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10 Tips to Connect With Your Body When Diagnosed With Illness

By Zippora Karz,
Author of The Sugarless Plum: A Ballerina's Triumph Over Diabetes

I am a former ballerina with the New York City Ballet, and presently a public speaker, movement motivator, ballet teacher, and répétiteur for the George Balanchine Trust. When I was diagnosed with diabetes in my third year in the company, I thought my career was over. I had always thought of myself as a positive person. As a hard worker, I could see the positive results in ballet. After my diagnosis my positive perspective basically went out the window. It didn't happen right away; at first I was convinced I could conquer my diabetes with my dancers discipline. But after being mis-diagnosed twice and struggling with my prescribed insulin doses, I found balancing my diabetes was not as predictable as balancing on my pointes. Once I eventually learned how to dance with diabetes, my next struggle was internal. Was this a suitable career for an insulin dependent diabetic? Thankfully, I didn't give up, and six years after my diagnosis I was promoted to soloist ballerina and would go on to perform for a total of sixteen years.

1. Know what the facts are.

Educate yourself as much as you can about your situation. There are so many emotions involved, and I am one for allowing yourself to experience them, but you need to know the facts. I was positive and determined to overcome my situation, but being mis-diagnosed sent me on the wrong path and I went astray. It took me years to understand the type of diabetes I had and it was many years before I figured out how to dance on insulin and manage my diabetes successfully. It is true that knowledge is power.

2. Come out of denial.

Be gentle with yourself, allow for shock and grief, anger and fear, whatever emotions you feel. But again, use your intellect to make decisions that can help you get the right care. Denial can help keep you motivated and positive, but it needs to end or it can lead to ignorance. I believe I stayed with a doctor who gave me the wrong advice because I was still in denial, and a part of me wanted to believe his improper diagnosis.

3. Communicate.

Because my blood sugar levels were often elevated, it was difficult for me to have clarity. I had trouble speaking up to authority figures based on my childhood experiences and was intimidated by my doctor. Therefore I was not able to ask the right questions or explain my concerns and difficulties. At work I was also afraid of telling my directors, Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins, what was happening to me. I didn't communicate with my doctor or my directors, and tried to do it all on my own. This made my journey all the more isolating and difficult. Find a doctor you can trust and become a partner with them.

4. Take responsibility for your health.

We have to know and believe we are worth it -- that our lives have meaning. It is up to each of us to be our own cheerleader. Become interested in the process and investigate the right components for success. Doctors do not always have all the answers. I have always been passionate about physical and emotional well-being. I enjoy discovering the best way to eat for my body and how to work with my personal psychology. Your journey to optimal health can and will be a journey of self-discovery.

5. Work with your body.

I was angry with my body for failing me and saw my body as the inadequate enemy ruining my life. When I learned to see my diabetes as a child, one I needed to nurture and take care of rather than yell at, I finally learned how to be on my own team.

6. Breathe.

There are many different breathing techniques. Start by being aware, slowing down and noticing your breath as it goes in and out. Try to inhale, filling your lungs with air, and then on the exhale slowly allow the air to seep out. Picture a feather gently floating to the ground.

7. Move Freely.

Besides more vigorous exercise, spend some time doing gentle stretch like movements. Find a comfortable, position whether it be sitting or lying down, and picture the waves in the ocean. Allow your torso to gently rock back and forth, twist and curve in any way that feels comfortable. Keep breathing.

8. Eat well for your body.

We all know that healthy foods can satisfy us physically as well as emotionally. Learn how to love eating healthy by finding alternatives to unhealthy foods you crave when you are stressed. I ask myself what texture I am craving; creamy, salty, crunchy, fatty or sweet and then pick the healthiest food that will satisfy that need. Not only do my blood sugars stay balanced, my cravings and my emotions calm down.

9. Release held emotions: Going Deeper.

Learn how to deal with daily stress and deeper emotions. Rather than holding them in, transform them. If you are particularly stressed take some time to feel what is going on emotionally inside of you. It may help to journal, talk to someone, or simply breathe. Giving yourself permission to relax is extremely important.

10. The Dance Within.

The passion and freedom of spirit I experienced early in my life became my reference for the future. No matter what I'm doing, whether it's mundane or extraordinary, there is a constant dance within me that connects and engages me to the world around. Find your own dance and keep it close to your heart.

I believe when we practice tools to connect with ourselves we will be better able to maintain balance despite the chaos around us. I want us all to live full, healthy, and vibrant lives, where dreams are realized, and potentials and passions fulfilled. I believe this is possible, even with a chronic illness as I am experiencing. I believe it starts within.


Author BioZippora Karz, author of The Sugarless Plum:A Ballerina's Triumph Over Diabetes, is a former soloist ballerina with the New York City Ballet where she performed for 16 years on stage and in televised performances. She was featured in a variety of roles choreographed by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins (The Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker being one of her favorites) as well as works choreographed for her by such choreographers as Peter Martins and Lynne Taylor Corbett. Miss Karz danced with the New York City Ballet from 1983 through 1999. She now serves as a teacher and répétiteur for the George Balanchine Trust, rehearsing and staging Balanchine's choreography for a host of national and international dance companies. She is also a diabetes spokesperson and educator who regularly addresses major diabetes conferences and organizations worldwide. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

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