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Diabetes and Yoga – Mind Body Integration™

Lisa Carchedi, MD, MS C-IAYT

Congratulations on taking a positive step toward better management of your diabetes by doing yoga!

Diabetes mellitus is a disorder characterized by high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) caused by deficient insulin secretion, action, or both. Hyperglycemia alerts the pancreas to release insulin which acts as a type of “key” to allow glucose to enter the cells. Without insulin, glucose remains in the blood stream causing hyperglycemia. Long-term effects of this cause “end-organ” damage due to the small blood vessels in those areas. For example, chronic hyperglycemia can lead to blindness, kidney failure, neuropathy (tingling and burning sensation), poor wound healing, and decreased sexual functioning. Therefore, the number one priority if you have diabetes is to control your blood sugar (maintain glycemic control). This is usually done by a combination of medications, diet, and exercise.

Most people suffering from diabetes have “insulin resistance” and are therefore Type 2 diabetics. The pancreas gets tired of producing insulin to help metabolize the high carbohydrate diets a lot of Americans eat nowadays. This type of diabetes is usually associated with being overweight and can be comorbid with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Another cause of hyperglycemia and subsequent insulin resistance, however, is being under chronic stress. If suffering from chronic stress, you are “in survival mode.” Being in a “fight or flight” (sympathetic drive) mode causes your blood glucose to rise, since the brain needs this to survive.

Besides controlling your blood sugar, it is important to lower the sympathetic drive caused by chronic stress. Sympathetic drive causes an increased heart and respiratory rate. Parasympathetic drive (“rest and digest”) promotes calmness. The American Diabetes Association recommends regular strength and aerobic fitness training. However, they also promote yoga for flexibility and balance training.[1] As well, a regular yoga practice can improve your glycemic control, subjective quality of life and cognitive performance.[2] Yoga can also improve your mood and concentration.[3] By incorporating postures (asanas) and breathing (pranayama) techniques, you will not only feel physically better, you will be taking steps toward improving your overall health. Did you know that with as little as 5 minutes per day of Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) for one month, you could have a decreased resting heart rate, indicating a lower sympathetic drive.[4]

Nadi Shodhana (Alternate nostril breathing)

Exhale through both nostrils. Place the right thumb gently to cover the right nostril and inhale slowly through the left. Release the right thumb, and use the fourth and fifth fingers to gently cover the left nostril while exhaling slowly through the right. Slowly inhale through the right, release the fourth and fifth fingers, and cover the right nostril again with your right thumb. Exhale slowly through the left. This is one round of Nadi Shodhana.

You may curl your third and fourth fingers in or place them on your forehead in between the eyebrows. Eyes may be partially open looking at the tip of the nose, or closed.

Attempt to practice around five to ten rounds every day for at least one month. This is a very ‘balancing’ breathing practice. Breathing only through the right nostril is activating. Breathing only through the left nostril is more relaxing. Therefore, before bed, you may want to do left nostril breathing.

Resource List

http://www.yoganidranetwork.org/  –Free downloads of yoga nidras in many languages

https://www.irest.us/  –iRest yoga nidra

http://www.diabetes.org/  –Official site for American Diabetes Association


[1] http://www.diabetes.org/

[2] Chimkode, SM, Kumaran, SD, Kanhere, VV, Shivanna R. (2015). Effect of yoga on blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Journal Clin Diagn Res, Apr 9(4), CC01-3.

[3] Satish, L, Lakshmi, VS. (2016). Impact of individualized yoga therapy on perceived quality of life, performance on cognitive tasks and depression among type II diabetic patients. Int Journal of Yoga, Jul-Dec; 9(2): 130-6.

[4] Bhavanani, A. B., Ramanathan, M., Balaji, R., & Pushpa, D. (2014). Differential effects of uninostril and alternate nostril pranayamas on cardiovascular parameters and reaction time. International Journal of Yoga, 7(1), 60–65. http://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.123489

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