Beginning Yoga

by David Mendosa Patient Advocate

Now that I have practiced yoga for all of an hour and one-half, I can confidently recommend it to almost everyone who has diabetes.

On Friday I took a yoga class for the first time in my life. While my yoga experience and expertise is as minimal as possible, my first impression of yoga is just about as positive as possible.

And our first impression of someone or something new is not only crucial in social situations but can be more accurate than a painstaking analysis whenever we face other complex situations. Making a decision on the basis of a first impression is anything but a "snap judgment."

We think too much - or too long. One of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, wrote a whole book, Blink (Little, Brown, 2005), about the wisdom of following our first impressions.

Knowing too much about a subject can backfire. I certainly don't have that problem about yoga.

All that I knew about yoga is that when I took resistance training, I much preferred the approach of one of the instructors over the other three who have taught my classes. She told me that yoga influenced her approach.

So I signed up for a series of beginning yoga classes at the city's nearby recreation center. Still, I have to admit that I was worried.

Whenever I start something new I always get anxious. And for me yoga was so new that I had more than my share of trepidation. Until I got to the class where all of my concerns vanished.

Unlike my reaction to resistance training, where I often felt challenged because I didn't think I was doing it good enough, my basic emotion - my very first impression -- of beginning yoga was joy. I don't mean just that I found it calming and relaxing, but I literally felt joyous.

Maybe the emphasis on breathing is what triggered that powerful emotion. I can't explain it any more than we can logically explain any of our first impressions.

I didn't even know what to wear to the class, so I went in the blue jeans that I wear everywhere from mountain trails to our finest restaurants (you can do that out West). I guessed that it would be smarter to wear cross-country training shoes instead of my regular hiking boots.

At the beginning of the class the instructor gently mentioned that my jeans would be fine for that class but something more stretchable would be better in the future. For my subsequent yoga classes I bought a pair of stretch running pants at the local REI store today. And wearing hiking boots to the class would have been just as good as pulling my old training shoes from the back of the closet -- because people do yoga shoeless (and bootless).

Yoga incorporates the strength training of resistance exercises as well as balance and flexibility training. Those of us who have diabetes need all three of these forms of exercise -- in addition to the aerobic exercise we get from hiking or walking.

"My beginner classes focus on traditional Hatha yoga poses and breathing exercises," says my instructor Kathleen Murphy. The many other branches of yoga include Raja and Ashtanga, of which I know even less about than my hour and one-half of Hatha yoga expertise. But, according to Wikipedia, "Hatha yoga is what most people in the West associate with the word 'yoga' and is practiced for mental and physical health throughout the West."

"We practice slow, simple, and mindful stretching that absorbs deeply, giving you a wonderful sense of physical, emotional, and mental sweetness, while building body awareness and strength," Kathleen says. "You will develop focus and concentration, cultivate inner harmony and learn how to move more intuitively. We end the class with deep relaxation to leave you with a sense of peace and tranquility."

Just about anybody with diabetes - even 73-year-old seniors like me - can do yoga. They don't "tie us into pretzels," a common misunderstanding of what yoga is all about that a friend of mine echoed when I told her that I had started yoga practice. That's a much more advanced level of yoga than I ever expect to reach

You will need to be able to kneel and to sit comfortably on a floor mat, which the class may provide. All others may find, as I have, that yoga is the happiest form of exercise.

David Mendosa
Meet Our Writer
David Mendosa

David Mendosa was a journalist who learned in 1994 that he had type 2 diabetes, which he wrote about exclusively. He died in May 2017 after a short illness unrelated to diabetes. He wrote thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and published a monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 kept his diabetes in remission without any drugs until his death.