At home or in class, dress for yoga in loose or stretchy, comfortable clothing that allows you to move easily. You may want to wear some layers, such as a leotard with a light sweatshirt over it, because some parts of class may be very active and get you sweating, while others are fairly stationary, leading you to cool down quickly.
Most yoga classes require you to bring a sticky mat (available for purchase online at www.gaiam.com and www.yoga.com, among others, at some yoga centers, and at some health-food stores for about $20–$25), and a few styles of yoga, such as iyengar, may also require additional props such as special ropes and blocks. Some yoga studios have sticky mats to borrow if you forget to bring your own or haven’t purchased one yet, but since most yoga exercises are done barefoot, you run the risk of picking up a foot fungus if you use the communal mats.
People who have diabetes are often admonished never to go barefoot except in the bath or in bed. However, many yoga poses are difficult to perform or hold while wearing shoes or socks. If this is a problem for you, ask your yoga teacher about alternatives such as wearing nonslip socks. People with existing foot problems may also want to consult their health-care provider before doing yoga poses that put pressure on the feet. If you shower in a public locker room after yoga class, be sure to wear shower sandals or slippers to protect your feet, both from foot fungus and from any objects that may have fallen onto the floor.
Stretch, relax…and stay safe
Don’t be shy about letting your yoga instructor know that you have diabetes. It may be necessary, especially when you’re first starting out, to check your blood glucose during class. Be sure to always bring your blood glucose meter and glucose tablets with you to class; you may be surprised by how much even a gentle class may get your heart rate going from time to time, and if that happens, your blood glucose may drop. Don’t hesitate to stop at any time during class to check your blood glucose.
To see how yoga affects your blood glucose level, you may want to follow the example of James O’Keefe, who has Type 2 diabetes and takes insulin. When he first began yoga classes, he checked his blood glucose level before, during, and after class for several weeks to look for a pattern. “I knew how to cut back on my insulin during aerobic exercise,” O’Keefe said, “but it took me some time to figure out how yoga was affecting my blood sugar. It was interesting, because my sugar wouldn’t drop during class, but it would stay lower than usual for a few hours afterward.”
Just like other forms of exercise, yoga may necessitate an adjustment of insulin doses, meals, or snacks. A general rule in yoga is that it’s best not to practice on a full stomach. “I explain to my students that doing yoga on a full stomach just makes it harder and less comfortable to move, because the body is putting so much energy into digestion,” says Beryl Herrin. Depending on how yoga affects your blood glucose, though, you may find that you need to eat some form of carbohydrate 15–30 minutes before doing yoga. If so, Herrin recommends that you choose something on the lighter side, such as a few whole wheat crackers, that will keep your blood glucose up but won’t weigh you down. “If you need to bring a few crackers or a light snack along to class, go ahead. It’s better to stop and eat or drink something if you need to than to not try doing yoga at all,” she says.
Because your body functions best when it’s well hydrated, be sure to drink water before and after class, and bring a bottle of water to class with you if you sweat a lot or tend to get thirsty.
Perhaps the most important thing — for people with or without diabetes — to remember is to be gentle with yourself when you begin. Don’t push or strain to get into a posture. Yoga is about the union of your mind and body; it doesn’t matter what the person on the mat in front of you can do. “When I first started yoga, I pushed myself a lot,” James O’Keefe recalls. “Yet it was when I wasn’t trying to look good — when I just focused on breathing and stretching — that I could hold the asanas [postures] much better.”