Yoga, in its exercise format, is composed of:
1. Breathing exercises – Pranayama
2. Physical exercise – Yoga asana
3. Mind control – Meditation
Yoga stresses on holistic management of both the mind and body.
A systematic review of articles and studies on the health impact of Yoga shows that its’ practice helps in weight control and reduction of blood pressure, blood lipids, and blood sugar. (Yang, K., 2007; Youngwanichsetha, S. et al., 2014)
Yoga and standard physical training exercises both have a positive impact on individuals who have diabetes. It helps reduce oxidative stress and bring about improvements in antioxidant profiles. (Gordon, L.A., et al., 2008)
Diabetic individuals who performed pranayama felt a sense of well-being in 7 to 10 days of practice. Demand for insulin and other diabetes control medicine dropped. In this trial, four types of pranayama were practiced for 30 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of resting yoga posture called Shavasana (a dead person pose posture). (Sahay, B.K., 2007)
Yoga mudra (sitting with one finger of the hand touching the thumb) and Shalabasana (locust pose) adversely affected people with diabetes and worsened their diabetes status. It is an interesting observation and indicates that the nature of the exercise is also vital in diabetes management.
Glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, oxidative stress, and other health parameters improve. Individuals with type 2 diabetes showed improvement in cardiovascular profile. (Innes, K.E. et al., 2007)
In addition to breathing exercises or pranayama, eight forms of physical activities – (Yoga asana)- have been observed to benefit diabetic patients. These exercises were practiced daily for 45 minutes, followed by relaxation exercises like Shavasana (Deadman pose) and Makrasana (Crocodile pose).
The Yoga asana practiced were Dhanurasana (Bow pose) and Ardha matsayendrasana (half spinal twist) helped control diabetes optimally. Halasana (plow pose), Vajrasana (sitting posture with feet under your hips, Bhujangasana (Cobra pose), and Naukasana (boat pose) were effective.
Individuals who practiced 30 to 40 minutes of yoga showed improved blood glucose and nerve function compared to another group of individuals who followed a regime of light exercise and medication. The yoga asanas included in this trial were: Suryanamskar (Sun salutation), Tadasana (Mountain pose), Konasan (Angel pose), Padmasan (sitting cross led Yoga sitting posture), Paschimottasan (Seating forward pose), Ardhamatsyendrasan (Half spinal twist pose), Pavanmuktasana, (Wind releasing pose), Sarpasan (snake pose) and Shavasana (Deadman pose). These individuals also practiced breathing exercises -Pranayamas. (Malhotra, V. et al., 2002)
Meditation aims at the reduction of stress. The impact of the third element of yoga – meditation has been studied for its effectiveness in diabetes management.
A one-month practice of meditation on people with diabetes shows a reduction in HbA1c (glycosylated hemoglobin) values and arterial pressure of individuals. All major psychological parameters like depression, anxiety, and general psychological distress decreased by 43%, 37%, and 35%, respectively. (Rosenzweig, S. et al., 2007; Whitebird, R.R., et al., 2009)
Sixty adult patients with an HbA1c value between 6.0 and 8.0 were subjected to an Ayurvedic diet, meditation training instruction, and an Ayurvedic herb supplement. HbA1c values in these patients dropped. (Elder, C. et al., 2006)
In addition to these supporting studies, I did come across a few studies whose findings indicated that the impact of meditation on diabetes management was not as straightforward and positive as the discourse hitherto may suggest.