Living with a chronic condition like diabetes can be a challenging and stressful experience. Unfortunately, all the worry about blood glucose and the constant effort to balance insulin against food intake and exercise can itself raise blood glucose levels. But stress management can help control the stress hormones that affect blood glucose levels. Yoga practice, for example, can have a calming effect and play a major role in stress management.
I recently sat down with Les Leventhal, a successful yoga teacher based in San Francisco (and online at YogaWithLes.com), to hear what he had to say about stress, yoga, and meditation.
"Yoga gives you a chance to let go of worry for at least a few minutes,'" he says. "Just sitting back and leaning against a wall and breathing, closing your eyes, would allow for an escape." What changes everything, he adds, is the breath. "The breath is the prana, the life force. With any disease, there are blockages. And the breath, which is life, energy, creating, can free up some of the blockages."
"When it comes to embracing blockages, for many people it appears in our shoulders and neck. The chest sinks and the shoulders hunch, and you have a closed heart. You are protecting your heart in this way. Simple shoulder rolls to loosen the area and get the breath moving through the body can have a tremendous affect on your body and spirit."
"If I have a disease, I have to love it like every other part of my body. I can't spend time trying to figure out who gave it to me, or why me, because I have it and I have the responsibility to live with this. Even if the disease is only a portion of me, I still have to deal with it. I have to walk side by side with being responsible for myself and my own well-being. I can still have a life that has some care, some opening, some breath."
Meditation can be an effective complementary therapy for someone with diabetes. Meditation is basically the same thing as awareness. The word meditation comes from two Latin words: meditari, meaning "to think, to dwell upon, to exercise the mind," and mederi, meaning "to heal." In Sanskrit the word medha means "wisdom."
"There are lots of different ways to meditate," says Leventhal. "You don't have to create a special altar for it to be meaningful. You can sit on a park bench. You can lie down. You can close your eyes, or leave them open. For me, I begin with my intention and set a period of time intended for meditation. Some days, it's very quiet, thoughts are like soft clouds coming and going. No waves on the lake. Other days, it's like a storm at sea, thoughts coming and coming, and riding the waves seems to be overwhelming."
"There is no right way to meditate, it's only important that we do. You don't have to go to a holy land to meditate. The Tenderloin in San Francisco is just as holy as an ashram in India. It's the intention that counts, not the amount of time, or even the success. Maybe I only have five minutes to meditate, but that may be sufficient. The wealthy house-husband or wife may go to class and buys the beads, but that does not necessarily make them more calm. Those who spend tons of money and tons of time may be talking the talk but not necessarily walking the walk. Actions speak louder than words."
"Meditation is not about being unscattered. There are days when there is always chatter. At least that is my experience. It's important to know that some days it's about monitoring your energy. It's up to each individual to work with a teacher with whom she or he can communicate and determine how much she or he might be able to do."
Pranayama (breathing) can be done in many ways and can have a calming effect on the mind.
"There are many different breathing techniques," says Leventhal. "Some types might not be appropriate for everyone. Kapalabhati pranayama, or skull-shining breath, for example, is rapid forced exhalation that may be exhilarating for some, but may not be good for everyone. Alternate nostril breathing, on the other hand, is a gentle technique that can slow you down and help put things into perspective. Focus on the breath is calming for the mind and brings me into now, right now. There is no waiting. If I'm not aware of my breathing then I'm concentrating on something else and not the present moment. The breathing gets me connected to me in the moment, and there is this sense of emptiness and clarity... it snaps you into reality."
"Brahmeri pranayama (a humming sound) focuses the buzzing on a particular area of our body to help bring sound to the body, which can be healing. Creating that vibration is healing. You might want to buzz into your heart."
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