Diabetes is a complex condition with a multitude of metabolic imbalances involving the regulation and utilization of insulin and glucose (sugar) in the body. Effecting over 18 million Americans, Diabetes is currently considered an epidemic disease that is largely preventable and treatable through diet, exercise and lifestyle changes. Yoga’s effectiveness at preventing and treating diabetes is due to its emphasis of a healthy diet and lifestyle as well as its ability to balance the endocrine system, massage and tone the abdominal organs, stimulate the nervous and circulatory systems, and reduce stress.
Exercise is a highly effective part of diabetes treatment because it increases insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar. Many studies have reported the beneficial effect of the practice of yoga on diabetes, confirming that the practice of postures can stimulate the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Yoga has also been proven helpful for weight management, blood sugar control, as well as lowering of the dosage of diabetic medications.
Several studies have identified some specific yoga poses for control of diabetes: Bow, Half Seated Twist, Seated Forward Fold, and Plow. Any pose that compresses the abdomen will help stimulate the pancreas, with prone (belly down) poses being the most effective. A complete list of yoga poses beneficial for diabetes can be found at: http://www.yogabasics.com/learn/yoga-poses-for-diabetes-type-ii.html
Stress has been shown to play an important role in diabetes by elevating blood glucose levels and increasing the odds of developing certain complications, such as heart disease, stroke and infections. And having a chronic disease that requires major lifestyle changes and constant monitoring can be very stressful in itself. Research now shows that chronically elevated levels of cortisol (hormone produced by the stress response) can lead to blood sugar problems, insulin resistance, and diabetes. Yoga and meditation are the two best practices to reduce stress and yoga has been shown to dramatically lower cortisol levels in the body. Forward bending poses have a calming effect on the body as well as nurturing poses like child, supine bound angle, knee down twist, and half pyramid. Practicing Dirga and Nadi Sodhana pranayamas will also be calming and stress reducing.
Diabetes has been linked to the western lifestyle, as it is rarely seen in cultures that consume a natural non-processed, non-refined diet. A yogic diet that is high in fiber, whole grains, legumes and vegetables is recommended to lose excess weight and stabilize blood sugar levels. With the synergetic combination of yoga, regular aerobic exercise and healthy diet diabetes can be controlled and quiet often reduced or even cured.
Yoga is not a substitute for conventional western medication or treatment; please consult your medical professional before starting a yoga practice. To avoid sudden drops in blood sugar levels it is important to eat 1-2 hours prior to practicing yoga, check your blood sugar levels after practicing yoga, and have food available for treatment of low blood sugar.