Yoga Therapy

Yoga for Diabetes

- Bina Desai, Fremont, CA

Diabetes is on the rise. Over 25 million children and adults in United States have diabetes, and over 8% of the 25 million are Asian Americans (American Diabetes Association).

There are two types of diabetes. Diabetes Type 1 occurs in younger people (age 5 to 35 years of age) and is characterized by little or no insulin in the body. Type 1 diabetics are dependent on insulin injections every day for their survival. The causes for this type of diabetes are heredity and autoimmunity. Diabetes Type 2 develops in adulthood. The causes can be heredity, obesity, sedentary life style, diet, and stress.

Diabetes is diagnosed by urine, blood and ketone tests. To be considered diabetic, a person’s blood sugar shows as 120 mg after fasting or 180 mg if the test is taken 2 hours after a meal. Common symptoms for both types include an increase in thirst, urination, and appetite, and feeling fatigued. Type 1 diabetics may experience nausea and vomiting. Type 2 diabetics may experience blurred vision, slow healing in infection, and impotence in men. 

How can yoga help?

In yogic language, human existence consists of five elements (koshas)—physical (annamaya kosha), life force or the subtle energy flow (pranamaya kosha), mental (manomaya kosha), intellectual (vijnanmaya kosha) and spiritual/bliss (anandmaya kosha).  Yoga prescribes a combination of practices for the body, breath, mind and intellect to address the imbalances in all these aspects of the human system – pancha koshas. Integrated Approach to Yoga Therapy consists of practices at all these layers of our personality.

Annamaya kosha: Loosening, postures, and “kriyas” (cleansing techniques): These practices of yoga activate, revitalize and tone the body. It also helps to improve physical and mental stamina. It helps improving blood flow to pancreas.

Pranamaya kosha: Pranayama-breath control and breathing practices help in calming the mind and slowing down the breath. Slowing down the breath helps regulate hormones and metabolism by giving deep rest to the body and regulating the overall autonomic nervous system – the balance between sympathetic and para sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and rest-and-digest.

Manomaya kosha: Meditation helps to increase internal awareness, and silence the mind and further healing the body.

Vijnanamaya kosha: Learning the philosophy of yoga helps our intellect to understand and deal with our own agitations, strong likes, dislikes and stress. Understanding that stress is not situation but it is a response to a demanding situation. Stress is the speed of mind. When this speed slows down, the mind becomes calm.

Anandamaya kosha: Once we work at all four levels–koshas, yoga takes us to our peaceful and blissful state of mind that is Anandamaya – spiritual kosha

Yoga for Diabetes

Yoga also helps us incorporate lifestyle changes more easily and naturally without force or compulsion. This way the changes are permanent and joyful. Awareness helps in knowing what we are eating and whether we are getting full.  For example, when we eat, it takes a while for us to figure out whether our stomachs are full.  By then we have already overeaten.  Increased awareness helps us catch the point of satiation early.

With yoga practices, the body becomes strong, and the mind becomes calm. Stress is reduced, body and mind experience deep relaxation, and healing happens.  The function of pancreas is to improve the fluctuation in blood sugar level and to decrease the insulin resistance. Even though Yoga seems to have an indirect effect and may take longer to take effect, benefits are lasting and there are no side effects unlike medications.

Diet tips for Diabetes Management

  • Keep a daily log of what you eat; keep healthy snacks handy so you don’t reach for junk food; eat regular small meals and healthy snacks in-between
  • Whenever you feel like eating stop and ‘talk’ to your body and see whether you are really hungry or is there some other reason for reaching for the food.
  • Awareness helps us catch the point of satiation early.
  • Include large portion of vegetables in every meal. Also eat protein.
  • Avoid saturated fats like animal fat and artificial ghee made in factory.
  • Avoid stale, processed, canned, and refined food