Yoga and Diabetes: Relax and Get Fit

Yoga’s trendy: you can tell because Groupon has started offering great deals on a regular basis. But should people with diabetes ride its popularity wave?

Despite its recent upswing in followers, yoga has been helping people improve strength, balance and flexibility for a long time. These are characteristics we all need to help us maintain our independence as we get older, but it’s especially true of people with diabetes who are at risk to develop complications such as neuropathy or vascular problems.

Generally speaking, any aerobic or strength training exercise will lower glucose levels. But many types of yoga have the added benefit of being completely relaxing, which is helpful if your blood glucose levels are high due to stress.

In addition, research has shown that people with type 2 diabetes don’t have as much muscle mass as others at the same weight level, so this lean muscle-building workout couldn’t hurt.

In its classic sense, yoga is a Hindu philosophical practice that seeks to attain spiritual oneness with the Supreme Being through a series of physical postures. But today, many people enjoy the physical rewards of yoga whether or not they embrace its spiritual component.

Since there are so many forms and ways to practice yoga, it is an exercise that people with diabetes may want to consider for a number of reasons.

  • You can do it at any age
  • You don’t have to be in great physical condition to start
  • It doesn’t require a significant outlay of cash for equipment (all you really need is a yoga mat)
  • Once you glean the basics of proper alignment you can do it by yourself on your own schedule (continuing to work with a teacher, one-on-one or in a group, is helpful to advance your practice, however)

There are a variety of yoga styles, such as Iyengar, Forrest, or Hatha, but they often fall into two broad categories: those focused on perfecting the static alignment of individual postures known as asanas and those that concentrate on vinyasa. Vinyasa simply means flow (specifically flow done with breath). In this type of yoga, one asana or posture streams without pause into another.

Keep in mind that if you start to incorporate yoga into your exercise plan, you should still make some time for cardio workouts. Some types of yoga , generally known as power yoga, do provide an aerobic workout, but most styles don’t have you moving fast enough to get your heart rate going.

Both exercise physiologists at Joslin, Jacqueline Shahar, M.Ed., R.C.E.P., C.D.E., and Michael See, M.S., R.C.E.P., C.D.E., at the Joslin teach and encourage yoga for their patients and give the following tips:

  1. When looking for an instructor it is important to find out who is qualified. They suggest finding one with at least 200 hours of training. The Yoga Alliance is a web site where you can search for teachers that meet certain criteria such as style of yoga taught and level of training.
  2. Discuss your fitness level and the fact that you have diabetes with potential instructors.
  3. If you already have neuropathy or vascular problems with your feet, discuss with your health care provider if it is acceptable for you to go barefoot.
  4. If you have active eye disease you may also need to avoid certain yoga postures such as downward dog.

For more on yoga and diabetes, and exercise in general, visit the Joslin web site


  1. I’ve been doing Yoga for the past few weeks, and it’s been really wonderful. I’m still not all that flexible, though now that I have more of it under my belt, doing some simple poses during the day really helps when I’m otherwise sitting all day at work.

  2. I am a bit curious about how yoga helps you loose weight. I belong to curves and am “trying” to work out at least 3 x a week. I would love to get more information about this. Any assistance would be really appreciated 🙂 thanx

    • Hi Sue,

      Thank you for your question! Here’s an answer from Jackie Shahar, M.Ed., RCEP, CDE, a certified diabetes educator and manager of exercise physiology in the Joslin Clinic.

      “To promote weight loss, it is essential to increase energy expenditure over intake of calories. Performing total body resistance training at Curves 3 d/wk is great to help maintain muscle mass or perhaps increase muscle mass.

      Yoga styles like Vinyasa and Ashtanga could be more beneficial than others to promote weight loss due to increased movement and breathing, which could lead to increased heart rate, more muscular contraction, higher body temperature and higher energy expenditure than other yoga styles. These yoga styles (in conjunction with aerobic and resistance training) could help with promoting weight loss. It would be best to start with Vinyasa class before moving to Ashtanga class to let your body prepare for the more advanced poses.

      Your quality of life will improve by practicing yoga. Yoga helps improve flexibility, strength of muscles, stamina and balance, joint mobility and posture; reduce stress and improves sleep, and used in management of different chronic diseases. When quality of life improves, you are more likely to maintain a healthy lifestyle, which include a healthy body weight.

      Hope this is helpful.

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