Yoga for Diabetes


I’ve always loved writing. I wrote my first book at 10 about a girl who became a rock star. I vividly described her as having bell bottom jeans and great taste in sunglasses. As the years passed I kept up my passion and eventually wrote a memoir but shelved it. I mean who wants to hear the story of my life anyway?

Then I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I was 42 and had been a yoga teacher and yoga teacher trainer for over 25 years with a successful global career. It was shocking, devastating and downright embarrassing. I felt like I’d done something wrong and refused to believe my diagnosis. I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. It reminded me of the moment I found out my mother had had a stroke when I was 9. Rather than face reality, I ran into a nearby corn field and hid deep inside the stalks. If no one could find me then surely it couldn’t be true.

But it was. Eventually my mother passed and I had to face reality, grieve and move on. It’s been the same with my diagnosis. After six years of denial and trying everything I could to fix myself, I had to make a choice. Either live in constant fear and false hope or take charge of my life.

Being a long-time yoga practitioner and passionate writer, the way forward was obvious.

Share through words with people just like me, how yoga has helped save my life.

In spite of the many challenges of living with diabetes, yoga has always been my anchor. The physical practices, including the sister science of yoga Ayurveda, the Indian science of health, has helped to preserve my beta cell function, increased my sensitivity to insulin and supported me in building a strong immune system.

Beyond the physical practices the depth and meaning of yoga has uplifted me and helped me to stay positive.

The word yoga means wholeness, completeness. Instead of seeing myself as incomplete, yoga has taught me that no matter what happens to my body, the one looking out through the eyes (the experiencer) can never be incomplete. I am often reminded of that Kahlil Gibran quote:

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

Living with diabetes is like that. It is happening through me, it doesn’t belong to me.

My initial plan was to create a diabetes focused yoga therapy teacher training. When I shared the idea with a friend she gave me an even better idea. Why not write a book for everyone about how yoga is the perfect complement to a daily diabetes management plan? It could be for people living with diabetes and yoga teachers, caregivers, or anyone wanting to know more about how yoga can help.

I started writing the book the next day.

In the beginning it wasn’t easy to write out my personal story. I felt like I was exposing myself to parts of myself I didn’t want to see. But at the same time I knew that the book wouldn’t just be about me. This was a book which would gather together everything I knew about Yoga and Ayurveda because Ayurveda has been helping people to manage their diabetes for over 4000 years and my own understanding of this science of health has helped me too.

I also made sure to include clear postural practices, simple breathing techniques, meditations, information about how the mind works, insulin and exercise and how to get motivated to practice.

I wanted the images to be beautiful and inspiring, more like a coffee table book then an instruction manual and to make it more personal I included a questionnaire so people can discover the right practice not only for their constitution but for the type of diabetes they have.

Writing the content was just one aspect of the book, the other was finding a photographer and graphic designer and editor to bring my vision to fruition. Another hurdle was lacking the funds to pay everyone to help me produce the book. So once I’d found my design team, I put my heart and soul into finding people to support the project through crowdfunding. To my delight I wasn’t the only one who believed in the power of yoga for diabetes. 337 people joined me in my cause and because the campaign was so successful, I was approached by a traditional publisher who offered me distribution in the US, Canada, South Africa, England and Australia.

I am beyond thrilled that what felt like a jail sentence at diagnosis has transformed into a movement to bring yoga into the playing field when it comes to diabetes management.

As I head out into the world to share my passion with my new book Yoga for Diabetes, How to Manage your Health with Yoga and Ayurveda I can’t help feeling grateful for yoga.

It has taught me—

  • That strength comes from surrender
  • That flexibility is born out of open mindedness
  • That breath is life
  • And that peace, calm and happiness don’t come from having everything perfectly worked out.
  • Happiness, peace, calm and contentment are the nature of who we are.

WRITTEN BY Rachel Zinman, POSTED 09/18/17, UPDATED 10/17/22

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. 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.