How a Stressed-Out Yogi Learned to Slow Down

Like everyone else, I was addicted to chocolate, especially the dark kind. Every night, without fail, I'd blob out in front of the TV with a big fat bar of 70% Lindt and think, just one bite. But  my one bite policy brought little satisfaction. I had to eat it all. No point in stressing, though--after all, wasn’t chocolate a superfood? And I could always do a few extra sun salutations in the morning to split the difference.

Yes, I was a New York City yoga teacher, out the door at six am to teach my first private to the vice president of an insurance company. At nine am, I was expounding the virtues of correct alignment to a group of Upper East Side housewives. By 11:30am, I was grabbing a quick donut on my way to teach a lunchtime power vinyasa class. The day continued with meals crammed between subway rides and, if I was lucky enough to be home by eight, I’d score a quick pasta from the Italian take-out before my head hit the pillow.

I kept telling myself it was necessary to ignore my health for the lifestyle I was going to have “some day.” Eventually I planned to move to Australia, live in the countryside and teach fewer than 25 classes per week. Like everyone, I was caught in the rat race: work hard now and reap the rewards “there and then.” But the one thing I'd failed to recognize was that “there and then” could only ever be “here and now.”

Looking back at how stressed I was in New York, it makes sense that I’m prediabetic now. But my diagnosis almost four years after moving to Australia came as a shock. I wasn’t running around anymore and my diet was stable. What I didn’t realize was that my adrenals had burnt out long before I’d changed my lifestyle.

In Ayurveda the term Ojas denotes our immunity to disease. Babies are full of Ojas. That's why they can get sick and recover quickly. As we get older, diet and lifestyle compromises the body’s ability to produce Ojas. 

Having Ojas is vital to being able to withstand the pressures of a modern day lifestyle. The harder I worked, the more stressed I became, and the more I tried to work out how to get less stressed the more I stressed. 

I used sweet foods and carbs to comfort myself, depleting myself even more.

My first reaction to my diagnosis was embarrassment.  I did yoga. Yogis aren’t prediabetic! My second reaction was more moderate: I could work with yoga and Ayurveda to heal myself.  

Having a positive approach to any disease is obviously better than getting depressed but in those first few months, and even after the first two years, I realized that having positive thoughts about the situation didn’t seem to change the readings on my glucometer. 

In spite of eating low-glycemic-index meals, taking daily walks, and reducing my workload, my levels continued to fluctuate. 

Was the stress of trying to heal myself creating more stress?

The other day a friend offered her own thoughts on my condition: “Think of it like a pie cut into slices. Modern medicine understands three of those slices. They know that diet, exercise and insulin work together to lower blood sugar, but what they don't understand is how other factors like emotions, thoughts and hormones play a role. Why not get creative in your approach? Start by trusting your body. Ask it what it needs.”

It was a huge question. 

What does my body need verses what do I want? 

Obviously, while working my butt off in New York, I wanted chocolate, donuts and Italian take-out. 
Now that I was living in Australia I wanted organic, home-grown, free range everything, but still I wondered: was all that I wanted what I actually needed?

Simplifying my yoga practice has been a good starting point. Rather then trying a million different methods, I do the same practice every day. The body loves repetition--give it a routine and it’s happy. It isn’t just about exercise, either: it's about doing things in a rhythm. Waking up, eating meals and going to bed in a set rhythm allows the body to rest and rejuvenate. 

Although we might think otherwise, the body’s best friend is the mind. Understanding how the mind works and why we get stressed is an invaluable tool. Rather than just watching my thoughts during a focused breathing and meditation practice I ask myself “why am I reacting to that thought? 

Thoughts can never be silenced because they are a natural part of who we are. Reacting to the thought is what creates the stress. Knowing why I am reacting is more powerful than trying to suppress the reaction and ultimately knowing who is reacting takes the cake.

If you asked how could someone like me get in such a mess I could come up with a pile of excuses. But sometimes knowing the right question and who to ask is the key to finding the solution.

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About the Author
Rachel has practiced yoga for 28 years and taught for over 20 and facilitates teacher trainings and workshops in the U.S, Australia, India, Bali, Japan, and Europe. Passionate about Yoga and its many forms, she practices Hatha, Bhakti and studies Gyan Yoga incorporating the traditional teachings of the Upanishads, Yantra, Mantra and Mudra into her workshops.  Her classes are a fluid mix of creative sequencing, meaningful insights and lighthearted fun. She is an award-winning kirtan musician and published poet and writes for several online magazines.
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