Yoga is The Perfect Workout for Diabetes

My passion for Yoga started in my teens.  While everyone else was signing up for track I was in the gym breathing and stretching and gazing at my navel.  I’m not quite sure why yoga caught my attention but I am absolutely glad it did.  Eight years ago I was diagnosed with type 1 LADA diabetes, almost 22 years into my life as a yoga practitioner and teacher.  The diagnosis floored me.

Before my diagnosis I taught and shared yoga worldwide and was adamant that yoga had the potential to cure any disease.

After my diagnosis?  A cure was questionable at best.

Yoga has many benefits to support anyone living with chronic disease, but nothing can replace a life saving medication like Insulin, especially if you live with type 1 diabetes.

In spite of my diagnosis, I didn’t give up on yoga.  I truly believe yoga saved my life. Yoga not only works on the physical body to increase our strength and stamina it also supports us to let go of accumulated stress and tension.  This is crucial when managing our health.  How many times have you noticed your own moods shift and change with unpredictable blood sugars?

SO WHY IS YOGA SO BENEFICIAL?  It is a physical activity.

Findings suggest that when you participate in regular physical activity blood glucose control improves and type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed.  More specifically, Yoga, due to  the engagement of the musculo-skeletal system, hugging muscles to bones and moving isometrically, improves Insulin resistance which in turn enables those of us with either type of diabetes to uptake the insulin more efficiently.


The autonomic nervous system governs automatic functions in the body like heart rate, breathing, digestion etc.  Reducing stress is key because due to mental and emotional stress around unpredictable lows and highs, we spend way more time in the fight or flight response.  A human being is designed to spend about 80% of the time in the relaxed nervous system and 20% in the fight or flight response, but that’s not what happens with diabetes.  Every incident in managing the disease increases stress so our time spent in the fight or flight mode is more like 80% while the relaxed part gets the 20%.


Regular physical exercise has been known to improve anyone’s health and wellbeing and to keep the body weight at its optimum.  But what about Yoga exercises?  According to a study held in India which recruited people not only with type 2 diabetes but with a family history of type 2 for an 8-week program.  The results indicated that yoga is a feasible intervention strategy and may help reduce weight, BMI and waist circumference, three important factors in the risk of type 2 diabetes.


Something that’s not talked about much in the management of diabetes is how much our sleep suffers.  For those of us with type 1 we can be up at all hours of the night with fluctuating levels.  With type 2 the fear of complications can be so overwhelming that we suffer from anxiety and depression.  When we don’t spend enough time in the deep sleep state our immune system suffers.  Ideally a good nights sleep equals a healthy immune system.  So how does Yoga help?

Specific restorative postures support the body and mind to be comfortable in a state of deep rest while specific breathing ratios to increase the length of the exhalation enable the mind to relax and slow down.  Also the sister science of yoga, ayurveda offers specific lifestyle guidelines which includes a daily self massage with sesame oil (called abhyanga) which penetrates the layers of the skin to relax the nervous system.

In my personal experience yoga over many years of practice has also increased my physical strength, flexibility, concentration and improved my overall wellbeing.

But, to be honest when there are so many factors involved in managing my diabetes on a daily basis, it takes discipline to step onto my mat every day.

What gets me there, more than knowing the benefits, is the overall feeling I get from my daily practice.  It’s in those last few moments after opening my eyes and gazing out at the world that I know why yoga works.

The world always feels bright, I feel calm and rejuvenated and ready to face the day exactly as it is.

Rachel Zinman is a senior yoga teacher with over 30 years’ experience teaching internationally.  At 42 she was diagnosed type 1 LADA diabetes.  Passionate about the benefits of yoga for diabetes, Rachel writes diabetes publications.  Find out more about Rachel on HER blog

References:  Diabetes Health Magazine pg, 6-8    2/2017  Rachel Zinman