When Anastasia Brien became a Yoga instructor more than 15 years ago, her first class was a small group of spirited beginners—children. “They are the most natural yogis in the world,” said Anastasia, a popular yoga instructor in Greenwich, Ct. where she lives. “They will try anything, unlike adults who will pull a muscle to avoid falling and looking bad. Kids love to fall.”
Last month, Anastasia took her passion, energy, knowledge and mastery of yoga to the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center, where she volunteered to teach a class for children with type 1 diabetes (T1D) at the 2015 Summer Fun Program. (Both Anastasia and daughter Delilah are patients with T1D at the Berrie Center.) It was the first time yoga was offered to the happy campers—but not the last.
Wrote Anastasia about her experience:
“The kids were strong and willing, and I was not surprised by that. As someone with T1D and someone who has a 12 year old daughter with T1D, I recognize the inner strength that these kids possess. As I told them, they are fierce warriors and nothing can hold them back!
Practicing yoga with them was an honor, and they taught me a thing or two! It was very satisfying to see them take the final resting pose, savasana, in silence, allowing the benefits of their practice to sink in. They stayed quiet and still for 7 minutes of peace and we ended our class with some positive affirmations. I received a few spontaneous hugs, which made my day. Yoga during diabetes camp will now be an annual tradition!”
Slender and strong, fit and flexible, Anastasia has a peaceful presence, too. Any time spent with her may send you directly to the nearest yoga studio. “I’ve been practicing for 20 years,” said Anastasia, adding that she was a dancer in a former life. “I came to it really for fitness. It was intriguing to me. As I became a teacher, and deepened my practice, now I’m in it for my head.”
“Peace, love, yoga instructor, mama, type 1 diabetic, fierce fundraiser for T1D,” is how Anastasia describes herself on her Instagram page. She was diagnosed with T1D as an adult, which is not all that unusual; it was how she was diagnosed, however, that was atypical. She was diagnosed with T1D after her daughter was diagnosed with T1D. In addition, Anastasia was not diagnosed with T1D because she had symptoms, or was sick, but through a T1D research screening program at the Berrie Center.
When her daughter Delilah, was diagnosed with T1D at the age of 5, “We ended up in the emergency room and then the hospital for a week,” recalled Anastasia. “Fortunately, I never experienced diabetes symptoms. It’s different when you know you’re going to get it.”
Anastasia and her family participated in an NIH-funded multi-center T1D prevention research study, (Robin Goland, MD, is the Principal Investigator at the Berrie Center/Columbia site) called the Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet Study. The TrialNet Pathway to Prevention Study enrolls relatives of people with T1D to help stratify T1D risk. With a simple blood test, the TrialNet study tests people for pancreatic autoantibodies that indicate higher T1D risk. “My son and husband got a letter (saying that their autoantibody tests were negative),” she recalled. “I got a phone call, so I knew right away.”
A year after Delilah was diagnosed with T1D, Anastasia tested positive for pancreatic autoantibodies, followed by a positive glucose tolerance test and she was also diagnosed with T1D. “I was diagnosed with T1D at the age of 41. At first, I didn’t need to even take insulin. After about 6 months, I started taking very tiny doses of insulin. My T1D has progressed and I am now taking pretty standard insulin doses.”
Anastasia has never let her T1D affect her yoga practice, which was in her life for years before her diagnosis. She keeps a continuous glucose monitor at the top of her yoga mat and wears an insulin pump. While her clientele are mostly adults these days, she works with children at special events like the Berrie Center’s Summer Fun Program.
“Yoga now is something that kids are aware of,” said Anastasia. “It’s like playing soccer or playing piano. It’s become mainstream, so if you say ‘tomorrow we’re having yoga’ they’ll say ‘cool.’ They’re attracted to yoga because it’s fun, but they also respond so quickly to the calm, the deep breathing and guided meditation. They just don’t have limitations.”