Striving for a Personal Best

2/12/18
WRITTEN BY: Rachel Zinman
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As a young dancer, the thrill was in the competition. I’d watch someone fall out of a pirouette and secretly smile hoping that when it was my turn I’d ace it and get all the applause. When I discovered yoga I was no different. Seeing my teacher flip up into a perfect handstand or wrap her leg behind her head, I was determined to follow suit.

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes, I went into complete denial and isolated myself. Rather than find out more about my condition and look for support I took matters into my own hands. Having mastered my emotions and mind through the practices of yoga and living a completely healthy life up until diagnosis, I didn’t want to appear weak by reaching out for help. But things weren’t going as planned. My clean eating diet and vast amounts of exercise didn’t budge my levels. My friends got worried, my family tried to talk to me and my doctor begged me to take medication.

It took neuropathy in my hands and feet for me to listen. It was both humbling and challenging to go against my natural tendency to soldier on alone. Not long after starting to inject tiny amounts of long acting insulin someone suggested I join a support group on Facebook for people like me living with LADA (latent autoimmune diabetes in adults).

Hitting that “join” button was my Kismet.

Learning to let go is one of the precepts of yoga practice. Imagine you’re in a yoga class; balancing on one leg, toe in hand while your standing leg is wobbling. You try to straighten the lifted leg but your torso is careening to the right. Luckily you avoid hitting the person next to you who has obviously mastered the pose. As you stumble and fumble you think about how you’d much rather be having a coffee. Meanwhile your teacher calls out, “Surrender to the breath, let go, remember this isn’t a competition.”

When I joined my first Facebook group, I tried to remember my yoga training. But it was hard. Just like balancing on one leg is near impossible so is managing diabetes. When I think I’ve got things tweaked to perfection, the game changes, I travel, get sick, have my period, stay up late and the list goes on.

At first joining the group chats was reassuring. Knowing I wasn’t the only one wondering: how many carbs, what type of carbs, to keto or not to keto, what my insulin to carb ratio was and how to avoid lows during exercise. The conversations made me feel part of something greater.  But when people started talking about other people not towing the line by getting their A1Cs in the normal range, I felt like a failure and a fake. I was still only on those small amounts of basal insulin (because my pancreas was still producing some insulin) and I knew that if I tried to go for tighter control I’d be dealing with constant lows. As much as I wanted to keep up with my new gang of friends who were proudly sporting flat lines on their CGMs I knew it was impossible. It didn’t take long for me to feel disheartened and jealous.

Why was every other person living with diabetes able to achieve perfect control? It was hard not to blame myself. I was ashamed to admit I couldn’t keep up.

It was in the CDE’s office at my quarterly check up that it all came out. She asked me how I was managing and I burst into tears. As she flipped through the data on my meter she expressed concern. “But your lines are perfect, your blood sugars are stable I don’t get why you are so upset? People would kill to have blood sugars like yours! Who are you comparing yourself to?”

How could I explain that when I go online and see someone with better control, eating more foods, being fitter, seeming to thrive more than me I feel like the worst person living with diabetes EVER. And the crazy thing was I was almost wishing my diabetes would get worse so I could start taking rapid acting insulin and stay in the game.

These and other thoughts completely derailed me until my CDE insisted I look at a “normal person’s data.” A normal person has highs that go above the line and lows that go below the line. A normal person with diabetes doesn’t flatline even when they eat well, sleep well and have minimal stress. Comparing myself to anyone wasn’t doing me any good.

Instead why not strive for a personal best. If I feel more stable and balanced between 90 mg/dl (5 mmol) and 160 mg/dl (8.8 mmol) instead of 80 mg/dl (4.4 mmol) and 140mg/dl (7.7 mmol) then that was what was right for me.

Learning to be happy with “my range” was not just a lesson for my life with diabetes it was directly related to how I approached my practice on the yoga mat. Something my teacher used to say when I’d get all caught up in some advanced posture was, “Range is of the ego and form is of the soul.” In other words, striving for perfection in a pose while comparing would only deplete my energy. Wherever we put our attention that’s where energy flows. Being present with the details, allowing instead of pushing and breathing through the tough bits meant the pose was steady and comfortable.

A great reminder for a life with diabetes, too.

Want to try a yoga pose to practice equanimity? Try my favorite posture: the Tree Pose.

No matter whether you’re new to yoga or you’ve been practicing for a while, tree is a perfect pose to try. As a beginner it will challenge you to find balance, focus and increase your determination. As a regular practitioner it develops your certainty, will power and enhances your ability to concentrate.

In the instructions below bear in mind that you can also place your hand on a wall or hold the back of a chair to help you balance.

Enjoy this simple posture whenever you need to take a moment for yourself.

Tree pose

  • Stand at the top of your mat in Mountain pose, big toes touching, heels slightly apart.
  • Shift the weight to the right leg and gently place the left heel on the right ankle pressing the ball of the left foot into the floor.
  • Next, place the left foot along the inside of the right shin.
  • If you feel balanced, grip the left ankle with your left hand and place the left foot against the right inner thigh where the groin and top thigh meet.
  • Your hips are level and face the top of the mat while your knee comes forward slightly.
  • Place your hands in prayer position at your heart, open your chest, relax your shoulders.
  • Breathe deeply gazing at a point either straight ahead or slightly down in front of you.
  • Release the foot and come back to Mountain pose.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Benefits

  • Tree pose strengthens the ankle and foot.
  • It opens the hip of the bent leg.
  • Develops balance.
  • It’s soothing for the nervous system.
  • A calming and cooling posture.

Variations

  • Place the left foot along the inside of the right shin.
  • Take the arms over head pressing palms together.

Read more from Rachel Zinman.



Rachel Zinman

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 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. 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.