4 Easy Yoga Poses that Deliver Proven Rewards for Diabetes

While jumping rope last week, I was breathing hard, sweating, and dreaming of cheesy lasagna for dinner. My mom walked by and said, “It seems like your top half and your bottom half aren’t working together.” It’s a well-known fact in my family that I’m highly uncoordinated, which is why I thought I’d never be able to manage yoga, but now I love it. And if I can do it, you can too.

What are the blood sugar-lowering benefits of yoga for diabetes?

In one meta-analysis, (a study that looks at numerous other studies), over 800 people with diabetes were reviewed.  Some had a regular yoga practice, and others didn’t.  Researchers found that people with type 2 diabetes who practiced yoga regularly had a fasting blood sugar that was an average of 24 points lower.  The yogis also had lower A1c’s by half a point.

Effects of yoga on cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes

Additionally, the people with type 2 diabetes who practiced yoga had lower post-meal blood sugars, lower total cholesterol, lower LDL (“bad” cholesterol), and higher HDL (“good” cholesterol).  To sum it up, yoga made a big impact on the health of people with type 2 diabetes.

What are the emotional and mental benefits of yoga?

For thousands of years, people have been practicing yoga.  In addition to the physical effects we’ve already noted, yoga causes a sense of relaxation and calm.  When you’re trying to balance on one foot in a “tree” position, it’s hard to think about anything else.  It’s virtually impossible to think of stressful thoughts and focus on your breathing, posture, and yoga pose all at the same time.

So, just for the few minutes that you’re practicing yoga, your mind and body are able to let go and relax.  Because of this, people who regularly practice yoga report a sense of accomplishment, improved sleep, relaxation, and decreased emotional stress.

I’m willing to try yoga for diabetes, but I’m a beginner.  Where should I start?

First, know that there are several different types of yoga.  For a complete run-down of all the different types, take a look at this site.  If you’re a beginner who wants to try yoga for diabetes, I recommend you choose one of these yoga styles:

  • Iyengar:  this type of yoga comes with lots of instruction, and uses multiple “props”, such as blocks, chairs, etc. so it can accommodate people with special needs

  • Hatha:  a mix of poses, breathing exercises, and meditation

  • Yin:  slow-paced stretching

  • Restorative:  for relaxation and sleep

 4 poses to try if you’re a beginner at yoga for diabetes

Don’t worry, you can do this — I’ve picked out three poses for you to try even if you’ve never done yoga before.  One might be a little more challenging than the other, depending on your body, but then again, maybe you’re more flexible than you think!  Here they are:

  1. Half-lotus:  Sit cross-legged and try to stack one leg on top of the other.  If you can’t, that’s OK.  Maintain a tall spine and slide praying hands up as far as you can.  Focus on your breath.

    (For an even easier version, try Bound Ankle pose:  place the soles of your feet together while you sit on the floor.  Keep a tall spine, and focus on your breath.)

  2. Tree:  Balance on one foot. Place the other foot on your ankle, calf, or thigh. Bring praying hands up as high as you can. Focus on your breath.

  3. Seated Twist: Sit with one leg extended. Cross the other leg over your extended thigh. Twist from the base of your spine towards your bent thigh and then behind you. Use the arm on the same side as your extended leg to press for leverage if you need to.

  4. Down Dog: Get on the floor on your hands and knees.(It helps to have a soft yoga mat.)Make sure your hands are under your shoulders, and your knees are under your hips. Push up into a “V”, aiming your tailbone to the sky, and using equal pressure between your hand and feet.

Got all that?  Don’t give up yet!.  Here’s an illustration that I think might help:

yoga for beginners with diabetes

Want a great little book that walks you through a gentle morning yoga routine?  Try A Morning Cup of Yoga*

If you’ve never tried yoga before, it may seem intimidating.  But, as Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

When you hear the word yoga, you don’t have to imagine contorting yourself into pretzel-style twists in a room full of flexible twenty-somethings.  There’s good evidence that yoga for diabetes can make a very positive impact on blood sugar levels, and you don’t have to be able to stand on your head to get the benefits.  Give it a try and let me know what you think!

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Julie Cunningham is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist. She believes food is the foundation of good health, and that our culture of obsession about body size is damaging to health, happiness, and productivity in far too many people. When not talking or writing about food and health, she can be found in the the mountains of western NC, where she lives with her family and four legged friends.

Julie Cunningham

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