strengthening

Exercise meets meditation

Looking for a sport that’s relaxing and good for you? Yoga is not only a fantastic form of strengthening exercise, it’s also great for calming the mind – something most diabetics need! Here are some simple poses to try at home.

As a diabetic, the one thing you’re told over and over is that exercise is good for you. And it is! But sometimes exercise feels a bit too much like hard work. Now that the weather is colder it’s hard to get out for a walk or a run, and gym is not for everyone. That doesn’t mean you can sit back and wait for the weather to warm up, though! Yoga has just the right mix of strengthening, balancing and heart-racing poses, and you should take a few quiet minutes to lie down at the end of each class. Yes, that’s right! Exercise that makes you lie down!

There are specific reasons why yoga is good for people with diabetes, too. Yoga teacher Tasha Saha explains: “As well as better fitness and cardiovascular (heart and vein) health, yoga massages and increases the function of the internal organs, balances the endocrine system and has great effects on the release of stress hormones,” she says. “All of these are factors that affect blood sugar, so it’s no surprise that a number of big studies have shown that regular yoga can reduce blood sugar levels.” Another part of yoga that sets it apart from other exercise is that it increases body awareness – understanding how your body feels – which makes it easier to stay at a healthy weight and to make better food choices.

But which yoga to choose? In general, hot yoga (Bikram) and flow yoga (Ashtanga) are more difficult, so it’s better to begin with a slower practice like Hatha or Iyengar. Some poses (especially those that are active in the belly and lower back) are particularly good for diabetics because they target the pancreas, which can help to lower blood sugar levels. “But a balanced yoga session will work on every system in the body,” says Tasha, “as well as the mind and emotions too – lowering stress levels and helping you towards balance.” As every diabetic knows, balance is the magic word!

Here are a few yoga poses to try at home – these are very good for lowering blood sugar. If you can’t get to the full pose, go as far as you can. As you become more flexible, you will be able to stretch more. If something is sore, stop! Yoga should never be painful.

Seated twisting poses and forward bends

These stimulate the digestive organs and help the insulin work better in the system.

Seated forward bend

First: Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you. Flex your feet and press down through your heels. Place your hands on the floor next to your hips and sit up straight, opening your chest.

Then: Take a deep breath in, and without curving your back, lean forward from the hips, not the waist. Either hold on to your feet or use a strap around the soles of your feet. Make sure your elbows are straight, not bent. Be careful not to pull yourself down – you want to lengthen the spine, not force it. Keep your head raised and aim to get your belly touching your thighs, and then your ribs. This might take a few months!

Finally: When you’re ready to come up, lift the body away from the thighs, take a deep breath in and slowly straighten up. Stay in this pose for: 1 to 3 minutes.

Half Lord of the fishes

First: Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Slide your left foot under your right leg to the outside of your right hip, with your left leg on the floor. Step your right foot over your left leg and place it on the floor outside your left hip. The right knee will point up to the ceiling.

Then: Exhale and twist your body towards the inside of your right thigh. Press your right hand against the floor behind you, and your left upper arm on the outside of your right thigh near the knee. Stay in this position, breathing deeply, then exhale and release.

Finally: Return to the position you started with, and repeat on the other side for the same length of time.

Stay in this pose for: 30 seconds to 1 minute. 

Standing poses and flow poses

Any pose where you have to stand or flow from one pose to another is excellent for the blood and heart systems.

Warrior

First: Stand up straight, with your feet together and your hands at your side. Breathe out, and step your feet apart, as wide as you can while still feeling balanced. Turn your left foot in 45 degrees, and your right foot out 90 degrees. Make sure the right heel and the left heel are in line with each other.

Then: Breathe out, and rotate your body till you are facing over the front foot. Raise your arms over your head, and reach towards the ceiling. Drop your shoulders and arch your upper back a little. With your back heel firmly pressing into the floor, breathe out and bend your front knee over your front ankle.

Finally: Reach through your arms and, if possible, bring the palms together. Keep your head looking forward or looking up at your thumbs.

Stay in this pose for: 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Poses which ground the body

These help to refresh the pancreas, liver and other abdominal organs.

Locust

First: Lie on your belly with your arms on either side, palms facing up, and your forehead resting on the floor. Turn your big toes towards each other and clench your butt.

Then: Exhale and lift your head, upper body, arms, and legs off the floor (this may take some practice!) Firm your butt and strengthen your legs. Raise your arms and stretch back through your fingers. Look ahead, but be careful not to stick your chin out. Keep the back of your neck long.

Finally: Breathe out and release. Take a few breaths and repeat (if you want to!)

Stay in this pose for: 30 seconds to 1 minute. 

Poses where the feet are higher than the head.

These direct the flow of blood towards the pancreas and relieve pressure in the feet.

Legs-up-the-wall

First: Lie with your back on the floor, in as straight a line as possible, with your legs up against the wall in a 90 degree angle (your body should form half of a square). Rest your shoulders on the floor and allow a small gap between your hips and the wall.

Then: Rest in this pose.

Finally: When you’re ready to come out of it, turn to the side for a few breaths and then come up into a sitting position.

Stay in this pose for: 5 to 15 minutes.

Want to give it a try? Many yoga studios offer free classes to beginners. Most gyms also offer yoga classes at a fraction of the price of private classes.

“Remember that everyone is different, so the range you will be able to work into will be different in each pose. It’s a good idea to start with a one-on-one yoga session so that you learn how your joints and muscles work within a safe range of motion. That way, you’ll be in control of the intensity and can adjust it for your fitness levels.”

– Sarah Hall, Biokineticist