Yoga May Help You Manage Your Diabetes

Patient Expert


The yoga posture called “downward facing dog”

Credit: Iveto

If you have diabetes and your blood glucose level is higher than you and your doctor would like it to be, yoga may be helpful.

In the past few months, three different diabetes professional journals coincidentally published separate review studies of yoga for diabetes. Each of these studies reached the tentative conclusion that doing yoga will probably help you to have better health.

Three yoga reviews

One meta-analysis and systematic review concluded that yoga causes a significant reduction in A1C levels as well as blood glucose levels before meals and after meals. Another meta-analysis showed the same benefits plus significant decreases in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels as well as increases in levels of the good HDL cholesterol.

The third one, not a meta-analysis but rather a systematic review, suggested that yoga may have significant beneficial effects not only on blood glucose management but also on insulin resistance, lipid profiles (which includes cholesterol and triglyceride levels), body composition (weight and BMI), and blood pressure. It also found mounting evidence that yoga may reduce oxidative stress (an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants) and medication usage. It may also improve mood and sleep, the nervous system, and lung function.

While the three reviews largely overlapped, their inclusion criteria differed. The first meta-analysis studied 17 randomized controlled trials, the second one limited its analysis to 12 randomized clinical trials, and the systematic review included 13 nonrandomized and 12 randomized clinical trials. Each of the studies cautioned that the available evidence isn’t definitive, but it suggests that yoga has several benefits for adults who have diabetes.

Yoga combines breathing, postures, and meditation

Yoga combines breathing exercises, physical postures called asanas, and meditation. I know from my experience that it calms my nervous system and balances my body, mind, and spirit.

What we simply call yoga is actually hatha yoga, one of several yoga practices that began in ancient India. Hatha yoga in turn includes a variety of practices, including the Ashtanga, Bikram, Iyengar, and Kundalini styles.

You may have already caught on to the fact that when you do yoga, you feel better. It’s no wonder that the practice of yoga in the West is exploding.

One-tenth of us already do yoga

Almost one out of 10 American adults were practicing yoga in 2012, according to the most recent U.S. government’s National Health Interview Survey. This was about 21 million Americans and almost twice the number who practiced yoga a decade earlier. More than 85 percent of the people in the 2012 survey said they found that yoga reduced their stress.

Yoga is by far the most common of the three mind-body practices based on Eastern philosophy that do we in the West. The other two are tai chi, which I wrote about earlier this year at “How Tai Chi Can Help With This Common Complication of Diabetes” and qigong.

Find the right teacher

I benefit from doing both yoga and tai chi, but now I am hoping to find someone to teach me qigong too. For me, the teacher is more important than the practice or the style.

If you are hoping to improve how well you manage your blood glucose, any of these three practices are likely to help you. But yoga has been studied the most fully and is probably the mind-body practice that will offer the greatest choice of teachers near where you live.

See More Helpful Articles:

Beginning Yoga

Yoga Versus Pilates

Exercising for Diabetes: Yoga to Stretch Muscles, Weightlifting to Contract Them

David Mendosa is a journalist who learned in 1994 that he has Type 2 diabetes, which he now writes about exclusively. He has written thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and publishes the monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, current A1C level of 5.5, and BMI of 19.8 keeps his diabetes in remission without any drugs.