There are many forms of exercise that can help treat and prevent diabetes, and yoga is a low-impact option with immense stress-relieving benefits. Exercise in general is great for managing diabetes or preventing it because it helps balance blood sugar levels. Therefore, yoga can supplement any workout regimen when it comes to diabetes management.
Yoga has been studied to directly benefit diabetes patients.
The practices of meditation, breathwork and physical postures will all help diabetes in a holistic manner.
A variety of yoga postures have been studied to directly help balance glucose and insulin production in the body.
Types of diabetes
Type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is genetic and develops in the early stages of life. In this form of diabetes, the immune system is unable to regulate insulin properly in the pancreas.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and usually develops from lifestyle factors later in life. In this form of diabetes, the body cannot regulate blood sugar correctly, which results in too much sugar in the blood and leads to many problematic cases. Therefore, diabetic patients must often take insulin in order to regulate their blood sugar if they cannot through diet and exercise. There is no one cure for diabetes, so it must be managed through diet, exercise and medication when needed.
This form of diabetes develops during pregnancy in women and often goes away afterward, but still needs to be managed appropriately.
What is yoga?
The word yoga is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning union. People have practiced yoga for thousands of years, with its origins in India. Yoga is a combination of physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation that helps induce a calm, serene state of mind. Most practices end with the pose called savasana, which means corpse pose. It is simply lying on the back and relaxing, to allow the body and mind to wind down.
Through the practice of yoga, you may find the following benefits for diabetic patients:
- Improved muscular strength
- Stress reduction through lowered cortisol levels
- Better able to control blood sugar levels
- Better coordination and balance
- Nervous system regulation
- Lowered blood pressure
Why yoga helps diabetes
Yoga is a gentler form of exercise, usually performed on a mat with props like blocks, straps, and cushions. Those seeking something easy on the joints – as opposed to running or other athletic activities – may prefer it.
Yoga is generally considered bodyweight exercise, where you are just using your own body but occasionally weights may be added in a more intense class like yoga sculpt.
Yogic therapy has been proven to improve insulin receptors in the body and increase the receptor ability to bind to the insulin, therefore creating less symptoms of diabetes. A variety of postures, breathing exercises and meditations have been studied with great effect.
Here are a few exercises you can try
OM chanting meditation: The mantra, or sound, OM is said by the yogic texts to be the sound of creation of the universe. It has a very calming effect. You can perform it by sitting or lying down on the back and repeating the mantra for five minutes or longer. It helps clear away negative thoughts, promote acceptance, and enhance the brain’s ability to think rationally.
Kapala Bhati (skull shining breath): This is a heating breathing technique called Kapala Bhati in Sanskrit, which means skull shining breath. It helps heat the internal body and cleanse the frontal lobe of the brain. To perform this technique, take a long deep inhale followed by quick percussive exhalations while pumping the belly inward and directing the inner gaze to the space between the eyebrows (the third eye area). This helps increase lung capacity and strengthen respiration, while also boosting insulin production and controlling blood sugar levels.
Surya Namaskar (sun salutations): Although most yoga is anaerobic, it can become more aerobic with flowing styles of yoga where one move is connected to the breath and continuously moves through postures. Surya Namaskar, known as sun salutations, is a perfect example of this concept. One moves through a sequence of standing poses including forward fold, lunges, planks, back extension, and inversions like downward facing dog all in one sequence. It is recommended to practice these three to seven times during a session to get the aerobic benefit for your heart.
Other yoga poses for diabetes
Virtually all yoga poses will benefit someone with diabetes. They fall into several categories including standing poses, seated poses, forward folds, twists, backbends, and inversions.
Here a few key postures to take away for diabetes management:
Trikonasana (triangle pose): To perform this posture, open the arms wide and stand with the feet wide under the wrists. Turn one foot forward and keep the back foot facing the side. Reach sideward over the front leg and bend down to place the hands on the shin. Extend the top arm straight up and look up to the hand. This posture expands the side body and rib cage, benefitting the breath and lung capacity while stretching the inner thighs and calming the mind. Stay for five to 10 breaths on each side.
Ardha Matsyendrasana (half Lord of the Fishes pose): Ardha Matsyendrasana is a seated spinal twist. To perform this posture, take a seat and cross one leg over the other with the foot on the floor. Then, twist into the bent knee, taking the opposite arm across. It is recommended to twist to the right first in order to stimulate the descending colon of elimination. Twists are cleansing and stimulating for the internal organs in the center of the body and overall relaxing for the mind. You can think of them as “winding down” postures. Stay on each side for five breaths.
Other poses to consider
Forward folds, seated or standing, are very beneficial because they compress the organs, massaging the pancreas to stimulate insulin production. Backbends, such as Ustrasana (camel pose) or dhanurasana (bow pose), are energizing for the mood, while other poses such as reclined postures will be relaxing.
All yoga postures will have some benefit for the diabetic patient due to the positive effect on the use of glucose and toning the body, resulting in weight loss (being overweight is often a cause of diabetes).
In general, a balanced yoga practice consisting of meditation, breathing exercises, and physical postures will overall benefit anyone struggling with diabetes, whichever type they must manage.