February 29 2016

Yoga, Diabetes, Mindfulness

The health benefits of yoga are widespread and have been documented in medical literature especially when it comes to its effects on stress, mood, and musculoskeletal issues such chronic back pain. This study from India, however, looks at yoga’s benefits on blood sugar and diabetes, an under-appreciated effect of a regular yoga practice.

Here are my take home points:

  • The study’s aim was to assess the benefits of a yoga practice on the blood sugar levels of those with diabetes type II, as well as its benefits on blood sugar levels on those without diabetes.
  •  The study, which was conducted over 2 years, followed 60 male volunteers over a 2 year period: 30 of them with diabetes and 30 without diabetes and all of whom received yoga training and then practiced yoga daily under supervision for 6 months.
  • The yoga practice was practiced in the morning before breakfast, and each session was less than an hour each time, consisting of prayer, breath work, recitation, and various asanas/poses.
  • The blood sugar levels (both fasting and after-meal levels) of the participants were taken before their yoga “intervention,” during their yoga training (at 3 months), and after their yoga training (at 6 months).
  • Out of the 60 initial participants, only 6 did not complete the daily yoga practice for 6 months; these participants were excluded from the final analysis.
  • The results showed a reduction in blood sugar levels that was statistically significant for the diabetic group but not statistically significant for the control group after just 3 months of yoga practice.
  • After 6 months of yoga practice, this blood sugar level reduction was statistically significant for both groups, and fasting blood sugar levels for the diabetic group dropped an average of 13 points as when compared to their levels prior to yoga!

Bottom line

While this study is a small one, it did support yoga as a powerful intervention for treatment of type II diabetes as well as prevention of disease progression, given the statistically significant large reduction in blood sugar in the diabetic patients with yoga practice, a reduction that widened with more time engaged in the practice! 

Some personal thoughts on the study

There is a reason why yoga is one of the foundational aspects of my holistic medical practice. As a physician who received yoga teacher training, I prescribe individualized yoga regimens for people as part of my practice and I do so because believe its healing potential to be extraordinary. I have witnessed this not just in my life personally but in the lives of so many of the clients and patients with whom I work. I have been practicing yoga for over 25 years and for me, yoga was instrumental before even any dietary changes were made in helping heal my chronic and fairly severe asthma. Moving through the poses of my yoga asana practice, syncing my breath with the movements increased my awareness greatly of my respirations and helped me have much better control over my breathing. For anyone who has experienced an asthma attack, you know how important it is to feel that sense of control over breathing. I have seen yoga be transformational  for my patients and clients, and their clinical issues range from inflammatory bowel syndrome to hormonal imbalances to hypercholesterolemia to diabetes. And I believe it’s just a matter of time before there are a plethora of great studies supporting yoga’s incredible beneficial healing power in multiple medical conditions. In the meantime, thankfully, most people are not waiting, to get their yoga “on”. 

Dance Link

I invite you to perhaps stop out of your comfort zone and try yoga or a new style of yoga for you this week. Here is a link to a poemdance called Try Not To be Scared.  Please enjoy! 

Choreography: Tumi Johnson

Dancer: Tumi Johnson

Music: "The Snake" by Jack Kamen

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