How yoga can help with obesity and diabetes

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How yoga can help with obesity and diabetes


We all know that keeping a healthy weight is a good idea but there are times when it can seem that little bit too much effort.


Juggling a busy lifestyle can lead to bad choices, whether it’s skipping the session at the gym or snacking on junk food because it’s quicker and easier than cooking a proper meal.



Yoga is a great way of losing weight and getting into shape.


Putting on an extra pound or two is easily remedied with a bit of discipline but when things get out of hand, obesity can occur. This has the potential to increase the risk of serious health conditions such as cardiovascular disease or strokes, or even diabetes.


However, although one type of diabetes can be partially caused by obesity, it can also occur in individuals with a perfectly healthy bodyweight and at a much younger age. The former is known as Type 2 diabetes, whilst the latter is known as Type 1 diabetes.


But even if you have been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, there is increasing research showing the importance of maintaining a healthy bodyweight.


The good news is whether you have either type of diabetes, or you are simply overweight and want to shift some surplus pounds, help is at hand: yoga.


Despite having a reputation for being an activity most associated with chanting and deep breathing, yoga is in fact an extremely powerful kind of exercise which has the potential to help everyone who tries it.


With a uniquely holistic approach, yoga has a diverse range of benefits which have been recognised by medical practitioners from all over the world. We take a closer look at just how yoga can help with both obesity and diabetes.


What is yoga?


Before we look in depth at just how yoga can help provide health benefits, it’s worth running through some facts about yoga and what it offers.



Obesity is a big issue in many western countries.


Yoga is possibly one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented types of exercise in the west, partially because it has been around for centuries and its forms are diverse and many. Samsara’s yoga studio in London for example offers 15+ styles of yoga, all with their own benefits.


Arising centuries ago in the east, yoga has evolved and split off into separate branches to create the many types of the exercise which are seen today. Arriving in the west in the 19th century, it really began to come to the fore in the 1980s and has continued to rise in popularity ever since.


Despite its reputation for being an almost non-existent form of exercise, yoga is challenging and demanding and has the ability to sculpt the body in a way which is almost unparalleled. Bringing the mind and body together to work in unison, it focuses on teaching inner calm and quiet combined with muscles which are strong, firm and supple.


There are many different types of yoga ranging from those which are specifically designed to energise such as Bikram and power yoga, to those which are more technical but slower, such as Iyengar, to a gentler form of yoga especially suitable for beginners and the elderly, such as Hatha yoga.


A yoga teacher will emphasise the need to allow the body to naturally flow into position; muscles must not be forced. Instead, yoga promotes the idea of relearning how to use the all the muscles properly, rather than larger muscle groups compensating for smaller ones, which in turn allows the body to work in harmony more easily and as nature intended. This natural approach can lead to incredible increases in strength and suppleness, with a decreased risk of injuries occurring.


The other benefit which is almost universal to all types of yoga is the sense of inner peace and calm. Yoga also includes breathing exercises which, whilst they can deliver aerobic benefits, are mainly intended to help instil a sense of self-discipline and a calmness of the mind. This not only helps the individual to focus on the exercise but extends beyond, helping to release tension and decrease stress levels.


Yoga can be done at a pace that suits you.


Yoga can be practiced by anyone of any age group, no matter what their size or level of fitness. Whilst each yoga move will have an end posture, the most important part is the individual’s journey. Yoga is about learning how to use the muscles properly and stretching them, and not reaching the end posture doesn’t really matter. Regardless of how far along the sequence of moves you are able to progress, you will feel substantial benefits if you practice yoga regularly. You will also find each class has a series of props such as chairs and blocks to help you balance more easily if you need it.



Diabetes is a condition that can range from being relatively symptom-free to being very problematic. If not properly controlled, it carries the risk of significantly increasing the chances of developing other conditions such as heart disease, nerve damage, kidney problems and blindness.


It’s therefore essential to ensure that your diabetes is well controlled and that you are able to spot any warning signs when they arise.


Unfortunately even the most vigilant of diabetics can sometimes struggle to keep everything running like clockwork, as external events can play havoc with blood sugar levels.


If you’re tired, ill or have a problem such as a urinary tract infection, blood sugar levels can quickly rise. This is partly because of the physical stress these factors place the body under, and partly because you may not feel like eating properly (essential for diabetics) or you might be too exhausted to work out. Exercise is one of the best known ways to control blood sugar levels so being ill can truly be a double whammy.


Stress is another major problem for diabetics; the body’s natural response kicks in when you’re feeling agitated and dump hormones such as epinephrine and cortisol into their bloodstream. Their role is to raise blood sugar in readiness for fight or flight, an almost disastrous situation for anyone with diabetes.


Most diabetics become experts at spotting when they don’t feel quite right and are able to check their blood sugar levels and act accordingly. However, even better than this is putting measures in place which can help prevent the blood sugars from rising in the first place.


Yoga offers one of the best solutions for this.



Yoga is a great form of exercise for people with diabetes.

There are a number of benefits which have been repeatedly shown in studies of yoga; these include better sleep, lower levels of anxiety, improved feelings of well-being, improved flexibility and strength, heightened sense of awareness and focus and improved digestion and immunity.


These benefits have been seen in all groups of individuals, not just those with diabetes. However, yoga can offer very specific benefits to diabetics.


As we have seen from the above, controlling blood sugar levels is important, but this can be difficult to sustain, particularly during stressful times.


Whatever type of yoga you choose to practice, deep breathing and inner calm is an integral part of the regime. Yoga teaches that the mind and body work in tandem and therefore should never be considered in isolation. For that reason, yoga has been proven to be an effective means of preventing hyperglycaemic (raised blood sugar) attacks which have been triggered by stress. It has also been demonstrated to have longer term benefits in helping to keep blood sugar levels to fluctuate less.


This is achieved by deep breathing, yoga postures and an increased awareness of your body and mind.


In addition, there is also a proven physical effect. Blood sugar levels can be improved by the uptake of glucose by the muscle cells. As a form of exercise which helps to increase lean muscle growth, yoga can not only help your current levels of glucose to be absorbed by the muscle cells, it can increase their efficiency in the future as you grow stronger.


Finally, as we mentioned earlier, keeping your bodyweight to within a healthy range can be one of the single most important factors for either preventing developing diabetes (for Type 2), or halting its progression or the risk of complications. And that brings us on to the next section…



There’s many different ways to lose weight but the best way to do it is to combine a healthy eating regime with exercise.


Whether you like to pound the pavements and go jogging, hit the aerobics classes or simply power-walk around the park, the good news is that a yoga class can be the perfect supplement. Yoga Point produced an excellent resource about yoga for weight loss which I would encourage you to check out.


Yoga provides an almost unique set of health benefits which is perfect to complement your existing exercise plan and can actually help you to get better results with both your performance and your weight loss.



Yoga is a great exercise to start with on the road to losing weight.


It achieves this in a number of different ways.


Arguably the biggest battle that most people have with losing weight is with their own mind. We all know what to do, but our subconscious has a nasty habit of waiting until we are at our weakest and then seducing us with the promise of another biscuit.


Having a sense of self discipline, pride in your body and an awareness of what you put into it can all make a very significant difference to how you feel about your healthy eating plan. Many people who start doing yoga report that the holistic approach makes them think more carefully about taking care of themselves, and more importantly, it’s no longer a chore. The temptation to eat naughty food or skip an exercise class is hugely diminished, simply as a result of your new-found inner quiet.


Yoga delivers this peace of mind by promoting something called mindful breathing, which combines deeps breaths with quiet meditation and contemplation. Taking the time to do this can produce surprising results, even in the most cynical of individuals.

And even if you opt for a dynamic yoga class, there should still be a section towards the end where things slow down for the breathing exercises. It’s often a good idea to take a jumper with you to your yoga class because after all that exertion which can leave you hot and sweaty, you can very quickly chill when you are sitting (or lying) quietly.


Of course, yoga doesn’t just deliver an improved peace of mind, there are physical benefits too.


The type of yoga will determine just exactly how many calories you will burn and some classes are better for providing more cardiovascular type benefits than others. However, all yoga classes will sculpt and tone your muscles far more quickly than any other kind of exercise. This has dual benefits: not only will you be spurred on because you look so great; the muscle growth will also be burning more calories too!


Finally, yoga approaches muscular growth a little bit differently than other types of exercises and works the body in harmony, rather than isolating one muscle group at a time. This means that the muscles elongate as they grow, giving you that characteristic lean yoga looks, rather than tight, taut bulky muscles.


All of these benefits can deliver a big boost to your weight loss programme, and if you happen to be diabetic too, you will receive double the benefit.


Like all forms of exercise, it’s a good idea to check with your GP before starting out. If you get the go ahead, you could be seeing a whole new you within a matter of mere weeks!



Image credits: Synergy by Jasmine, Spree2010, Rae Woelandari, bodytel and Tomas Sobek

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