For over 5,000 years, yoga has built people’s health, strengthening body, mind, and spirit. Studies show it can help with diabetes. Is yoga for you? Let’s see.
Yoga is very physical, but it’s not necessarily exercise. In some styles, there is not much movement. One of the most popular types of yoga in the West, called hatha yoga, combines different postures or poses with breathing and focusing. Although some poses can be difficult to achieve or hold, much of the time in hatha yoga, you will just be breathing. The various poses promote circulation and nerve function to different parts of the body. Given this nourishment, the body can often heal itself.
Yoga seems to help diabetes. How it happens hasn’t been investigated much, but significant improvements in have been shown in studies. Researchers from India followed 20 people with Type 2 diabetes who were given 13 yoga poses to do each day for 40 days. They found significant reductions in fasting blood sugar, smaller after-meal sugar spikes, lower insulin levels, and better waist-to-hip ratios. Other studies have found that people who did yoga had more stable blood sugars.
Yoga may not necessarily be aerobic, but it allows you to exercise better. Writing in Diabetes Self-Management, Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer said, “The flexibility, agility, and strength you gain from doing any type of yoga will increase your ability to engage in other forms of aerobic exercise.” You may also feel better about moving and more energized after yoga.
Kaplan-Mayer says one great advantage of yoga is that you can do it at any level. Some poses are athletic, with legs and arms twisted into extreme positions. Others are done lying quietly, with every level of difficulty in between.
According to Kaplan-Mayer, the idea of yoga is to help you focus on your body. “Focus on the sensations in your body,” she writes, “particularly the sensation of breathing, at this very minute and allow yourself not to think about the past or the future.” Yoga is often considered a form of meditation.
If you want to start
There are many different styles and schools of yoga. Among the most popular are hatha yoga and Iyengar yoga. Iyengar uses some straps and equipment to help people get into their poses.
You can easily find online classes or instructional videos for hatha, Iyengar, and other types. There are probably classes available where you live. YMCAs and health centers usually have them. Ask around, check online, or watch the bulletin boards at your church or health-food store.
You might be concerned about personal health issues such as diabetic foot pain (peripheral neuropathy), back pain, or heart disease. Yoga can help these conditions and can be modified to suit your needs, but you want to ask a potential instructor what they know about your particular problems.
Like any physical activity, yoga can potentially lower your blood sugar level. Whenever you do it, make sure you have glucose tabs handy, although they are rarely needed. Also check your sugar one or two hours after doing yoga to see how it affects you. You might want to eat a light snack before yoga to protect against going low, but keep it light. Too much food may interfere with doing the poses.
Kaplan-Meyer says not to rush things. That would go against the whole idea of yoga. Start your yoga program slowly and build up gently.
Yoga sources I like
I spent hours looking through yoga videos and websites. Here’s a couple that seem really good for starters.
This article from India gives ten basic yoga poses, with pictures. They’re mostly pretty simple. I am significantly disabled and could still do most of them.
Here’s the first one they give, simple breathing or pranayam:
• Sit on a yoga mat on the floor. Fold your legs so that one or both feet are on the other thigh in lotus pose, or sit cross-legged.
• Now straighten your back, keep your chin parallel to the floor, place your hands on your knees with your palms facing upwards, and close your eyes.
• Breath in deep and hold your breath for five counts. Exhale slowly. Repeat this process at least ten times.
• Once you are done, rub your palms together till they are warm, and place them on your eyes.
• Now slowly open them and smile.
Here’s a fun video of “7 small exercises” demonstrated by a long-bearded Indian guru named Rishi Swami Ramdev Ji Maharaj. They really are small, doable moves that feel good when I try them.
After 5,000 years, I think they’ve worked the bugs out of yoga. Give it a try.
I’m pleased to announce that my new e-book, The Inn by the Healing Path: Stories on the Road to Wellness, Book 1: Never Alone, is available now at all major e-book retailers, including Kindle and Smashwords. It includes healing stories of all kinds of people, including Diabetes Self-Management readers, with short discussion and self-help sections. Go to your favorite retailer or see more at www.TheInnbytheHealingPath.com. If you like the book, please tell your friends, share on social media, and maybe write a review.
Scott Coulter has learned some important lessons in his 22 years with Type 1 diabetes. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more.