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Yoga for Diabetics

Got a touch of the sugar? That’s how some may describe living with Type 2 Diabetes. But for many, diabetes is not so sweet. It can be a very serious condition that significantly affects one’s livelihood. It often means careful monitoring of your diet, exercise, as well as regular insulin injections. Are there other ways to treat diabetes? Does yoga have an effect? It most certainly does. Let’s first take a look at what diabetes does then focus on how yoga can be an effective complimentary medicine to manage this condition….immediately! 

What is Type 2 Diabetes? 

This version of diabetes used to be called “adult-onset diabetes” because older people were more likely to develop this condition. Yet, things have significantly changes. With more sedentary lifestyles and higher processed food consumption, children and teens are not immune to Type 2 Diabetes mainly due to childhood obesity. What occurs in Type 2 Diabetes is that the body becomes resistant to insulin. Let’s explore this further. 

Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas that turns glucose (or sugar) from the food you eat into energy. Normally, this process is pretty fluid in a healthy individual. The sugars from your food (think carbohydrates) covert into what’s called glycogen and is stored in your body for immediate expenditure of energy. If you do not use up this storage tank of glycogen it changes again, this time converting to fat and stored in your fat cells for later use. Unfortunately, for the person that has diabetes, the pancreas produces the insulin just fine when glucose is detected in the bloodstream, but things go a bit haywire after that. The pancreas, it seems, get’s a little distracted and stops producing enough insulin to manage the flow of glucose that is entering the bloodstream. This isn’t ideal for the body. 

When there is too much sugar swimming around in your bloodstream for too long, it can lead to blood vessel damage. This is another not-so-ideal situation since the blood vessels are essential for carrying oxygen-rich blood to your major organs. High blood sugar can lead to other health conditions like weight gain, heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, and stroke.  

That is why it is crucial for someone living with Type 2 Diabetes to consistently monitor their blood sugar, insulin levels, and manage their diet. Otherwise, the outcome can be quite detrimental. Although this form of diabetes may be lifelong, it can be managed so one can live a healthy life. In addition to paying attention to blood sugar and insulin levels with medicinal treatments, other complimentary practices can be implemented. Watching your dietary intake, getting more exercise, reducing stress, and getting plenty of sleep are among those favorable practices. One exercise that can contribute substantially is yoga. 

What Does Yoga Do? 

As you may already know, yoga consists of moving the body through various postures and sequences to bring flexibility, strength, and a greater sense of awareness. Yoga can also be a meditative practice allowing your mind to calm down, enjoy a healthy escape, and simply relax. The overall practice of yoga provides a sense of balance throughout your entire system. Yoga means “union” and through the integration of asana (yoga postures), Pranayama (breath work), meditation, and other aspects of the yogic philosophy, one experiences that sense of union and balance. And if you didn’t know this about yoga, now you know. This ancient-turned-mainstream practice has many benefits ranging from the physical to the mental, emotional, and spiritual. But for the purposes of this article, let’s focus on how yoga can affect the body and mental state, particularly for someone who lives with Type 2 Diabetes. 

The Physical Benefits of Yoga 

One component of yoga is that it gets your body moving. Movement stimulates healthy oxygen and blood flow through your body to produce the desired goal of balance. Further, when the body is in motion, blood flow remains constant which is good for your blood vessels to keep them active and healthy. Efficient blood flow promotes the necessary exchange of nutrients and oxygen to your heart, liver, kidneys, and other vital organs. With a consistent moving yoga practice, that is, taking a class at least 3-times per week, it prevents blood stagnation and promotes the proper transfer of crucial hormones throughout your body. Of course, practicing regularly will also result in more obvious physical benefits like flexible hamstrings and reduced tension in your back. 

Young woman is practicing yoga at mountain lake

The Mental Benefits of Yoga 

Regardless of any health related issues, we ALL deal with some type of stress. For most anyone, stress can reek havoc on the body and mind if not kept in check, right? Whether it’s financial strain, a relationship heart-break, or a chronic health concern, stress has almost become a normal state of being. Stress produces another hormone in the body called cortisol; it is attributed to the all too familiar “fight or flight” response. (Who wouldn’t want to flee from money problems?) And like it or not, cortisol and insulin have some similar functions, some good and some not so good. 

Insulin and cortisol both have the job of metabolizing glucose in your bloodstream. Referring back to diet, when you ingest foods that are going to spike your insulin levels, like a candy bar or can of soda, you also automatically increase cortisol levels. One detriment of cortisol, especially if you’re trying to lose weight, is that it slows down metabolism, increases insulin, and triggers more fat storage. (That’s the not so good news.) When you factor in the notion of diabetes, cortisol and insulin do not make a healthy combination. If unmonitored, insulin levels increase with an unfavorable diet. This leads, as we now know, to too much glucose in the bloodstream. For a person living with diabetes, you don’t want that extra glucose hanging out in your bloodstream. Simultaneously, cortisol levels are rising, too. (You get the picture, right?) It is very important, therefore, to pay very close attention when taking care of your diabetes, that is why yoga is essential. 

More Reasons to Practice Yoga 

Adding yoga to your regimented routine increases self-awareness and reflection. Also, yoga calms you in a way that reduces distractions that interfere with making important decisions (like taking your medication or consciously eating a healthy meal.) Yoga provides a clarity that spurs a motivation and hopefulness. It stirs within your mind that taking care of yourself is worthwhile. Each time you make good decisions for yourself, it reinforces you to continue those actions. You’ll DESIRE to eat better, you’ll WANT to check your blood sugar. You’ll have the confidence to know that what you’re doing is paying off. Ultimately, you feel better. 

Type 2 Diabetes doesn’t have to be a condition that weighs you down; nor does it have to be a life situation that leaves you feeling helpless, resentful, or depressed. Yoga can turn that perspective around. With this added practice, your mood changes, your attitude shifts, and your health improves. 

What Can You Do? 

You really can’t go wrong when you’re deciding on what type of yoga practice. You just wanted to be sure that is physically safe, so be sure to consult with your doctor. Mainly, you want to find a routine that allows for movement and relaxation. Flowing from pose to pose keeps your blood flowing and heightens your metabolism. Taking time to relax and meditate will ease your stressed out mind. 

The Sun Salutation is an example of a flowing yoga sequence. It is a set of postures that, when practiced with a sense of energy and determination, results in proper production and transfer of oxygen, glucose, insulin, and cortisol. The Sun Salutation harmonizes the vital functions of the body and even enhances the health of one that may be experiencing pervasive health concerns like diabetes. There are many resources online that can direct you on how to perform the Sun Salutation. (That will be your homework after you finish this article.) Another mode of practice is meditation which is something you being doing immediately. 

Practicing yoga, especially Mindful Meditation, contributes to reducing stress. It has a balancing effect on your mood helping to reduce some symptoms of both anxiety and depression. Since stress also affects the diabetic, you want to find ways to lower that “fight or flight” response as much as possible. One way you can relax and meditate is to practice a simple yoga pose called Savasana. 

All you have to do is lie comfortably on your back on a yoga mat or on your bed. Stretch out your legs and allow your arms to rest by your side with your palms turned upward. Close your eyes and begin to focus on your breath. Pay attention to the steady flow of your breathing; notice each inhale and each exhale. As you’re breathing, allow your body to fully relax. Feel it melt into the floor or your mattress. Experience stress disappearing from your mind and body. To keep those distractions thoughts at bay, breathe a little slower and a little louder. This will help you stay focused on the breath and the relaxing component of the practice. Remain in this posture for at least five minutes (longer if you have the time.) Notice how you feel when you have completed this meditative practice. It is also very effective if you’re having trouble sleeping. Use this method to fall asleep at night. 

As you can see, yoga, with its plethora of benefits, can be applied to the care of chronic health issues like Type 2 Diabetes. Yoga is a reliable resource for adding physical exercise, helping you comply with your medication regimen, and even assist with staying dedicated to a healthy diet. Try some of these techniques and folks will be calling you “sweet” for a whole new reason. 

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