It is normal to experience overwhelm and anxiety from time to time, especially when undergoing life changes or under physical and mental pressure. Sometimes we can link anxiety to an obvious stressor, and other times, we have no idea why it's there.
Regardless of its cause and origins, anxiety is uncomfortable, disrupting our mental clarity and sleep quality. When stress is left unattended and unabated, daily worries turn into chronic stress, eventually impacting our long-term health.
Yogic breathing practices, or pranayama, teach us how to regulate and train our body's stress responses. By learning how to modulate the stress response with conscious breathing, we can reduce and alleviate anxiety while building resilience against future stressors.
This guided breathing practice has a specialized science to it. Two parts sympathetic activation and one part parasympathetic. When we have chronic anxiety, we're stuck in the sympathetic nervous system, making it really hard to turn off. So by using a slightly sympathetic breath, it meets your nervous system where it's at, helping you eventually down-regulate and move towards increased steadiness and calm by exhalation.
Whether you have anxiety, sleeplessness, are under a lot of pressure from physical pursuits, work and family requirements, this breathing practice will be an excellent addition to your self-care routine.
Yoga Therapy Guided Breathing Pranayama for Anxiety
POKE. It's not a new thing out there. The last time I went to LA it was on EVERY CORNER.
But...what is new is making this nourishing and diabetes-friendly dish for yourself. I stole this recipe from my chef husband's notebook, but it is a staple these summer evenings.
Top the poke over a bed of salad greens, add pre-measured rice (if that's your thing), edamame beans, wakame, cucumber, avocado, pickled ginger and season with furikake, ponzu or soy sauce (tamari for GF). Don't forget the spicy mayo (but not too much during these hot summer days and nights).
TUNA POKE RECIPE
1.5 lbs ahi tuna - Sushi Grade - cut into small cubes
1c sweet chili sauce (see recipe below)
1T sesame oil
2T black sesame seeds (or regular)
S&P to taste
1/4 c chopped green onions
Mix, refrigerate and serve asap!
Sweet Chili Sauce
1/2 c rice vinegar
2oz monk fruit sugar
5 garlic cloves - finely chopped
1/2 T red pepper flakes
2.5 T sambal
Mix cornstarch and H20 to make slurry.
Add remaining ingredients and bring to a soft boil.
Add slurry and cook for 2 mins.
Let cool before applying to tuna.
One of the most challenging side effects of blood sugar swings is how it impacts your energetic condition. Your energetic condition is the way you feel and perceive reality at any given time.
With diabetes, we must pay more attention to our energetic condition than the average person. We live on a tightrope, carefully balancing our numbers, but one false move, and it's easy to crash in either direction.
When this happens, as it inevitably does, our energy is dramatically impacted. It can take hours, if not days, to recover from one miscalculated meal, training session or hormonal cycle.
Understanding how to recognize your energetic condition and reestablish balance on your own is an essential and life-changing skill set for anyone living with diabetes. I'm going to tell you how with three steps, but you need to read a little more first.
The Mind-Body Connection
We often equate our energy with the body, but not necessarily the mind. But yoga considers the two as inseparable- the way you feel in the body influences perception and vice versa.
With a full container of energy, you perceive reality through an optimistic lens, acting from your inner-knowingness, with effect and potency. When depleted, the world's hue is drab. Roadblocks, barriers, and blockages surround every direction.
Energy is everything. Your energy levels dictate your reality. For instance, when you're feeling drained, you are less likely to engage in the world as you would if your energy were vibrant.
The way you feel governs the way you think. With a full container of energy, you perceive reality through an optimistic lens, acting from your inner-knowingness, with effect and potency. When depleted, the world's hue is drab. Roadblocks, barriers, and blockages surround every direction.
Prana - The Essential Lifeforce
A core tenant of yoga is that life is sacred. Every moment is an opportunity to engage with our life's purpose, but we cannot live in the moment when our energy is out of whack. Not only can we not perform well, but we do not feel well. So we need strategies to help us recover faster and more efficiently.
The beautiful thing is that your energy is easily changeable even if your numbers aren't perfect. What governs your energy is Prana, the vital life force. Prana is fluid and moveable. The easiest way to influence Prana is with yoga practice.
Asana (postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), and meditations all move Prana differently. Not all practices are suitable for our immediate needs. The key to applying yoga as therapy is understanding how different methods will impact you and your energy.
The Starting Point
The number #1 most important question is to ask yourself is: What is out of balance? And how can I reestablish balance?
For instance, if your energy is zapped and your mind is zonked, it wouldn't make sense to do a challenging, heat-provoking practice. It would make more sense to practice gentle, restoratives or yoga nidra.
Or, if your mind is all over the place, maybe forcing yourself to sit in meditation will be more painful than productive. You may receive a greater benefit by meeting your movement with movement before winding down to stillness.
Honestly, the variables are endless, but with practice, you can begin to intuit your needs. So I've included a basic outline from my book Yoga Therapy for Diabetes for understanding how to manage your energy with yoga.
Physically and mentally tired - the result of severe highs or lows - cooling, calming, restful practices like yin, restoratives, yoga nidra to rebuild vitality. Pranayamas: 1:2 and 1:1 ratios, nadi shodhana.
Physically and mentally restless - results from hyperactivity - anxiety - insulin resistance. Start with mindful dynamic movement, preferably standing postures to ground you into your body. Move towards slower movements and longer, supported holds. Pranayama: inhale retention (holding inhales), longer exhales. An excellent example is: inhale 6, retain 6, exhale 12.
Physically tired and mentally restless- overworked body, anxious mind. This could be a product of longer-duration diabetes, sleepless nights, chronic anxiety, poor digestion.
Start slow, build up postures from the ground and work up to standing poses. Asymmetrical poses like side bends and forward bends are helpful to work the body, give the mind a focal point but not overly exhaust the nervous system. Pranayama: sitali/sitkari, alternative nostril exhale, pratiloma ujjayi, langhana pranayamas to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system.
Want to learn more about Yoga Therapy for Diabetes? Check out my book or waitlist for Rise Above T1D.
Besides stress, I would say that the second most common complaint I hear from my diabetes clients is how they want to improve their sleep quality, but they don't know-how. Whether it's waking up with CGM alarms or a general feeling of sluggishness and brain fog, our sleep dramatically impacts whole-person health.
Sleep is a foundation on which all pillars of diabetes health rest - no pun intended. Inadequate sleep compromises the effectiveness of all essential health pillars like diet, exercise, mental health, and diabetes management. The leading causes of death in developed nations, heart disease, cancer, dementia, obesity, and diabetes, have causal links to sleeplessness (1).
The number one risk for people with diabetes is heart disease. In a 2011 study, tracking a half-million people from various ages and ethnicities from eight countries over 25 years, progressively shorter sleep increased the risk of developing or dying from heart disease by 45% (2).
In another study on non-diabetic individuals, participants were limited to four hours of sleep a night for six nights. By the end of the week, participants were 40% less effective at metabolizing glucose (3). For people with T1D, this might not seem relevant because we produce little, if any, insulin, but consider that insulin is insulin. The insulin you inject still is impacted by sleeplessness.
The primary mechanism behind sleep deprivation is a familiar perpetrator, the sympathetic nervous system. People with diabetes have less parasympathetic tone at night than non-diabetics, meaning we have a harder time turning off our nervous system's activation response (5). Left on for extended periods, and our nervous system becomes maladaptive, affecting every organ system in the body.
During sleep, our body regenerates the body and reorganizes the brain. Growth hormone - a great healer of the body because it replenishes the lining of our blood vessels - produced in deep sleep. During non-REM sleep, part of our sleep cycle, our brain sends calming signals to the sympathetic nervous system, preventing the type of stress responsible for insulin resistance, hypertension, and stroke (6).
There are many ways you can improve your sleep hygiene with yoga and lifestyle modifications. Here are my top 5:
(1) Walker, Matthew P. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. First Scribner hardcover edition, Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc, 2017, pp 164.
(2) Walker, Matthew P. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. First Scribner hardcover edition, Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc, 2017, pp 165.
(3) Walker, Matthew P. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. First Scribner hardcover edition, Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc, 2017, pp 171.
(4) Bernardi, L., et al. "Impaired Circadian Modulation of Sympathovagal Activity in Diabetes. A Possible Explanation for Altered Temporal Onset of Cardiovascular Disease." Circulation, vol. 86, no. 5, Nov. 1992, pp. 1443–52. ahajournals.org (Atypon), doi:10.1161/01.CIR.86.5.1443.
(5) Walker, Matthew P. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. First Scribner hardcover edition, Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc, 2017, pp 168.
A cooling practice just in time for the heat of the summer. This specialized pranayama and meditation combine the elemental forces of water with the physiologic response of the parasympathetic nervous system to refresh, calm and internalize your senses. If you're a Roaring Fork resident, join me this summer for the Complete Practice Pop-Up at King Yoga in Snowmass. The Complete Practice is a powerful mind-body program rooted in ancient tantric methodologies and adapted functional movement for the modern practitioner. It is for any earnest student curious about taking their yoga practice to the next level of energetic and spiritual advancement.
Evan Rachel Soroka