Take to the Skies!

5/11/16
WRITTEN BY: Rachel Zinman
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“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” – Ray Bradbury

I live between three or more continents in one year, teach yoga internationally and I’m a Type 1 diabetic. This means I have to travel regardless of my health condition. Is it easy? No. Do I enjoy it anyway? Yes. Recently, I participated in a twitter chat to share people’s experiences around flying with diabetes. It gave me a chance to share some of my personal insights — how I use yoga to stay balanced and to inspire others to feel more confident about taking to the skies.

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I carry on me …

  • long and short-acting insulin in Frio wallets
  • two glucometers
  • needles
  • test strips
  • a letter from my doctor
  • ALL MY FOOD!

I also check ahead to make sure that the country I am flying to has access to the type of insulin I need and that I can get a hold of test strips. I google for everything. It’s probably obsessive, but I want to minimize my stress as much as possible.

Before I was diagnosed, I felt free to go just about anywhere and since my diagnosis, I haven’t let diabetes stop me — I’ve just adapted. Being diagnosed as a LADA Type 1 eight years ago, my onset was slow. For the first six years, traveling meant making sure I had all my own food with me and only staying in places where I could cook for myself. When I did go out to eat I always called ahead. I was managing my levels by staying as low carb as possible and had quite a few food sensitivities, so sometimes eating out was a tough call. I always thought that when I went on insulin things would get tougher. I was wrong. Insulin has actually made traveling so much easier.

Instead of trying to use food and exercise to stay in range — nearly impossible when you’re stuck on a plane for 16 hours with airline food — I can cruise through the trip with my once-a-day shot of long acting insulin. I’m not on fast acting yet, so I can’t comment on what it’s like to fly and bolus. But I’m convinced that traveling with your own snacks, not only for hypos, but for your own sanity, absolutely helps you to feel better when you land.

Snack ideas

I don’t eat everything I bring but I’d rather be safe than sorry, so I try to always pack these easy-to-travel items.

  • I usually bake myself a low-carb egg and veggie quiche.
  • I bring homemade almond and sesame crackers to last the trip with an avocado (or two).
  • I boil a few eggs, just in case I get stuck somewhere waiting in an airport between flights.

Flying tips

  • Book an aisle seat.
  • Drink a ton of water to stay hydrated.
  • Get up every hour to walk the aisles.
  • Make pit stops.
  • Wear flight socks and a face mask. (I probably look pretty bizarre doing a mini yoga sequence in a mask and tights, but I could care less.)
  • Have a stretching routine for the plane; it is also super helpful and passes the time.

Flying is tough on the body and tough on diabetes. The body gets cramped, circulation slows, dehydration sets in and sleep doesn’t come easy. In my experience all these factors create oxidative stress which raises blood glucose levels. Moving during the flight is an absolute must.

Here’s are two poses I swear by

  • Standing Psoas Muscle Stretch

The psoas muscle (which runs from the last rib to the inside of the hip bone) gets quite cramped in the seated position so stretching it out really helps to improve circulation to the pelvis.

Stand with toes touching heels slightly apart. Shift your weight to your left foot, bend the right knee hold onto the front of the right shin with both hands and draw the thigh as close to your belly as you can.  Replace the foot back down and repeat on the other side. Do this several times. You can also do this in a seated position

  • Standing Thigh Stretch

Stretching the front of the thighs increases the circulation in your legs after sitting for long periods

Stand with toes touching heels slightly apart. Shift your weight to your left foot. Bend at the right knee reaching the right heel behind you. Next grasp the front of your right ankle with both hands, pull the heel towards your buttocks and feel the stretch in the front of your thigh muscle. Replace the foot back down and repeat on the other side.

With these different flying routines in place I feel positive and relaxed about traveling with diabetes and I am confident you will too. All it takes is a good dose of pre-planning and a lot of gusto!

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Once I land, there are a few things I do to make sure I adjust quickly to the new time zone and surroundings.

  1. I shower and then massage my feet with sesame oil, sesame oil is used in ayurvedic medicine to balance and ground. It penetrates the seven layers of the skin and contains a precursor to tryptophan which relaxes the nervous system. If you’ve never heard of ayurveda, it’s the sister science to yoga and has been used to heal and balance human beings for over 4,000 years.
  1. I get outside and walk around and get used to my surroundings. I also shop for food and snacks or order something from room service. I keep it simple as I don’t want a heavy meal loading me down at bedtime. And I drink more water to replenish after the dryness of the flight.
  1. I head to bed when it’s dark and sleep. I might wake up throughout the night to check my levels but then I lay back down again and relax.
  1. When I wake up the next morning, I head straight to my mat and do my breathing and asana practice. I use the practice to remind the body that in spite of traveling halfway across the world, my routine continues.
  1. Another thing I do, especially when traveling with a big time change, is adjust the timing for my long acting insulin three days prior to the flight. As an example: If I am traveling backwards (westwards) I start to take my shot an hour later each night. By the time I fly I am taking my regular 9 p.m. shot at midnight. Which ends up being 4 p.m. in the new time zone. When I land, (usually another 18-22 hours after I’ve taken my last shot), I try and stretch it another two hours and take my shot at 6 p.m. in the new time zone. And then for the next three days, I take the shot an hour later until I am back to my 9 p.m. time slot. It takes seven days to adjust my shot to the new time zone. I have found the whole process to work quite well and don’t notice too many fluctuations but I must say that my levels do go quite wonky after landing and I usually up my dose for the first ten days in a new place.

Read more from Rachel Zinman: Boy, How Things Have Changed and The 5 Go-to Yoga Practices that Saved My Life



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. 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.