive through relating. In fact, a human being can’t survive without the touch and love of another. But ultimately the most important relationship you’ll ever have is the one with yourself as an individual. Yoga empowers us and supports us to let go and love ourselves.

Living daily with diabetes is also a golden opportunity to let go and accept what is. No matter what the numbers are, no matter what fears hang over us, love and acceptance will lead us through. Ultimately loving yourself has to do with understanding that there is no such thing as imperfection in creation. As human beings, made up of the elements we are inseparably part of this wonderful creation. Even when there is a flaw in the body creation doesn’t see you as flawed. Whenever I find myself feeling doubtful, afraid or angry I stop, take a look at creation and drink in its absolute perfection. It never fails to bring me back to the moment and to the treasure of simply being.

Read A LADA Thoughts, a story about misdiagnosis and a journey to LADA.

WRITTEN BY Rachel Zinman, POSTED 07/28/16, UPDATED 07/25/23

Rachel was diagnosed with diabetes in 2008. At first the doctors weren’t sure whether it was type 1 or 2 as she wasn’t a typical candidate for either. It took nearly six years to get the right diagnosis. Now, she knows that she's a type 1 latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) diabetic. She started yoga in high school at 17 and by the age of 19, she was hooked. When she began yoga it was to help her dance career, but eventually as her practice progressed, she became passionate about the deeper aspects of yoga and its ability to heal and inspire. 30 odd years later, she still practices passionately and has been teaching nationally (in Australia) and internationally since 1992. She's also a mother, a musician, a writer and amateur film maker. All throughout her diagnosis she worked with the various aspects of yoga to try and cure herself, when she finally went on insulin, she realized that it was because of her years of yoga practice that she was able to preserve her remaining beta cells. Now that she's on insulin she uses the postures, breathing and meditation practices to keep calm in the face of the instability of this very challenging disease. She is absolutely sure that yoga is for everybody and it's her mission to share what she's learned with the diabetes community as well as raising awareness about type 1 amongst yoga teachers both locally here in Australia and globally.