Living with diabetes isn’t always easy. If balancing your daily routine – managing your sugar levels, staying physically active, and watching what you eat – is getting to you, yoga may be able to offer you some relief. Certain asanas can relax you and even give you a fresh wave of energy. Others can massage your abdominal region from the inside, helping your digestive system to operate better. This is why yoga has earned a great reputation as a workout that can help with blood sugar control, muscle strengthening, relaxation, and much more.1 Prediabetics stand to gain, too, as yoga can count toward physical activity that could help you lose weight and cut the risk of type 2 diabetes.2 Here’s why yoga could be the right way to go.
Improve Your Glucose Tolerance, Insulin Sensitivity, And Risk Profile With Yoga
Yoga has more to offer than just physical exercise for diabetics.
- It could reduce your risk of cardiovascular complications and improve your overall risk profile for diabetes.
- Practicing yoga is known to help boost insulin sensitivity and has a positive impact on glucose tolerance.
- The ancient exercise form has a beneficial effect on your lipid profile, blood pressure levels, and pulmonary function.
- It can even be another defense against oxidative stress, which is responsible for a lot of diabetes-related complications like neuropathy, microvascular issues, and atherosclerosis.3 Oxidative stress also plays a role in the development of insulin resistance and β-cell dysfunction.4
Don’t trade in your diabetes medication for yoga lessons just yet. Yoga must be an add-on to your lifestyle rather than a substitute for your treatment. Its health benefits for prediabetes and diabetes are widely accepted, but more studies are needed to determine if you could use yoga in lieu of other treatment.
Certain yoga asanas or poses can help those with diabetes manage their problem better. For instance, in one study, adults with diabetes or prediabetes aged between 30 and 60 years underwent a 40-day yoga regimen. The treatment helped bring down their postprandial as well as fasting serum glucose levels.5 Their yoga routine includes the surya namaskar and asanas like the dhanurasana, shavasana, paschimottanasana, and ardha matsyendrasana. They also practiced nadi shodhan and kapalbhati pranayama.
Regular daily practice of the yoga asanas detailed here may help you control diabetes and the associated risk levels. Remember to master these asanas under a trained yoga practitioner before you attempt them on your own.
Paschimottanasana Or Seated Forward Bend
This pose is a forward bend, good to battle stress and calm the mind. It also stimulates digestion, liver and kidney function, and reduces obesity. Don’t push yourself too far with this pose. It may initially seem like you’re doing little more than sitting upright, but this will improve once the tightness at the back of your legs eases with time.6
- Sit on the ground on a mat or folded blanket to support the buttocks, with your legs extended in front. Rock on each buttock by turn, pulling away from the other sitting bone as you do so.
- The tops of your thighs must be turned in ever so slightly and pressed into the floor. Also, press your palms and fingertips into the floor and raise your sternum up to the ceiling.
- Breathe in as you lean forward from your hip, arms fully extended, elbows straight, hands on the sides of your feet, and your thumbs resting on your soles. Do not lean from your waist. Feel your tailbone lengthen. If you cannot reach your feet with the hands, use a strap looped around the feet and hold this instead.
- Gently ease into the forward bend, lengthening your torso and keeping the head raised. Your elbows must bend out to your sides and lift off the floor. If you’re holding a strap, loosen your hold, move your hands forward, and keep your arms long when you do this. Feel your lower belly graze your thighs, followed by your upper belly and then your ribs. Your head will touch your thighs last.
- Allow your front torso to rise and lengthen a little each time you breathe in. When you exhale, release more into the forward bend. Repeat this for 1 to 3 minutes. To exit the pose, lift your torso from your thighs gently, and straighten your elbows. Breathe in as you raise your torso up, pulling your tailbone into the pelvis.
Ardha Matsyendrasana Or Sitting Half Spinal Twist
Open up the chest, strengthen the spine, and improve oxygen supply with this pose which also helps improve kidney and liver function and stimulates digestion.7 Traditional medicine sees this asana as a means to fight most deadly diseases.8
- Sit upright with your legs in front of you, ensuring your spine is straight and feet together.
- Bend your left leg and bring the heel to your right hip. Next, bring your right leg over your left knee.
- Put your left hand on your right knee and the right hand behind.
- Now, twist to your right from your waist, then your shoulders and finally the neck, exhaling. Gaze over your right shoulder. Hold this pose, taking care that your spine stays erect.
- Remain in those pose for 30 seconds to a minute, taking gentle but long breaths.
- Exhale and release your right hand, then your waist, followed by your chest and neck to return to a relaxed straight position.
- Repeat this sequence on the other side.
Dhanurasana Or Bow Pose
Dhanurasana is an energizing and dynamic pose that helps improve the efficiency of your digestive system from the stomach to the intestines and liver. It even stimulates adrenal and kidney function. The bow pose also energizes the mind and is a good exercise to strengthen the back, buttock, and legs.9
- Lie down on your belly, arms by the sides and feet hip-distance apart. Next, fold your knees and reach back with your hands to grasp your ankles.
- Inhale as you raise your chest off the floor and feel your legs pull back and up. Keep your gaze relaxed and forward. Stabilize your body and focus on breathing. Your body should be curved in a perfect arch like a bow. Remember not to push your body so hard that the stretch hurts. If reaching your ankles is hard, use a strap around your ankles and hold the loose ends in front of your ankles, ensuring your arms are fully extended.
- Try and relax as you breathe in and out. Take long and deep breaths. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds before releasing, exhaling to bring your legs and chest back to the ground, finally releasing your grip from the ankles.
Supta Matsyendrasana Or Lying-Down Body Twist
This reclined spinal twist can help massage your internal organs and aid digestion. Because it puts pressure on the abdominal organs, it is especially useful for diabetics.10
- Lie down on your back with knees bent, arms by your sides, and feet flat on the ground.
- Exhale, bringing your knees to your chest and clasp them with your hands. Now extend your left leg to the ground, your right knee still clutched close to the chest. Extend your right arm out at shoulder height above the ground, palm downward.
- Let your hips move a little to the right. Put your left hand on the outside of the right knee.
- Breathe out as you drop the right knee onto the left side of your body. Your left hand must stay on your right knee.
- Face your head to the right, allowing your gaze to lightly fall on the fingertips of your right hand. Your shoulder blades must be pressed into the ground.
- Allow your knee to fall a little further down in the direction of the ground. You should feel your right toes grazing the ground. Let your foot rest in this place. Hold.
- Inhale returning to the central position and knees held to the chest. Breathe out and stretch your right leg out and repeat the sequence on this side.
Shavasana Or Corpse Pose
This restorative pose is aimed at relaxation and rest. It is typically done at the end of a yoga session. It is a deeply meditative state that can ease stress and blood pressure.11
- Lie down on your back, flat on a mat or the ground, arms by your sides, eyes closed. Your legs must be a little apart, so that you are completely comfortable and toes face a little outwards. Allow your knees and feet to relax fully.
- Your arms should be by the sides and a little away from your torso. Your palms must face up and be open.
- Focus your attention on one part of the body at a time and use this to relax your body from head to toe. Start with your right foot, then the right knee, the other leg, then the torso until you reach your head.
- Inhale slowly, deeply and gently. Feel your breath relax you further and further. As you inhale, feel the breath energize you. As you exhale, feel yourself relax. Do this for 10 to 20 minutes until you are completely relaxed – but not asleep!
- To exit the pose, roll to your right side with your eyes still closed. Be this way for a minute. Then, using your right hand to push yourself up, move to a seated position. Let your eyes remain closed. Breathe in and out a few times in this pose before you open your eyes.
Kapal Bhati Or Skull Shining Breathing
In addition to the yoga asanas you’ve just picked up, you should also consider learning the proper method for yogic breathing or pranayama. One in particular, the kapal bhati or skull shining breathing technique is of particular benefit if you’re diabetic.12 It helps rejuvenate the brain, boosts circulation (which can be an issue for diabetics), and energizes the body. It is also a great choice for diabetics because it helps stimulate the abdominal organs.13 Follow these steps to do the pranayama.14
- Sit down cross-legged with your spine erect. Put your hands on your knees, palms facing up.
- Inhale deeply.
- Exhale, pulling in your stomach so you feel your navel drawn to the spine. Go as far as is comfortable. Place your right hand on your belly to feel the contraction of the abdominal muscles. This helps especially when you are first doing this breathing.
- Relax your navel and abdomen, letting the breath flow to your lungs on its own.
- Repeat this about 20 times. This counts as one round of the pranayama.
- End every round by closing your eyes and relaxing. Pay attention to every sensation in your body. Then repeat the method for two more rounds.
Charn Jap Or Yogic Walking
Some yoga experts also highlight the importance of rhythmic movement for diabetics to aid metabolism. Charn jap or yogic walking is one such method. It requires you to also focus on your breathing and can help those with carbohydrate metabolism issues.15 The term “charn jap” literally means to repeat feet. Considered a form of very powerful meditation, it is rhythmic and organic, something that each of us is capable of doing. Here’s how you can do it too.
- Walk at a brisk but comfortable pace, swinging your arms by your sides.
- As you take a step, chant the word “Har” either mentally, in a whisper, or out loud. The word alludes to the green energy of God and creative force.
- Get into a rhythm where you say the word as you walk. It should soon settle into a comfortable flow.
- Keep your mind on the mantra and let any intervening thoughts come and go without forcing them out. Don’t dwell on these thoughts.
|↑1||Be More Active Throughout the Day. American Diabetes Association.|
|↑2||Diabetes Latest. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑3||Innes, Kim E., and Heather K. Vincent. “The influence of yoga-based programs on risk profiles in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 4, no. 4 (2007): 469-486.|
|↑4||Hegde, Shreelaxmi V., Prabha Adhikari, Shashidhar Kotian, Veena J. Pinto, Sydney D’Souza, and Vivian D’Souza. “Effect of 3-month yoga on oxidative stress in type 2 diabetes with or without complications.” Diabetes care 34, no. 10 (2011): 2208-2210.|
|↑5, ↑12||Kumar, Kamakhya. “A study on the effect of yogic intervention on serum glucose level on diabetics.” International Journal of Yoga & Allied Sciences 1 (2012): 68-72.|
|↑6||McCall, Timothy. Yoga as medicine: The yogic prescription for health and healing. Bantam, 2007.|
|↑7||Thakur, Bharat. Yoga For Diabetes Relief. SCB Distributors, 2011.|
|↑8||Ardha Matsyendrasana – Sitting Half Spinal Twist. The Art of Living.|
|↑9||Krucoff, Carol. Posture Perfecter. Yoga Journal 2009.|
|↑10, ↑13||Yoga Poses to Control Diabetes. The Art of Living.|
|↑11||Savasana – Corpse Pose. The Art of Living.|
|↑14||Kapalbhati Pranayama – Skull Shining Breathing Technique. The Art of Living.|
|↑15||Stukin, Stacie. Dealing with Diabetes. Yoga Journal, Sep-Oct 2001.|