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Managing Diabetes with Yoga

Diabetes is endemic and spreading, as much as we hate to say it, for perfectly preventable and manageable reasons. According to the 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Report, more than 100 million Americans are either diabetic or pre-diabetic. One in four American adults do not know they are Diabetic or predisposed to it. Factors like obesity, stress, improper lifestyle and insulin resistance have increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 60 times! What makes the condition more lethal is people with diabetes are at a relatively higher risk of developing other health complications including loss of vision, heart disease, renal failure, and amputation in certain cases. Diabetes is a major contributor to heart disease morbidity, the leading cause of death in the United States. The good news is, diabetes is manageable with the right mix of physical activity, diet, and medication. When you power this up with yoga and meditation, you find a clear road map for living a healthy, happy, and normal life in spite of the condition. Millions have even reported getting off medications after prolonged practice of yoga.

Why Alternative is Going Mainstream with Yoga in Managing Diabetes

About 14.3% American adults today practice yoga, and there has been a threefold rise in the number of people who meditate since 2012. One big reason why more people are taking up alternative therapies for managing diabetes is apart from the economics of it, yoga is a holistic science of healing and wellness. Regular practice of yoga will not just help reduce oxidative stress—one of the largest killers in the modern times—or lower your blood sugar and other anthropometric indices, but it also produces a sense of overall well-being. Unlike Western medicine, Ayurveda and yoga do not fight symptoms in isolation, but deal with the root cause of illnesses in the body as part of the mind-body complex. It harnesses the power of spirituality as a union of mind, body, and spirit whose byproduct is total healing. Yoga enhances the scope of dealing with diabetes symptoms in non-invasive ways just as effectively.


Quick Overview of Diabetes

Diabetes Mellitus or diabetes is a condition where your body does not release enough insulin or cannot use it in the system. Insulin released from the pancreas controls the amount of sugar that enters into your body cells from the bloodstream. This sugar or glucose is converted into energy by the cells. But in diabetic patients, this transmission of glucose from bloodstream to cells is impaired due to insufficient insulin secretion or resistance to insulin. As a result, there is high glucose in the bloodstream that can lead to other health complications in future. 

There are four types of diabetes that have been widely studied.

Type 1 Diabetes

  • More common in children and young adults.
  • Trigger—Body’s immune system attacks pancreatic cells called beta cells that produce insulin.
  • Insulin shortage in the body is met by administering insulin externally.

Type 2 Diabetes (also called DM2)

  • The more common and prevalent type.
  • Occurs over time.
  • Trigger—lifestyle (unhealthy carbohydrate rich diet, smoking, alcohol, toxic stress accumulation), genetics, and environmental factors.
  • The body is unable to produce enough insulin to control blood sugar levels.
  • Type 2 earlier found exclusively in adults is now being diagnosed in children and teens, too.
  • Type 2 Diabetes increases the risk for
    • Cardiovascular diseases
    • Microvascular and macrovascular complications
    • Retinitis (inflamed retina)
    • Diabetic neuropathy
    • Depression<
    • Dementia
  • Type 2 also accounts for 10% of healthcare expenses in the US.

Gestational Diabetes

  • Occurs in pregnant women.
  • Patients do not have the condition before conception.
  • Blood sugar level may normalize post-delivery.
  • Precaution needs to be taken as patients prone to getting DM2 in later years.


  • One in three American adults are prediabetic.
  • Blood sugar levels are higher than normal but lower than what qualifies for type 2 diabetes.
  • With some lifestyle changes, dietary discipline and practices like yoga and meditation, it can be reversed.


Find out more about our transformative Ayurveda-based program.

What Does the Research Say?

A mammoth research at West Virginia University backed by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine investigated 25 studies on how Yoga effects the key markers of diabetes. These studies were observed in participants who completed yoga intervention program vis-à-vis participants who only received standard care protocol without yoga. The studies showed significant improvement on one or more diabetic indices. Majority of the studies reported reductions in

  • Postprandial blood glucose (PPBG)
  • Fasting blood glucose (FBG)
  • Fasting insulin
  • Fructosamine
  • Glycosylated hemoglobin or Hba1c—one of the most popular diabetic tests.

In general, the studies showed that yoga practitioners recorded significant reduction in BMI and glycemic control, increase in antioxidants like glutathione and vitamin C, and MDA (malondialdehyde), a marker for oxidative stress.

How is yoga able to help diabetes?

Yoga simply helps achieve the major goals of diabetes management including improving glycemic control or reduction of blood glucose levels, which in turn

  • Reduces the risk of microvascular complications
  • Reducing risk factors for cardio vascular diseases in patients of DM2
  • Reducing DM-related distress
  • Mitigate signs of depression
  • Enhance emotional well-being and quality of life- factors that directly influence glycemic control.

Research suggests, yoga can help manage and control diabetes in fundamental ways.

Reduces Oxidative Stress
Numerous studies have established that an important benefit of a yoga intervention program is the significant reduction in oxidative stress in patients of Diabetes type 2 (DM2). Oxidative stress is the imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. Oxidative stress is linked to insulin resistance, diabetes, neuropathy and other microvascular complications.

Eliminates Stress on the Emotional and Physiological Level
Psychological stress can severely jeopardize DM2 treatment because this one trigger can aggravate multiple risk factors. Yoga in general helps eliminate stress from the body and mind and has a positive trickle down effect on

  • Metabolism
  • Neuroendocrine functions
  • Inflammation
  • Regulating cortisol levels (stress hormone that can cause blood pressure and sugar levels to rise)
  • Cardiovascular response
  • Switching the body’s rest mode on (parasympathetic nervous system is activated in resting period that eases heart rate and works up digestion)
  • Stimulating the vagus nerve which is related to well-being.

Positively Affects the Autonomic Balance
Autonomic balance is the balance achieved between the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system. While the later is active during a flight or fight response situation, the former corresponds to body’s resting phase. By affecting the balance, Yoga can at once increase your present moment awareness while allowing deep rest for the body, as indicated by an eased heart rate. This balance can positively affect mood and memory; activate neurochemical systems linked to attention, wellness and positivity.

Better Metabolism and Mental Well-Being
Yoga enables you to be more physically active, improves neuroendocrine function that control hormonal secretions in the body, promotes weight loss, improves sleep, and overall fitness.

Reduce CVD or Cardiovascular Risk Factors
A gift of yoga is it makes you self-aware. This self-awareness is crucial in making healthier lifestyle choices and behavior modification. Better sleep, stress free life, improved mood directly work on reducing CVD risk factors. Studies done on heart-failure patients showed yogic breathing worked on the cardiac and respiratory function by pushing more oxygen into arteries and tissues. 

Slows Cellular Aging
Research indicates, certain yogic practices can also slow down cellular aging and affect epigenetic changes. These changes in genetic pathways can favorably alter factors like inflammation, oxidative stress, metabolism, and insulin secretion among others. (Epigenetics is an emerging field of science that studies changes and regulation of gene activity.)

Improves Pancreatic Function
Certain asanas can work up a slow pancreas, stimulating beta cells to produce insulin. 

Working Up the Muscles
The physical discipline of yoga works up the muscle cells that burn glucose to get energy and in the process lower blood sugar.

Weight Loss
Regular practice of Yoga improves hormonal function and enables weight loss, an important risk factor for DM2.

Improves Dietary Habits
A calm mind is a reflective mind. What yoga achieves for you is a stable state of mind where you can slow down and become aware of habits and patterns that are self-destructive including overeating, worrying, smoking, among others. Studies have found that practice of yoga, pranayama, and Sudarshan Kriya—a rhythmic breathing exercise—were powerful enough to affect behavioral changes in dietary choices and medical discipline.

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Yoga Retreats for Diabetics

Why take up a yoga retreat for treating diabetes? We go on vacation and return tired and tanned. However, a yoga retreat is a vacation for the mind, body and soul—giving it total rest. Yoga is a practice, but also a way of life. As part of a retreat, the practice allows you to cut out the clutter and worries of the daily life, so you can connect more deeply with yourself. Then there are other benefits like stress mitigation, weight loss, sense of well-being and restored sense of balance. Whether you are just starting out, or are a seasoned practitioner, you are welcome to the retreat center.

Nestled atop the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina, the breathtaking Art of Living Retreat Center now offers the Diabetes and Weight Loss Wellness Program & Retreat—curated for tackling diabetes holistically through treatments, diet, and detox. Here, 

  • Practice and learn yoga under the supervision of highly trained faculty in an idyllic setting
  • Experience Panchakarma (detoxification) therapies administered by seasoned therapists
  • Enjoy nourishing, tasty food—some of it sourced right from our organic garden
  • You are surrounded by nature, perfect for healing and rejuvenation.
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Special Yoga Sequence

We’ve designed a special yoga sequence to bring more energy to the pancreatic area to help cleanse, activate, and tone up the internal organs. The sequence of asanas below is meant to work up organs like the pancreas and liver.

We begin with some standing postures:

Body Warm-Up
Two minutes of mild jogging, jumping and twisting is important for loosening up muscles.
How to:

  1. Stand at the front of the yoga mat.
  2. Hands by the side of the thighs.
  3. Let there be 2 inches gap between both feet.
  4. Take a few deep breathes in and out.
  5. Slowly start jogging on the spot increasing the speed as you go along.

Contraindication—People with high blood pressure may avoid this. Avoid doing it in case of any surgeries or injuries in the body. Beginners should start with 1 minute per day for a week.

Vrikshana (Tree Pose)

  1. Stand straight on the mat; hands by the side of the thighs, feet 2 inches apart.
  2. Bring your right foot on the left thigh; rest it there, making a right angle.
  3. Bring your palms above the head joined together, elbows straight.
  4. Hold the pose for 5–10 seconds while breathing normally.
  5. Slowly bring your hands down. Slowly bring your right foot down to the mat.
  6. Stand straight. Rest for 5 seconds and repeat from the other side.

Katichakrasana (Standing Spinal Twist)

  1. Begin with Tadasana, stand straight with hands on the sides.
  2. Bring both hands in front of the chest, palms facing each other.
  3. Breath in and as you breathe out, twist to the right side as much as you can.
  4. Again breathing in come to the center and breathing out twist to the left side.
  5. Repeat 4–5 times.

NOTE It is important to note that the gap between both hands should remain the same while twisting and feet should not twist in the posture.

Contraindication—Should be avoided by pregnant women, anyone with spinal injuries, sciatica or in a post surgery recovery stage.

Paschimotanasana (Seated Forward Bend)

  1. Sit up and stretch out your logs.
  2. Flex the toes inwards facing you.
  3. Take a deep breath in and raise your arms ups.
  4. As you exhale, bend forward and bend from the hip.
  5. Bring your arms to touch your toes.
  6. Try and touch your forehead to your thigh. Only do as much as you can comfortably do.
  7. Taking a deep breath, lift up your head and straighten your spine.
  8. Repeat the movement a few times.
  9. Then, try and place your head on the thighs and stay in that pose for a few seconds. Keep breathing while in this pose.
  10. Come back up to a sitting position with arms up.
  11. Breathe out and bring down the arms.

Contraindication—Should be avoided in condition of diarrhea, back injury, or asthma.

Ardh Matsyendrasana (Sitting Half Spinal Twist)

  1. Sit on your mat. Stretch out both legs in front of you.
  2. Now fold the right leg and take it over the left knee to place the right foot on the floor. The foot should touch the right knee from the outside.
  3. Now fold the left leg and place the left foot besides the right hip. Both the hips must be resting on the floor.
  4. Use your left elbow to block the right knee. The knee should be perpendicular to the ground.
  5. Now try to hold your right ankle with the left hand while keeping the right knee locked. Initially, you may not be able to reach the ankle. You can hold the calf muscle too. Do as much as you can.
  6. Let the upper body be facing the right side. Place the right arm behind your body on the floor. And while looking over your right shoulder, relax in this posture. Feel the stretch and twist.
  7. Release the pose as you exhale.
  8. Repeat it from the other side.

Contraindication—People suffering with back pain should do it carefully. Those who have undergone surgeries—especially of the abdomen—pregnant women, and those in condition of sciatica should avoid it completely.

Shalabhasana (Locust Pose)

This posture is done while lying down on the stomach so works wonders in stimulation of glands in the abdominal region. This is done in two phases, half locust pose and full locust pose:

Ardha Shalabhasana (Half Locust Pose)

    1. Lie down on the stomach on your mat, chin touching the ground.
    2. Your hands should be by the side of your thighs open towards the sky.
    3. Legs straight, feet together.
    4. While breathing in raise the right leg 3–4 inches above the ground.
    5. Make sure the right knee is straight and not bent.
    6. Left leg rests on the floor completely.
    7. Take five breaths in this position.
    8. On the fifth breath, while exhaling bring the leg back on the ground.
    9. Repeat the same with the left leg. 

Poorna Salabhasana (Full Locust Pose)

    1. Make fists with both the hands with thumb inside the hand.
    2. Bring both the fists underneath the thigh joints.
    3. While taking a deep breath in raise both the legs 3–4 inches above the ground.
    4. Keep both the knees straight and relaxed. Feet stretched outward.
    5. Take 4–5 deep breaths in and out in this position.
    6. With exhalation of last breath bring both the legs on the ground and release your hands.

Contraindication—People recovering from abdominal or any other surgeries and pregnant women should avoid this. It is recommended to not do this asana in condition of acute back pain or slip disc.

Regular practice of these asanas should be done on an empty stomach. Increase the duration of holding these postures gradually. If you are just starting on the path of yoga, begin with two breath holding periods.

Diabetes and Weight Loss Wellness Retreat & Program

Ayurveda is a natural, effective way to approach diabetes and weight gain—from time-tested methods of detoxification to rekindling the digestive fire to diet and lifestyle—all unique to Ayurvedic principles. Experience weight loss, a reduction in medication, increased energy, improved stress management, enhanced quality of life, and so much more.