Using yoga to soothe both muscles and mind.
December 2007 — It was the last place I ever expected to learn a lesson about my diabetes.
After the stress of moving and settling into a new city, my muscles began to scream every time I moved. I knew that I had been neglecting my exercise routine (OK, I'll say it: "What exercise routine?"), and thought that I could soothe my muscles - and mind - by embarking on a new endeavor: yoga.
My previous experience with yoga entailed a very cool 5th grade teacher who instructed his entire class on Friday afternoons with the Sun Salutation (a series of postures that coordinates breathing and moving) and a relaxation exercise before we left for the weekend. Hyper, motor-mouthed ten-year-olds slowly drifted off into a peaceful state of bliss, with the occasional youthful snore coming from the corner. (We were a rowdy bunch – play hard, relax hard.) That relaxation exercise has come in handy throughout my life, especially when my head whirled with anxiety and sleep was not coming.
I have struggled with regular exercise since my diagnosis, due to the unpredictability of my blood sugars during and after a session. Some times, it would plummet within a half-hour, despite eating extra carbohydrates and adjusting my insulin. Other times, my blood sugar would rise for no reason. The exhaustion and stress of trying to handle my diabetes always outweighed feeling good that I had exercised. I hoped that I could find some balance with yoga.
The studio was dimly-lit, peaceful, and cozy. My mat was laid on the wood floor, along with my meter, water, and Starburst. Armed and ready. The class began slowly with the Sun Salutation, and then moved into learning different poses and positions. I struggled to maintain my balance, contorted in what I could only describe as "human pretzel on one leg". My muscles pleaded piercingly to stop while I watched as the yoga instructor, seemingly without effort, twisted her entire body into breathtaking, living art.
Proper breathing techniques and timing can help – or hinder – a yoga routine. There were moments in the class where more than one of us would hold our breath until we heard: "Exhale." As I did, I found the position easier to hold. "Be mindful of your breath." Concentrating on the intake and exhalation of air actually allowed me to push myself a little further than I expected.
Before ending the session, the teacher quietly commented to us:
"It is important to remember that the study of yoga is a constant process. You are not expected to be able to do these poses and positions immediately, and even after years of practice, you will learn new ways to work with your body. Be mindful."
I lay on the mat in quiet contemplation during the final relaxation exercise, recognizing that yoga was just like my diabetes. Constantly being tweaked, refined, and sometimes surprising me when I least anticipated it. Even after years of having this disease, I am still learning. Struggling to maintain position (blood sugars, food intake, and stress levels) at times, I must continue to practice to stay healthy. I must breathe, be mindful, and listen to my body.
Each of us is on a different path. Each of us learns at our own pace. My muscles still scream, but a little less loudly, and I believe that they will pipe down as the weeks go on. My blood sugars still did the crazy rollercoaster ride after class, but I am learning and being mindful.
This may just be the exercise I have needed.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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