Yoga Therapy for Diabetes

Having diabetes is a full-time job. On top of everything else happening in your life, it is easy to become overwhelmed and experience diabetes burnout caused by stress. Stress often leads to increased blood sugar levels, so it is important to have a self-care tool set you can draw on when you get overwhelmed. Just as important as it is to take your insulin, it is equally important to make sure you are managing diabetes from a place of emotional well-being. The restorative yoga practice below is intended to give an introduction to essential oils, yoga and meditation and how they can be used as self-care tools in your daily life to help you de-stress.

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Being able to manage your diabetes starts with cultivating an empowered mindset. You have to believe you are in control of diabetes, not the other way around. Practices of self care strengthen your mental and emotional well-being, so you can address the physical demands of diabetes from a place of overall health. This practice will help you combat the unpleasant side effects of stress so you can return to your diabetes care with a renewed mindset. The Institute for Functional Medicine defines health as “a positive vitality…not merely the absence of disease.” I hope this yoga therapy sequence for diabetes inspires you to discover practices of self care that enhance your overall health and happiness.

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Essential oil

For this practice, you have the choice of a drop or two of either lavender or spearmint essential oil on a cotton pad. Keep the cotton pad nearby throughout practice.You can tuck it in your bra strap or shirt collar. Lavender can help calm the nervous system, leading you to a more relaxed state. Spearmint is cleansing, energizing and uplifting, which will help bring a sense of balance and well-being. It is also good for promoting digestion and can help calm an upset stomach, which high blood sugar sometimes causes.

Essential oils aid in the relaxation response by quickly signaling the brain and body to calm down. When you inhale the essential oil, the scent molecules move quickly to the brain, which stimulates the nervous system as well as the limbic system (the system in charge of emotions). According to Marylnn Wei, MD, JD, on PsychologyToday.com, “Essential oils…have been shown to interact biochemically the same way many anti-anxiety medications do on neuroreceptors.”

It is not necessary to use essential oils for this practice. Another option is to light a candle with one of your favorite scents, choose something that makes you feel good.

Yoga sequence

For this sequence, you will need a yoga mat or soft surface to practice on, three blankets, a pillow or yoga bolster and a chair. You will focus on coordinating movement to breath, then do some light exercise to take your mind off of whatever is causing you stress and get some endorphins flowing. Next you will slow down and settle into three restorative poses that you will stay in for at least five minutes each to give your body and mind a chance to relax completely. The practice will end with meditation.

Pond pose (tadagi mudra)

Lie down on your back. Place your heels and the balls of the feet together to touch and reach through your entire legs. Reach your arms overhead and extend them away from your belly. Bring your awareness to your belly and let the belly feel soft. Imagine that your belly is a pond, and each inhale and exhale is creating ripples on the surface of the pond. Pond pose helps to reduce stress, relax the mind and cultivate an awareness of the natural rhythm of your breath.

Corpse pose (savasana)

Lie down on your back with your arms resting by your sides palms facing up. Begin by squeezing your fingers and toes into fists and then spreading them. Do this six times without thinking about the breath, just squeezing and spreading. After the sixth time, start to coordinate the movement with breath. For the next eight rounds, scrunch your fingers and toes on the exhalation and spread them on the inhalation. This action of spreading a scrunching your fingers and toes helps bring the mind to the present moment by giving you an action to focus on as you breathe. Let go of any outside distractions and focus on the task at hand. This is also great for increasing circulation to the feet and prevent the feet from swelling.

Ab exercise

Lie down on your back and extend both legs out long. As you exhale, hug your left knee in toward your chest, interlacing your hands on the shin. As you inhale, reach the sole of your left foot up toward the ceiling, extending your leg and reaching your arms overhead. As you exhale, lower your left leg toward the floor until it is hovering about an inch above the floor. As you inhale place your leg down on the floor and arms by your sides resting in savasana. Extend your left leg out long. As you exhale, hug the right knee in and begin the sequence again, this time on the opposite side. Continue alternating between each side until you have completed 10 rounds for each leg.

Happy baby (ananda balasana)

Lying on your back, hug your knees into your belly, hooking the pointer and middle fingers around your big toes. Extend the soles of the feet up toward the ceiling and bend your knees down by each side of your waist/armpit. This pose stretches your groin and spine and helps relieve stress and fatigue that is often held in the hips. To get out of the pose, hug your knees into your chest, cross one ankle on top of the other, and start to rock forward and back on your spine. Keep the spine rounded the entire time so you can start to build momentum and roll up to sit in a cross-leg seated position.

Cat and cow

Come to all fours, with you knees below your hips and your wrists underneath your shoulders. Matching movement to breath, drop your belly down toward the floor with your chin and chest looking forward as you inhale. On your exhalation, your neck relaxes and spine rounds up toward the ceiling. Repeat for twelve rounds of breath, synchronizing each inhale and exhale with movement. Cat and cow stretches the muscles of the hips, back, abdomen and chest. Use each inhale and exhale to call your attention to the present moment and foster internal focus.

Down dog (adho mukha svanasana) with chair

Place a chair at the top of your yoga mat, with the seat of the chair facing toward you. Stand two feet away from the chair in mountain pose (base of big toes touching, heels apart, tailbone lengthened toward the floor, shoulder blades pressed toward each other and crown of the head balanced over the pelvis). Bend your knees and fold forward from the hips. Grip the edge of the seat of the chair with your hands. The base of your thumb should be on the chair with your fingers wrapping around the side of the seat. Walk your feet back toward the end of your yoga mat. Create an upside down V shape with your body in down dog. Notice if, with your hands on the chair, your shoulders and hamstrings feel a little more ease in this pose than in a regular down dog. To come out of the pose, walk your feet in toward the chair until you are in your easy forward fold with knees bent. Place your hand on your hips and stand up. Down dog strengthens your shoulders and arms and stretches your spine, hamstrings and calves.

Wide leg forward fold (upavista konasana)

Place a folded blanket on the seat of your chair and another on the mat in front of your chair. Sit on the edge of the blanket on the floor. Open your legs to a wide straddle. Cross your forearms on the edge of the seat of the chair and rest your forehead on your arms. Close your eyes and relax the muscles of your face. Find a spot where you feel you could stay in the pose for five minutes without effort. Upavista konasana releases the inner thighs and hamstrings, which tense up when we feel anxious or stressed.

Constructive rest with chair

Unfold a blanket and place it down on your mat. I like to use the blanket in this pose to create a more comfortable surface to rest on. Place a chair in front of you with the seat facing inward. Place a blanket on the seat of the chair. Lie on your back and place your calves on the seat of the chair. Make sure your heels are not lifting up. If your heels are lifting up, place a folded blanket beneath your hips. Constructive rest with the chair lets the muscles of your legs relax completely and release any tension you are holding in your calves and psoas (a deep core muscle of the hips). Stay here for at least five minutes. To come out of it, place your feet on the edge of the chair. Raise your right arm over your ear. Roll to the right side lying in a fetal position with your knees tucked into your chest and right arm under your ear as a pillow.

Supported child’s pose (balasana)

Fold a blanket and place it under your knees and shins. The front of your ankle should rest on the back edge of the blanket and your feet should off the blanket. Sitting on your heels with your toes together and knees apart, place a bolster in front of you between your legs. Lower your torso and head onto the bolster and hug the bolster with your arms. Your belly, chest and head should feel supported by the bolster. If there is any strain in your legs, place a folded blanket behind your knees between your calves and hamstrings. You can also place a blanket on the bolster underneath your torso to lift your torso up a little higher. Once the pose feels supported and comfortable, stay here for at least five minutes, release tension you are holding in your hips and spine. If your head is resting to one side, make sure you switch it half way through so you evenly stretch both sides of your neck.

Breath awareness meditation

Lie on your back in savasana. Place a blanket over your body to stay cozy and warm. Imagine you are resting in a hammock that is hugging you in. For the next few moments, you have nowhere to go, nothing to do. Repeat to yourself “As I breathe in I am aware of my inhale. As I breathe out I am aware of my exhale.” With your awareness focused on your breath, give yourself permission to relax. Take this time out of your busy day to just rest.

Want to learn more about yoga and diabetes? Read “Yoga for Diabetes,” “Get Moving With Yoga” and “Yoga: Uniting Mind, Body and Spirit.”

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