Exercising for Diabetes: Yoga to Stretch Muscles, Weightlifting to Contract Them
I didn't start taking yoga very seriously until a year ago -- but when I really started attending classes regularly and focusing on the breathing, postures and form of the entire practice, my body and my blood sugars were oh so grateful. Being a very difficult but low impact form of exercise, yoga will not hurt your knees and joints the way running or other aerobic sports might -- but I promise, it'll leave you much sweatier and much more out of breath than you think. It is much, much more than just meditation and chanting.
Yoga goes hand-in-hand with my other favorite exercise: weightlifting. Because weightlifting contracts the muscle, yoga is essential for stretching the muscle, which literally provides more room to build more muscle and of course, prevents serious injuries. Yoga will not only stretch every part of the body but it will tone and strengthen muscles without any bulking. You won't be nearly as strong simply by doing yoga as you would be by lifting weights, but you will be stronger. The idea in yoga is to build enough strength to support your own body weight.
My chosen practice of yoga is Ashtanga style. Ashtanga is essentially a continuous movement through a repeated series of postures, known as the Primary Series (it progresses in difficulty to the Secondary Series). The Americanized name for Ashtanga yoga is often referred to in health clubs as "power yoga" because it is...well...exhausting! I love Ashtanga for it's grueling pace, muscle-burning poses and the sweaty mess you find yourself in by the end of the hour-and-a-half class.
The great thing about yoga is that you can adjust it to whatever your physical level may be. For the ultimate athletes, yoga is never too easy because the poses can be adjusted to become more and more difficult (I'm really not kidding) and you'll be constantly finding new ways to twist your body and hold yourself up on your hands with your legs waving the air.
For the beginner, I promise -- I PROMISE! -- you do not have to be able to put your knees behind your head to enjoy yoga. You can progress slowly and carefully into each pose, decreasing the challenge to any degree you wish by using blocks and straps to assist you, as well as simply adjusting the poses themselves. Yoga instructors work with beginners closely, demonstrating alternative poses that work for the less flexible folks.
Yoga classes are usually an hour to an hour-and-a-half long, and I personally need to eat about 20 grams of carbs beforehand to endure the whole class. There have been many times where I didn't get enough to eat before a class, and the tricky part about noticing hypoglycemia during yoga is that because you're moving so slowly and your head is going upside down every other pose, you're not quite sure whether you're simply dizzy... or dropping low. I've just barely gotten better at noticing the signs of a low during yoga before the class is over and I've dropped to 30 or 40. When I start to feel oddly dizzy and a bit weak in the arms, I know I need to skip out quietly and grab a juice box.
Before attending a class, you should definitely consult a doctor. And if you have any injuries you should let your yoga instructor know beforehand -- they will adjust poses or give you alternate poses so you don't make your injuries worse!
By the way, you'll notice in the photos, I'm wearing my medical alert! Where's yours?