Whether you’re diabetic, prediabetic, or otherwise healthy, looking after your blood sugar levels becomes increasingly important as we get older. Keeping your blood sugar under control can help you keep your weight down and also ward off other serious health conditions. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do on your own to help keep your sugar in check. Besides changing your diet, exercise is often recommended for diabetes and blood-sugar management, and there’s one in particular that’s shown to be especially beneficial — yoga.
But how can yoga possibly help with blood sugar? Well, it does this in a few ways. Firstly, yoga helps to reduce stress. Chronically elevated cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body can lead to insulin resistance, a key marker of blood sugar problems. Yoga has shown in studies to reduce stress and cortisol levels, and could, therefore, improve insulin sensitivity in those with diabetes. Yoga can also lower blood pressure, reducing your risk of diabetes-related conditions like heart disease. What’s more, yoga improves circulation throughout the whole body, improving the function of organs like the pancreas and kidneys (two key players in blood sugar management), and also reducing your risk of nerve damage — another common side effect of diabetes.
Ayurveda, the ancient Indian health science where yoga comes from, asserts that yoga is an integral practice in managing blood sugar, and modern research has begun to explore this. One 2016 review of studies found that a yoga practice improved blood sugar levels, lipid levels, and overall body composition in those with type 2 diabetes. Another study published in the journal Diabetes Care showed that a three-month yoga program helped to lower oxidative stress in subjects with type 2 diabetes, lessening the risk of related complications like stroke, nerve damage, retinopathy (vision loss), and nephropathy (damage to the kidneys).
The best part is, you don’t have to spend hours sweating on your mat to reap all the benefits of yoga for blood sugar. A simple practice with just a few poses can make a world of difference, and it can all be done in as little as fifteen minutes a day!
Check out some of the best yoga postures for diabetes and blood sugar management below.
Downward Dog Blood Sugar
Downward Facing Dog
- Come into a push-up position with your feet hip-width apart (about two fists between your feet) and shoulders stacked directly over your wrists. Take a deep inhale to engage your core by pulling your navel up and in.
- On an exhale, lift your hips up and back, tilting the hips up toward the ceiling, pressing firmly into the hands and reaching the heels of the feet toward the floor, creating an upside down V-shape with your body.
- If your hamstrings are tight at first, pedal your feet one at a time and breathe space into the tight areas. Once you find stillness, stay in the pose for five to 10 breaths, creating length from head to tailbone with each inhale and drawing the hips a little higher on each exhale.
Spinal Twist Blood Sugar
Seated Spinal Twist
- Begin seated with your legs straight out in front of you, sitting up nice and tall.
- Bend your right knee in so that the sole of your foot is on the ground, then place the right foot down over the left leg.
- On an inhale, draw both of your arms up above your head.
- On an exhale, twist over to your right side, placing your right hand down on the ground behind your hips as a kickstand to keep your spine upright. Grab hold of the right knee with your left arm to gently pull yourself deeper into the twist.
- On each inhale, sit your spine up taller. On each exhale, twist a little more.
- Repeat this motion for five to 10 breaths, then perform on the other side.
Foward Fold Blood Sugar
Seated Forward Fold
- Begin sitting with your legs straight out in front of you and your hands on your thighs.
- Sit up tall by pulling the belly in slightly, drawing the navel toward your spine.
- Inhale deeply to sit up taller, then as you exhale, fold forward over your legs, leading with your chest (think heart to toes rather than head to toes) before relaxing your head down.
- If possible, grab hold of your toes or feet for an extra stretch.
- Stay in this posture breathing deeply for five to 10 breaths.
Yoga For Hips Pain
- Starting on all fours (or hands and knees), walk your knees out wide, bringing your big toes to touch.
- Rest your butt down onto your heels and bow your upper body forward and down.
- Either extend your arms out in front of you or along your sides, whichever is most comfortable.
- Rest your forehead on the ground and breathe deeply into the back body, pressing the hips down into the heels actively. Stay here for five to 10 breaths.
Morning Yoga For Beginners
Supported Shoulder Stand
- Lying flat, lay your arms alongside your torso, then bend your knees in, keeping your feet down flat and bringing the heels close to your bottom.
- Inhale deeply, then on an exhale, press your arms firmly into the ground and draw your knees toward your chest. Then, using your abdominal strength, lift your hips so your knees are coming towards your face.
- On an inhalation, bring your palms to your lower back with your fingertips facing upward toward the ceiling, keeping your elbows grounded on the ground and as close to the body as possible (shoulder-width apart). Do not let your elbows flare out to the sides!
- Using your hands for support, continue to push/lift your hips up toward the ceiling with the knees bent.
- Begin to straighten the legs upward. Use your hands to push your torso even higher. Push through the balls of your feet so that you're engaging actively through the legs.
- Gaze up at your feet and keep your head and neck in a neutral position (in line with your spine) and do not turn your head while in this posture. Press the shoulder blades down into the ground and draw them away from the ears. You should feel gentle compression in the neck.
- Stay in this pose for five to 10 breaths.
Morning Yoga Stretches
- From shoulder stand, keeping the hands on your lower back, draw your shoulder blades down and towards one another.
- Keeping the legs straight, bring them down slowly behind you. Try to image drawing the tops of your thighs up toward the ceiling while pressing through the balls of your feet so that your feet are active and toes are pointing down towards the ground.
- Let the feet come down as far as they can. You may feel an intense sensation in the hamstrings, but don’t go so far as to feel uncomfortable. You should be able to breathe calmly wherever you are in this pose. Eventually when you are open enough, your toes will come down to rest behind you.
- Stay in this pose for five to 10 breaths.
Note: Again, make sure that you honor where your body is today. If the backs of the thighs feel tight, make sure that you're not over-extending in any posture. If you need to keep your knees bent slightly to feel more comfortable or your feet don't touch down behind you, that's OK. Relax into the posture wherever you are.
Legs Up The Wall Yoga
Legs Up the Wall
- Sit up tall with your right side up against your headboard or a wall. If you’re using a pillow, set it down against the wall and sit on top of it.
- Keeping your hips in contact with the wall, turn your body to the right slowly and bring your legs up onto the wall or headboard using your hands for support.
- Lower your torso down onto the ground and roll your shoulder blades back and down, ensuring that you’re keeping your spine nice and long and not crunching in the neck.
- Bring your arms out alongside you with your palms facing up. Stay here for at least five breaths.
Note: For an even more yummy, restorative version of this pose, place a pillow underneath your seat!
Gentle Detox Yoga Sequence
Supine Spinal Twist
- Begin lying flat on your back with your legs straight out in front of you and your arms down alongside your body.
- On an inhale, bend your right knee in so your foot is planted on the ground.
- Using your left hand, guide your right knee over to the left side of your body for a twist, dropping the knee to the floor (or as close to the floor as you can get).
- Extend your right arm out beside you and turn your neck to gaze to your right hand.
- Press your right shoulder down firmly into the ground. Breathe here for five to 10 deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Yoga For Before Bed Hips
Reclined Cobblers Pose
- Begin seated with your legs straight out in front of you.
- Bending the knees, bring the soles of the feet to meet each other and let your knees fall out to both sides, as though you’re opening a book. If you feel tender in your groin here, place a pillow or bolster under each knee for added support.
- Lean back and bring your elbows to the floor, lowering your upper body down to the ground completely. Allow your lower spine to curve naturally.
- Bring your arms down alongside you with palms facing up. Rest here for five to 10 breaths.
Yoga For Hip Pain
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
Last but not least, we always end our yoga practice with the most important posture of them all: Savasana, or corpse pose. Corpse pose is the ultimate posture for improved health and wellness, and it's important that after any yoga routine, we take at least five minutes to allow the benefits of our practice to take hold. To practice:
- Lay flat on your back with your palms facing up, extending the legs down long in front of you and arms alongside the body.
- Keep the legs a bit wider than hip-width distance, and let the feet splay out to the sides comfortably.
- Close your eyes and relax deeply into the posture, taking full, deep, belly breaths.
- Stay in the pose for five minutes, breathing deeply and intentionally.