Diabetes and Yoga

Yoga is becoming increasingly popular in the UK
Yoga is becoming increasingly popular in the UK

An increasing number of people with diabetes mellitus are turning to yoga in an effort to keep their condition under control and improve overall quality of life.

It is well known that regular practice of yoga can help reduce levels of stress, enhance mobility, lower blood pressure and improve overall wellbeing.

It is these benefits that many health experts believe can improve diabetes management and protect against other related medical conditions such as heart disease.

What is yoga?

Yoga is a series of mental, physical and spiritual disciplines that originated in ancient India over 5,000 years ago.

The practice of yoga helps to co-ordinate the breath, mind and body to promote relaxation, develop breath awareness and provide a sense of inner peace.

It involves various body postures and movements (known as asanas), breathing techniques and meditation, which are all designed to promote physical comfort and mental composure.

There are several forms of yoga, but in the west the most widely taught form is Hatha Yoga.

Benefits of yoga

Most, if not all, people who undergo regular yoga training experience improvements in their mental and physical health. [73]

These benefits can include:

  • Better sleep
  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Enhanced feelings of well-being
  • Relief from chronic illnesses
  • Improved digestion, circulation, and immunity
  • Improved posture, flexibility and strength
  • Enhanced concentration and energy levels
  • Enhanced function and efficiency of respiratory, neurological and endocrine organs

Benefits for people with diabetes

Yoga is considered to be a promising, cost-effective option in the treatment and prevention of diabetes, with data from several studies suggesting that yoga and other mind-body therapies can reduce stress-related hyperglycemia and have a positive effect on blood glucose control.

Controlling mental stress (stress management) is one of the keys of diabetes treatment. When we’re stressed, our blood sugar levels increase and elevated blood sugar levels increase the chances of serious complications such as heart disease.

Using controlled breathing techniques, meditation and body postures, yoga and other mindfulness-based programmes train participants to invoke a relaxation response.

This response helps regulate cortisol and other stress hormones, which increases blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Both play a big role in the development of type 2 diabetes and related complications.

Yoga can also treat diabetes, or in the case of type 2 diabetes, prevent the disease from developing by:

  • Rejuvenating pancreatic cells - Yoga postures that aid relaxation (asanas) stretch the pancreas, which can stimulate the production of insulin-producing beta cells. [73]
  • Exercising the muscles - Like other forms of exercise, yoga increases glucose uptake by muscular cells, which in turn, helps to lower blood sugar levels, improve circulation and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. [74]
  • Promoting weight loss - Exercising through yoga can reduce weight and improve weight control, both of which are essential for protecting against conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease, as well as diabetes management.
  • Improving your mental attitude - Regular yoga practice can help to focus the mind and create the right mental approach to dealing with diabetes. [75]

Whilst the benefits of yoga therapy have been demonstrated in several studies, it is not medically approved in the UK as a form of diabetes treatment. Before starting any yoga classes, you should consult with your doctor and diabetes healthcare team and continue with your conventional diabetes care plan.