|[Image Description: A white woman with dark hair is practicing Balasana (child's pose). She is wearing an all white outfit and has a visible insulin pump.]|
This post is an excerpt from the introduction to Yoga Therapy for Diabetes by Evan Soroka. © 2021 Singing Dragon. Reprinted with permission. This article may not be reproduced for any other use without permission.
Any diagnosis is stressful, but as a pre-teen, you are just trying to figure out who you are. All of a sudden, you are required to be highly disciplined and aware of everything that you are doing, as it relates to your health. You are supposed to keep your blood sugars in a tight range of 80–180 mg/dL (4.4–10.0 mmol/L) and inject insulin several times a day.
The moment I was diagnosed, I fervently rejected any attempts by my parents or others to help me do diabetes. I wanted the responsibility to fall entirely on my shoulders. The first time my parents tried to inject me, their trepidation was palpable. Their hands shook with fear of hurting me. It was the first and only time I let them.
On the one hand, the declaration of independence was a positive attribute, and on the other hand, it produced unnecessary drama in my life. I just wanted everyone to let me be and allow me to take care of diabetes on my own. I did not want extra attention, I just wanted to be normal. Anytime I was to go over to a friend’s house, their parents would receive an instruction manual about how to take care of me. I hated the spotlight and was annoyed that special measures had to be made for me when I knew how to take care of myself.
My parents and I fought a lot. I resisted, rebelled, and retaliated every time there was a question about my blood glucose (BG), what I was eating, or what I should do. That is an excellent way of saying I gave them a lot of reason to worry; I was a wreck.
My behavior was more than teenage angst, it was a product of diabetes and stress. I was so insecure about my body, overwhelmed by diabetes management, and frustrated by adults looming over every decision that I made. It was at a boiling point, and I did not have any outlets for the emotional overflow. Hope was not all lost; underneath the guise of rebellion was a person who cared deeply about her health and wellbeing. I am lucky, and I think that the only reason why I do not have any complications is that no matter what I did, I always tested my BG and tried to correct it if it was off.
One day, my best friend at the time went to a yoga class. We met up afterwards, and she was a different person. Glowing and happy, she did not want to participate in the usual debauchery that the others and I were into. Naturally, I was intrigued, and the next week I went to a class on my own to see what it was about.
All I can say is that I was uncomfortable and awkward. Every position made me want to scream and run away, but for some reason, I stayed. I remember lying in a pool of sweat at the end of the first class, feeling euphoric. It was unlike anything I had felt in my entire life. I was alive, at ease, and complete. All of the distractions, discomfort, angst melted away for a moment.
I kept going back to yoga, even when I did not want to. There were times when I hated it. I wanted to leave and run away. But I stayed, and when I did, I was rewarded. We do not realize how much we are suffering until we experience the opposite. Yoga showed me that the way I was living was not sustainable and awakened an interest in self-discovery, health, and wellness.
Those first years of intense physical practice helped purify my body, mind, and senses and prepared me for what was next: transformation. I learned how to love myself more, cherish my body, and practice self-care. I felt more equipped and confident to handle diabetes challenges.
Yoga taught me that I was more than the experience of diabetes, more than my emotions, fears, and discomfort. I learned that if I took time to practice, I always felt better, and when I felt better, I was more myself. That was the beginning of the rest of my life. I thought I was practicing for my physical appearance, but as time went on, yoga began to inform my whole life. It was what I did to feel whole again, to give myself space to just be present. When I practiced, I felt better. All of my relationships improved and, most importantly, so did my relationship with myself. This relationship is fluid, continually growing, and evolving. I became a teacher and started to share my experiences with others.
About five years into practice, I herniated a disc in my back. I had to completely stop the way I was practicing. It was the first time in my life I sustained an injury like that—where I could not walk. Like a diabetes diagnosis, an injury is a wake-up call to change your direction. I wanted to continue the feeling I once achieved in yoga āsana, but my practice motivation had to shift. I began to look deeper into the philosophy and psychology of yoga and went on to complete my studies in yoga therapy with Gary Kraftsow and the American Viniyoga Institute. I learned how to work with the breath and sequence for energetics, specifically the autonomic nervous system.
I noticed that when my energy was low, I could do a practice to build it back up. If my energy was too high, or I was anxious or nervous, I could practice to calm myself down. I noticed that these qualities of energy could be applied to specific diabetes challenges, addressing short-term needs, and reducing long-term complications. If my blood sugar was running high, I could practice increasing circulation and lowering the number. Even if the number did not come down, the practice helped me have more energy for the rest of my day. I could go about my day with more vitality.
I am so grateful to have the opportunity to share with you my life experience of practicing for and with diabetes. I am not here as an expert and do not claim that yoga is the answer to diabetes. Yoga is a self-care strategy which improves diabetes management and builds resilience against diabetes risks.
This book is an amalgamation of my science experiments with yoga therapy for diabetes. All the practices are informed by science and yoga tradition. I am sharing what works for me and for those I work with.
Yoga and diabetes are complementary practices. They both teach you how to be the observer of the experience and watch your thoughts, sensations, emotions, and actions as an observer. Whenever I inject my body, I do not think I am injecting my body. I do it without identification.
When I sit in meditation and witness my mind having a tantrum, I learn how to stay and not get involved. This informs the way I take care of diabetes. If I test my BG and do not like what I see, I have a choice. I can freak out, blame myself, or something else, or I can see the number and respond appropriately. If I still cannot figure it out, I have a practice that always nourishes my system, calms my mind, and purifies my body. I know that no matter what diabetes or life throws at me, I always have what I need.
Diabetes still throws me curveballs from time to time. I do not profess to be perfect at it. I still have highs and lows. I make mistakes sometimes and get frustrated, and that is okay. Yoga has equipped me with the skills to be aware of my needs, identify the imbalances, and choose appropriate practices to reestablish equilibrium. I feel confident in my ability to manage diabetes and equipped with an understanding that although I am in charge, I am not the master of everything I do. I can let go of things that cannot be changed (diabetes) and focus on what I can change (feeling well). This skillset trickles into every avenue of my life and is what I most enjoy sharing with others.
You can purchase your copy of Yoga Therapy for Diabetes directly from Singing Dragon here. Use the code SOROKA21 at checkout to save 20% off the purchase price.
Evan Soroka, C-IAYT, E-RYT 500, is an educator, yoga therapist, and author. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in adolescence and chronic musculoskeletal issues throughout her life, Evan’s mission is to advance and inspire autonomy in healthcare through yoga and Ayurveda. Trained as a Viniyogaä therapist, and initiated into the Sri Vidya tantric lineage of the Himalayas, her method unites the mind and heart, focusing on intelligent biomechanics, energetic healing, and spiritual meditation practices. Evan's critically acclaimed book, Yoga Therapy for Diabetes, was published by Singing Dragon in 2021. She is a featured yoga therapist on Yoga International and a contributor to Yoga Journal and Yoga Therapy Today magazines. You can learn more about Evan at www.sorokayogatherapy.com.
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