If you live with diabetes, like I do, high blood sugar and how to lower it are one of the many challenges in life. Studies have shown that the practice of yoga can help.
I got interested in yoga when I was in high school. I loved the way it made me feel—relaxed, balanced, strong and flexible. After my diagnosis of type 1 diabetes at the age of 42, I changed my approach to my practice. Instead of pushing myself and having high expectation, I used the postures to calm my nervous system and help me deal with the shock of my diagnosis.
No time for my video? Click on this slideshow for photos and instructions of my 6 favorite postures.
Today, 10 years after my diagnosis, I rely on my yoga practice to keep me fit and maintain my sensitivity to insulin. No matter what type of diabetes you have one of yoga’s main benefits is to improve insulin sensitivity.
How Yoga Impacts Blood Glucose
Of course, so many factors impact blood sugar—time of day, the season, stress, the type and amount of food consumed, etc. In a yoga practice, the muscles contract isometrically burning glucose for fuel which helps to take the glucose out of the blood more efficiently and increasing the body’s ability to uptake the insulin you are either producing as a type 2 or injecting as a type 1.
You may notice your blood sugar lowering dramatically during a yoga session or just after. This might have more to do with your constitution then whether you have just injected insulin or are in a fasted state. Yoga is not one size fits all. It may take some experimenting to see how it affects your blood sugar management.
If you are a fiery type you may burn blood sugar fast. If that's the case and you have too much injected insulin in your body, you could have a low blood sugar because the muscles are working too efficiently.
There are a number of different styles of yoga and they type you practice (Yin, Ashtanga, Hatha, Kundalini, etc.) may make a difference to your levels. Practicing a gentle form of yoga may have very little impact on your blood glucose levels. A vigorous form, on the other hand, might initially increase. Answer the following questions to gain insight into the style/poses that are right for you and your blood sugar.
Avoid yoga styles that have a fast flow. Hatha or Yin yoga styles—where postures are held for longer periods—are better for you. Slow standing poses and holding forward bends will also work well for you. For you, less is more.
Look for a cooling practice that doesn't fire you up too much. Avoid fast or hot yoga styles and instead, try a style more focused on alignment and flow. Explore hip openers and twists to support your digestive organs. The cooler and calmer you are during your practice the less aggravated you’ll be throughout the day. Keeping stress in check means your levels will also be more manageable.
A fast, active practice may be best for you. Think Power Yoga or a class that promises a vigorous vinyasa flow. Postures that build body heat, like backbends and standing balancing poses, will invigorate and challenge you. You’ll also learn to work the muscles more efficiently, reduce insulin resistance and naturally lower your levels.
One of the most powerful benefits of yoga is its ability to mitigate stress. Living with diabetes means we have excess cortisol (the stress hormone) coursing through the system. We might be so used to the feeling of being stressed that we don’t even know what it feels like to be relaxed.
In a study published in Psycho-Neuro Endocrinology (November 2014) that compared the effect of restorative yoga vs. stretching on cortisol levels in individuals with metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance), there were “significant decreases in salivary cortisol, chronic stress severity, and stress perception in the stretching group compared to the restorative yoga group.”
Besides the benefits of better blood glucose levels and reduced stress, yoga packs a punch! Even just three sessions a week will help you sleep better, improve your digestion, promote weight loss, increase circulation, build strength and stamina, enhance your mood and bring more joy, openness, and happiness to your everyday experiences.