By Rachel Zinman
When I had to choose between yoga and field hockey in high school I remember thinking, Yoga? Isn’t that for hippies in baggy sweatpants who eat granola?
Luckily I chose yoga. Now, after 32 years of practice, yoga is my sanctuary, especially since I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 9 years ago.
Overall practicing yoga has immense benefits including:
- Improved Sleep
- Better digestion
- Balanced weight
- Improved mood
- Reduced stress
And since my diagnosis I’ve observed that yoga has helped increase my sensitivity to insulin, balanced my blood sugar levels and improved my circulation. It’s also taught me to stay calm in the face of crisis. Instead of panicking when I’m high or low. I stop, drop, take a breath and then calmly get what I need to remedy the situation.
Besides all the amazing benefits, you might be wondering what type of postures are perfect for specific diabetes symptoms.
As an experienced yoga teacher who works with people living with diabetes I like to focus on the individual and the way they approach life rather than this pose is good for that symptom.
To begin with I assess the person to find out if they are creative or artistic, attracted to light, dry foods, always on the go? If the answer is yes, there’s most likely a predominance of air and space in the system. They might also suffer from anxiety, insomnia, constipation and have trouble gaining weight. For them no matter what their type of diabetes grounding standing postures, nurturing restorative postures and long holds while stretching will help to relax the nervous system.
The one thing that aggravates diabetes the most is stress. We are constantly told to get our stress under control. Stretching is one of the most effective ways to directly affect the nervous system.
So when in doubt interlace your fingers and reach your arms up over your head and stretch!
What if the person has a type A personality, likes to be in the lead and get things done? This means there is a great deal of fire in the constitution. Literally firing them up. It also means they can anger easily, get frustrated and lash out and suffer from burnout and stress. Often attracted to foods like chili, garlic and onion, they also love hot steam baths and sunbaking. To help balance all that fire, practice calming and cooling postures, standing and seated forward bends or relax with legs up a wall. Calm slow breathing during every aspect of the workout helps to douse the heat.
What about someone who is relaxed, patient and even a little lazy, has trouble getting motivated to exercise and suffers from depression rather than anxiety? There is a predominance of water and earth in their constitution. What happens when we mix water and earth? Think slow and earthy. The key word here is stimulation. A vinyasa flow sequence (vinyasa is a flowing yoga practice) with lots of chest opening postures to build heat and active inversions like headstand and handstand will power them up. Anything that gets the heart pumping is good to help eliminate stagnant energy!
If you’ve never tried yoga but would like to start I recommend scouting out a local studio and signing up for a beginner’s series. Introduce yourself to the teacher and tell them you have diabetes. If you are on a pump or have a CGM let them know it might beep in class so you can treat a low. Yoga can definitely be a workout so it’s a good idea to choose a class time where you don’t have any fast acting insulin onboard. Some people turn their pump down 50% when they go to a class.
Listen to your body. It takes time to adjust to the positions and feel safe and comfortable. The most important thing is not to have high expectations. Yoga is not about doing complicated postures or reaching a goal.
When we live with diabetes yoga supports the immune system to be the healthiest it can be plus when we learn to calm our minds it’s easier to be with things as they are rather than how we want them to be.
When I step on the mat each morning, I drop my worries about the numbers on my meter, my fears of complications or the uncertainty of what the day will bring. Instead I take things one breath, one pose and one grateful moment at a time. Yoga has taught me that I may not be able to change what’s happened but I can accept what is.
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr
Rachel Zinman was diagnosed with Type 1 LADA diabetes in 2008 at the age of 42. She started practicing yoga at 17 years old, and 32 years later still practices passionately teaching teachers and beginners alike in workshops, trainings, and international retreats.
She is a mother, award-winning musician, and published writer. Her blog on yoga for diabetes was listed as one of the best blogs for January 2016 by Diabetesmine and her articles on Yoga and Diabetes have been featured in Elephant Journal, Mind Body Green, Do you Yoga, Insulin Nation, A Sweet Life, Beyond Type 1, Diabetes Daily and LyfeBulb.
Her book Yoga for Diabetes, How to manage your health with Yoga and Ayurveda is being released by Monkfish Publishing in October 2017. To find out more about Rachel visit her blog or her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.