Can Yoga Help for Diabetes (with insights from a physician)

This post actually includes two posts: a physician's views on yoga and diabetes and a yoga instructor's views on yoga and diabetes.

Thank you so much to Chaitali Mukherjee, MD for offering her insights on this! YOGA and DIABETES (a physician's perspective)

Bio: Chaitali Mukherjee, MD, MPH is an Internal Medicine-Pediatrics physician practicing in Los Angeles. Her clinical philosophy is to provide compassionate, relationship-centered care with an emphasis on health promotion and well-being.

Diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn't make enough insulin or can't use its own insulin as well as it should causing sugar to build up in your blood. The CDC estimates 29.1 million people in the United States have diabetes. That’s about 1 out of every 11 people. 86 million people – more than 1 out of 3 adults - have prediabetes. Without weight loss and moderate physical activity, 15-30% of people with prediabetes will develop Type 2 diabetes within 5 years.

As a primary care physician, I am troubled by the increasing prevalence of diabetes which challenges and burdens both the individual and health care system. Diabetes can cause serious health complications including heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputations. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States and results in significant disability. Dietary modification, weight management and exercise are key lifestyle changes to prevent and treat diabetes successfully.

The 2015 American Diabetes Association guidelines recommend adults should exercise at a moderate level for at least 150 minutes each week spread over at least 3 days along with resistance training at least twice a week, unless otherwise instructed by their doctors for medical reasons. Also, all people with or without diabetes should reduce periods of inactivity (such as sitting at the computer or TV) throughout the day so that they spend no more than 90 minutes being sedentary.

Yoga therapy can optimize health outcomes by taking a holistic approach to care and aligning with patient values. Yoga involves slow rhythmic movements which can be performed even by ill, elderly or disabled individuals or those unwilling to participate in traditional exercise programs at the gym due to multiple physiological and psychosocial factors. Studies have demonstrated improvements in several risk indices including blood sugar control, cholesterol, body weight/composition, and blood pressure. Yoga may be useful in reducing need for medications and could help prevent and manage cardiovascular complications.

There are multiple collateral lifestyle benefits of yoga on diabetes. It can overcome motivational barriers with stress reduction and instilling a sense of discipline. Yogic practice is safe and easy to learn, inexpensive to maintain, and holds promise as an adjunctive therapeutic intervention for diabetes management.

Please talk to your healthcare provider before making any changes to your diabetes treatment plan.

YOGA and DIABETES (a Yoga Instructor's View)

I receive questions from people in my classes often about how yoga can help with (fill in the blank!). I thought it would be great to share some information here for anyone interested in what the benefits of yoga are for those with diabetes and a few yoga poses that may be helpful. Then I thought, how cool would it be if you were looking for this information and could get some other perspectives of helpful advice on ways to manage diabetes. So I asked some of my colleague to write a little bit too (her post is above).

Yoga is a fabulous accompaniment to western medicine and healthy eating. Some of the ways it can help you manage your diabetes are by increasing willpower and improving flexibility and strength, all of which can help with weight loss. Also, yoga has a stress reduction aspect to it as well. High levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol can raise blood sugar and lead to excess belly fat, so yoga can help to reduce the effects of these stress hormones. In turn, yoga has been known to help reduce blood sugar and blood pressure.

While everyone’s bodies are different, I can suggest a few yoga poses and techniques that could be a great start for you in your yoga journey.

Mindfulness Meditation or any guided visualization— check out mine located here and give it a try. Meditation is a great stress reliever and a simple way to start yoga without worrying about the movements right away. Start with just a few minutes and work your way up. To practice mindful meditation, find a comfortable position and close your eyes. Take a moment to breath in through the nose, and out through the nose. Focus on your breath. Silently say “in” to yourself on each inhalation and “out” on each exhalation. If you notice thoughts arising, notice those thoughts without judgement, almost like you are an outside observer. Return to your breath. While this sounds simple, it can be far more challenging than it seems which is why I suggest starting with just a few minutes. Over time, it becomes second nature and the stress relieving aspects of it can be found almost immediately upon finding your comfortable position.

Mountain Pose — Start standing tall. Place your feet about hip distance apart and evenly distribute the weight throughout all four corners of each foot. Relax your shoulders as your imagine a string from the top of your head up to the ceiling lifting you up. If you like you can close your eyes and take a deep, calming breath. Feel your feet firmly rooted and grounded as you stand tall. (pictured left)

Warrior 2 — Start standing tall. Extend your right leg out in front of you, left leg behind with your hips open to the side. Keep your right toes (front foot) facing in the direction that your body was originally facing and your left foot (back foot) perpendicular to the front foot, open in the same direction as your hips. Reach your arms towards the front and back. So if your back were up against a wall, your front foot would be parallel to the wall and your back foot would be at a 90 degree angle. Hips would open up facing away from the wall and the arms would reach with the wall right behind them. Take a few deep breaths. Come back to center and switch to the other side. (pictured right)

Side Angle Pose — Start in Warrior 2. Bring your front arm towards your front thigh and rest it there while your back arm reaches up towards the sky. Keep a steady and stable stance as you breathe. Return to center and switch to the other side. (pictured left)

Reverse Warrior — Start in Warrior 2. Reach your front arm forward and then reach it up to the sky. Allow your back hand to rest on your back leg gently. Without straining your neck, gaze to a neutral spot. Stay for a couple breaths and then move on to the other side. (pictured right)

Note that the three poses above can go from one to the next. So, you can start out in Warrior 2, move to Side Angle Pose, come back through Warrior 2 and move to Reverse Warrior. Back to center and over to the other side.

I wish you all the best on the start of your yoga journey! I’d love to hear the benefits that you experience! If you have any specific questions or want to share, please send me an email at

#doctor #yogabenefits #diabetes #beginneryoga #guestpost

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