Yoga for diabetes

What physical benefits can yoga bring to people who have either type of diabetes? Presumably it can help with circulation issues, neuropathy, etc?

The practice of yoga helps to develop will power and stamina. Stress and anxiety are major problems in modern life, but they can be effectively tackled through concentration, meditation, breath control and relaxation; all of which are elements of a basic yoga practice.

Most tension-related ailments generally arise from frustration, worry, anger or emotional imbalance, all of which can cause our inbuilt stress mechanism to fail.

The regular practice of yoga and meditation gradually releases tension and relaxes the body and mind. It is these benefits that many health experts believe can improve diabetes management and protect against other related medical conditions such as heart disease.

It also develops patience, a new awareness of when not to speak and the ability to create a quiet, calm and harmonious environment in which to live.

We all have unlimited possibilities within us and with the practice of meditation we are able to understand what we truly want and how to achieve it. Time is limited in life, but energy can be unlimited. Yoga is not about doing difficult exercises, but rather about how the practice of simple yoga postures (“asanas”) can lead to clarity of mind and inner peace.

On a physical level, yoga will increase your energy levels, flexibility and stamina. No experience or particular level of fitness is required as the practice can be adapted to suit anyone regardless of age, gender or physical condition. A regular practice will give the best and most long-term benefits, but right from the first practice you will feel more energised and calmer.

For this reason, an increasing number of people with diabetes mellitus are turning to yoga in an effort to keep their condition under control and improve overall quality of life.

Yoga is often said to be beneficial to the mind, body and soul. Managing diabetes is an endless job which can often lead to people feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed. With this in mind, what are the mental and emotional benefits of yoga for diabetics?

What I have found is that most (if not all) people who undergo regular yoga training experience improvements in their mental and physical health.

Benefits can include:

  • Better sleep
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Enhanced feelings of wellbeing
  • Relief from chronic illnesses
  • Improved digestion, circulation and immunity
  • Improved posture, flexibility and strength
  • Enhanced concentration and energy levels
  • Enhanced function and efficiency of respiratory, neurological and endocrine organs

Yoga is a promising, cost-effective option in the treatment and prevention of diabetes, with data from several studies suggesting that yoga and other mind-body therapies can reduce stress-related hyperglycaemia and have a positive effect on blood glucose control.

Controlling mental stress (stress management) is one of the key components of diabetes treatment. When we are stressed, our blood sugar levels increase and elevated blood sugar levels increase the chances of serious complications such as heart disease.

Using controlled breathing techniques, meditation and body postures, yoga and other mindfulness-based programmes equip participants with the tools to invoke a relaxation response in themselves.

This response helps to regulate cortisol and other stress hormones, which increase blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Both play a big role in the development of type 2 diabetes and its related complications.

Yoga can also treat diabetes, or in the case of type 2 diabetes, prevent the disease from developing by:

  • Rejuvenating pancreatic cells – Yoga postures that aid relaxation (asanas) stretch the pancreas, which can stimulate the production of insulin-producing beta cells. [73]
  • Exercising the muscles – Like other forms of exercise, yoga increases glucose uptake by muscular cells, which in turn helps to lower blood sugar levels, improve circulation and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. [74]
  • Promoting weight loss – Exercising through yoga can reduce weight and improve weight control, both of which are essential for protecting against conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease, as well as in overall diabetes management.
  • Improving your mental attitude – Regular yoga practice can help to focus the mind and create the right mental approach to dealing with diabetes. [75]

Whilst the benefits of yoga therapy have been demonstrated in several studies, it is not medically approved in the UK as a form of diabetes treatment. Before starting any yoga classes, you should consult with your doctor and diabetes healthcare team and continue with your conventional diabetes care plan.

Have you ever taught people with diabetes? What personal benefits did they get from your classes? What challenges did they have to overcome? What precautions did they take?

I have taught many people with diabetes. Many of them don’t wish to take regular medication and look to find alternative ways of managing their condition. However, the medicine in most cases is a fundamental part of the treatment and should be taken as directed by healthcare professionals. Apart from this, diet, restful sleep and stress and anxiety management are all hugely important for diabetics.

I encourage my diabetic students to continue with their medication as well as paying a lot of attention to their diet and exercise routine. Yoga and meditation are hugely beneficial to maintain emotional stability, which can be a result of worrying about having and controlling diabetes, but can also be a contributing factor to developing diabetes.

I recommend Ardha Matsyendraasana (also known as ‘Half Lord of the fishes’ pose) as the best yoga posture for diabetics:

Sit up straight with your legs stretched out. Make sure that your feet are placed together and your spine is absolutely straight. Bend your left leg so that the heel of the left foot lies next to the right hip. Alternatively, you could also keep the left leg stretched out if you prefer. Now place your right leg next to the left knee by taking it over the knee. Twist your waist, neck, and shoulders towards the right, then set your gaze over your right shoulder. Make sure your spine is still straight. There are many ways you can place your arms to increase and decrease the stretch. The simplest way is to place your right hand behind you and your left hand on your right knee. Hold the pose for a few seconds, as you breathe slowly and deeply. Exhale and release the right hand, then the waist, followed by the chest and finally the neck. Relax as you sit straight. Repeat the steps on the other side, then exhale and come back to the front.

Other effective exercises for diabetics are:

Ardha Vakrasana (Half Spinal Twist Pose):

‘Vakra’ means “twisted”. In this asana, the upper part of the body is twisted and the spine and the back muscles are stretched.

Sit on the floor with the legs stretched in front, keeping your legs parallel to each other. Bend the right leg and place it behind the knee of the left leg. Place the left hand on the left knee. Place the right hand on the waist. Keep the torso straight. Turn backwards at the waist. Remain in this position for six to eight seconds. Inhale slowly. Revert back to the original position. Practice this asana with the other leg stretched, turning the torso to the other side. Repeat this asana four to five times daily.

Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)

Lie on your stomach with your arms by your side. Bend your knees up and hold your ankles or feet. Engage your glutes and as you inhale lift your head, upper torso, arms and legs away from the floor. Gently pull on your ankles/feet to create a bow shape with your body.

While in this position, your breath can be used to create a rocking motion which will stimulate the digestive tract. After 5 inhalations and exhalations, release your legs and arms gently to the ground.

Uttanpadasana (Raised leg pose)

Lie on your back. Both your feet and knees should be kept together and your breathing should be normal. Exhale and while breathing in, slowly raise the legs to a 90 degree angle from the floor. Do not raise the shoulders from the ground. Breathe normally in this position and hold for a few seconds. The upper body, arms and face should be relaxed. Do not bend the knees or lift the lower body from the floor.

Keep your legs straight with the toes pointing at the ceiling and move them down and up slowly while concentrating on your lower abdomen. Your head should be kept straight and eyes should be on your raised toes.

To release the pose, inhale and then while exhaling, slowly lower the legs back to the lying position. Relax and breathe normally.

Sarvangasana (Shoulder stand pose)

Start by lying flat on your back, keeping your legs together and your arms by your side.

Lift your legs, back and buttocks with a single movement high above your shoulders. Then support your back properly with your hands. Make sure that you keep straightening your legs and spine gently by pressing your elbows down towards the floor as you keep your hands to the back. You need to support your body weight with your upper arms and shoulders instead of your neck and head. While you do so, pay attention to the neck and do not press your neck on the floor. Keep your neck strong and accompany it with tightening of the neck muscles to some extent. Then press the sternum toward your chin. In the event that you experience any strain around the neck, instantly come out of this posture. Stay in this posture for about 30 to 60 seconds as you keep breathing deeply. When you want to end the posture, gently lower your knees to the forehead. Make sure that you bring the hands to the floor with palms facing down.

Kapalbhati Pranayama (Breathing exercise)

Sit comfortably with your spine erect. Place your hands on the knees with palms open to the sky. Inhale deeply. On exhaling, pull your stomach back towards your spine. Hold for as long as is comfortable. You may keep your right hand on the stomach to feel the abdominal muscles contract. As you relax the navel and abdomen, the breath flows into your lungs automatically. Take 20 such breaths to complete one round of Kapalbhati . After completing the round, relax with your eyes closed and observe the sensations in your body. Do two more rounds of Kapalbhati.



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