Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Mind Body- OCD and Diabetes

For me, diabetes and OCD have always been intricately related. Pre-dating the diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes in 2009 by about 6 months came a period of extreme anxiety, depression and OCD symptoms that I only in hindsight could pinpoint as OCD. I have reason to believe that it was likely the OCD symptoms that perpetuated the auto-immune reaction that let to the Type 1 diabetes.

David Servan- Schreiber in his book The Instinct to Heal notes that depressive symptoms often appear as a precursor to auto-immune reactions. He notes that anxiety and depression are inflammatory reactions, and their occurrence around diagnoses many auto-immune diseases is quite frequent.

But my evidence as to their connection came once I began to study Yoga and Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM). TCM uses a system called the "5 Element Theory" to explain the phenomena of the world and the body. In this system, the Earth element includes as its pair of yin and yang organ system the spleen and stomach respectively. The Earth element is categorized by the emotion of worry, the sense of tasting and the flavor sweet. When I began seeing an acupuncturist, she helped to describe that treating the OCD and Diabetes were really working on balancing the Earth element in my body where the symptoms of OCD and Diabetes were coming from. TCM has a different pathology and pathogenesis than we have here in the west, but for the purposes for this post, just think of all disease simply being an imbalance of the elements in the body that manifest different physical symptoms. (for a little bit more on this, check out my post "The Meridians")

There were so many times that I remember the OCD kicking up and having tough blood sugar days. But once the acupuncture began to restore a balance and as my OCD symptoms diminished, by blood sugars became more stable. At this time, I began practicing a pranayam (breathing exercise) that I learned from a Kundalini yoga teacher. The exact practice is detailed in this post The Daily Regimen. The name of the exercise is "One Minute Breath."

This pranayam is performed by sitting straight, plugging the right nostril with the thumb, and then breathing in for 15 seconds, holding for 15 seconds, breathing out for 15 seconds and then holding the breath out for 15 seconds. The exercise continues for 31 minutes. In the yoga sciences, all thought patterns are held in the breath. Think of fear- when you are frightened, the breath becomes short and quick. When relaxed, long and deep. Other more subtle patterns of breath are stored and occur subconsciously. In this exercise, the breath is made completely even. As thoughts arise subconsciously, their accompanying breath pattern will as well. However, through the will, the breath is held in proportion. This gives you a chance to disassociate certain thoughts from certain bodily reactions.

This control is all about balancing the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system will excite us, quicken breath, increase blood flow, and raise stress hormones to fight. The parasympathetic does the opposite- relax us, turn stress hormones off and slow the breath. Through this breathing exercise, various thoughts arise that trigger the sympathetic nervous system, but we activate the parasympathetic by continuing the breath in the proportion.

The hardest part might be holding the breath out. This is were the sympathetic nervous system goes crazy. As we deplete the oxygen in our body, the sympathetic nervous system detects a danger and wants us to breath in fast and quickly. At this moment, we are looking at a potential threat to life. But, we only have to hold it out for 15 seconds, and we consciously know that we will breath in again and take control. We learn to disassociate even the fear of death- the highest anxiety, and really the root cause of all anxiety- and keep ourselves calm. Of course, you must build up to doing a full 15 seconds on each part of the breath, but with consistent practice it happens fairly quickly.

After about 90 days of doing this pranayam, I could truthfully say that all OCD symptoms had disappeared. This is when my blood sugars began to get really good. It strengthened for me the evidence between the OCD and the diabetes. I continue to practice this pranayam daily and it continues to help keep these systems in balance.


  1. “As thoughts arise subconsciously, their accompanying breath pattern will as well. However, through the will, the breath is held in proportion. This gives you a chance to disassociate certain thoughts from certain bodily reactions.”

    Thank you for this practical way to address negative patterns of thought. I believe I create my reality one thought at a time but I still indulge negative habits of thought despite this knowledge. Just the idea that I can take physical action to undo mental patterns is inspiring! I am sure that if I could view my thought patterns prior to diagnosis and physically see how they affected my body, I would no longer wonder how and why I got T1. It sucks how easily my fear, anger, stress turned my life upside down but, on the flip side, I like to think we are very, very powerful in our ability make positive changes!

    1. It's absolutely never too late to change. There's no doubt that we indeed are very, very powerful.

      For this particular exercise, i detailed exactly how to do it in the post "The Daily Regimen"

      That particular breath exercise is just one of many that the yoga sciences teach. Here is a website with some of the meditations/ breath exercises taught by one of my teachers:


      Glad to hear from you!

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