Yoga for Diabetics

Yoga is useful in managing your blood sugar levels

YogaIt is rightly said that understanding is the first step towards change. In order to follow the ways to attain good health, understanding is the first step.

Good health is acquired when one follows a healthy diet, regular exercise, positive thinking, unhurried pace of living, and a sublime faith in the Divine. Disease manifests in the body when Nature’s health laws are neglected.

Diabetes is a universally accepted psychosomatic and metabolic disease. Understanding what yoga can do to tone your body and keep diabetes under control is, therefore, of utmost importance.

Diabetes and its complications are best managed by managing yourself. It’s hard to dispute that most of us live life at breakneck speed. It’s the nature of a fast-paced society, where numerous family, social, and work obligations can easily overpower your precious time and resources.

For people with diabetes, both physical and emotional stress can take a great toll on health. When stress occurs, the body prepares to take action. This preparation is called the fight-or-flight response. In the fight-or-flight response, levels of many hormones shoot up. Their net effect is to make a lot of stored energy – glucose and fat – available to cells. These cells are then “primed” to help the body get away from danger.

In people who have diabetes, the fight-or-flight response does not work well. Insulin is not always able to let extra energy into the cells, so glucose builds up in the blood.

Physical stress, such as illness or injury, also causes higher blood glucose levels in people with diabetes. It is not only essential to control your blood glucose levels, but it is also important for you to prevent diabetic complications. Suitable lifestyle changes are very much necessary.

blankA diabetic can opt for any light exercise like walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, gardening etc., but they should desist from doing heavy, or tiring, exercises.

Yoga has proven and added benefits in the management of diabetes. Let’s see how yoga works in diabetic care and management.

Simple exercise effect

Contracting muscles use up a lot of sugar. This relieves much of the burden on the pancreas, which make insulin. Accumulated fat is also used up. Consequently, your weight decreases, which by itself may ameliorate most symptoms of diabetes. Yoga also effectively reduces stress and/or improves insulin action.


Asanas are not exercises in the strictest sense. When a person has been practicing asanas for some time the person can master it and then stability and comfort are experienced in the position. Due to various twists, stretches and strains that are practiced through asanas, the internal organs are stretched and subjected to strain.

This increases the blood and oxygen supply to the organs, and also the efficiency and functioning of the glands and other organs.

Asanas like dhanurasana [bow pose in prone position], ardhamatsyendrasana [half spinal twist], vajrasana, yoga mudra, pavan muktasana, sarvangasana, halasana, and matsyasana have been found useful in diabetes. These asanas have a positive effect on pancreas and also insulin secretion. But, to get this result, one needs to maintain the asana for a longer duration, while relaxing the muscles.

Surya namaskara

Sun salutation is a very good exercise for people suffering from diabetes. It increases the blood supply to various parts of body, improving insulin function in the body. It is essential that a person should sweat during the practice of this asana. In addition to this, the practice of pranayama and dhyana are also known to be just as useful for diabetics.

Kapalbhati pranayama

This helps control your mind and diabetes. It puts you in charge. It is the only technique used particularly for mind purification among all the yoga-cleansing exercises. The practice of kapalbhati with pranayama can help control diabetes. Though this form of cleansing breathing is a simple procedure, it is important for you to do it correctly under the guidance of a teacher.

Sit comfortably in any meditative posture, either cross-legged or in vajrasana, with your spine erect. Exhale through both nostrils, contracting the middle and lower abdomen portions. Release the contractions quickly, and follow with another forceful exhalations quickly. Inhale passively and effortlessly. Gradually, increase the frequency to about 100 strokes/minute. After the round, take a deep breath and gradually exhale.


This form of breathing helps the human body get rid of the toxins that have built up through stress and pollution. It gently helps to control diabetes, cough and colds, insomnia, chronic headaches and asthma.

Sit in a comfortable meditative pose keeping the head, neck and spine erect. Fold your index and middle finger of the right hand towards your palm. Your thumb should be placed on right nostril and ring finger and little finger should point towards your left nostril. Closing the right nostril with the thumb, inhale through the left nostril. Now, closing the left nostril with the ring finger and the little finger, exhale slowly through right nostril while taking away the thumb. After exhalation, inhale through the same nostril [right]. Now, closing the right nostril with thumb, exhale through left nostril [removing the ring finger and the little finger]. This completes Round One of anuloma-viloma. Take care to inhale and exhale slowly without making any sound. This exercise should be repeated 10 times.

Ujjayi pranayama

Ujjayi pranayama stretches the breath, and warms it before entering the lungs, and helps build “heat” in the body. Ujjayi is breathing slowly through your nostrils — count 4-5 heartbeats to take “in” air and about 4-5 heartbeats to breathe “out.” The air is taken into the back of the throat with a constriction of the muscles, resulting in a hissing sound — an oceanic sound. As the throat passage is narrowed the speed of the air passing through is increased. This makes the breath long and thin. This pranayama clears the nasal passage and helps the thyroid gland to function smoothly. It also eases respiratory disorders. People suffering from high blood pressure should, however, not practice Ujjayi.

Cleansing processes

Shankha prakshalana or super or master cleansing is generally recommended for diabetics. But, it should never be done without the supervision of an expert just like any other technique, described in this article. This process cleanses the gastro-intestinal tract completely. The cleansing process involves drinking two glasses of warm, salty water with lemon juice added to it. This exercise, under the guidance of an expert, will help speed up the peristaltic movements one needs to evacuate the bowels.

Meditation with medication

The practice of meditation is especially useful in the management of stress. Relaxed and concentrated state of mind is the aim of any form of meditation. This creates a calming effect on the nervous system, and brings balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Initially, meditation may be difficult. One can practice Omkar chanting, concentrating on breathing, or do ajapa japa with or without deep relaxing techniques, like yoga nidra, to get initiated into the meditative practice, slowly.

How meditation helps

    • Increased alertness and clarity of mind
    • Controls stress and blood sugar levels
    • Increased intelligence
    • Decreased incidence of diseases
    • Reduced health cost, improved social behaviour
    • Reduced family problems, improved reaction time, improved perception memory, less need for hospitalisation
    • Reduced anxiety, reduced alcohol problems
    • Broader comprehension and improved ability to focus
    • More rapid recovery from stress
    • Significant reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure; decrease in free fatty acids and increased HDL [“good”] cholesterol

It is, however, recommended that to derive the best benefits from the practice of yoga, one needs to seek the guidance of an expert who also knows the pros and cons of diabetes and its hidden dangers.

Things To Do

  1. The diabetic must know how to recognise the signs of hypoglycaemia. Generally, the diabetic can prevent hypoglycaemia by:
    • Measuring more frequently his or her level of blood glucose during the first phase of exercise
    • Diminish his or her dosage of insulin [by one or two units or according to the recommendations of their doctor] or increase the consumption of glucides [by 10-15 gm per half hour of exercise] before beginning to exercise
    • Inject insulin in a zone of the body which is not affected much by the exercise, for example, the abdomen
    • Avoid exercise during the period when insulin levels are highest, that is during the hour following a meal
    • Consume drinks rich in glucides, before and during all prolonged physical activities.
  2. It is important to take good care of the feet and wear comfortable shoes
  3. Physical activities like bicycling and swimming are particularly indicated because they involve much less orthopaedic risks
  4. The frequency of exercise sessions should be between five and seven times per week. For Type-1 diabetics, daily physical activity will permit one to adopt a regular diet and regular insulin dosage. For Type-2 diabetics, physical activity practised at least five times per week will permit the maximum expenditure of calories and the control of body weight
  5. The duration of the sessions should be between 20-30 minutes for Type-1 diabetics and from 40-60 minutes for Type-2 diabetics
  6. Patients who suffer advanced retinopathy should avoid activities where there are repetitive shocks [such as running and jump rope] or where there are significant increases in arterial tension. Swimming is especially recommended.
Shantala Priyadarshini
Shantala Priyadarshini, MS [Ayurveda], is an academician-researcher. Her areas of special interest are: chronic degenerative eye conditions, compromised states of immunity, cancer and auto-immune disorders. She lives in Mysore.



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