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Yoga for Diabetes

by Meggan Brummer(more info)

listed in diabetes, originally published in issue 103 - September 2004

It is the world's fastest growing disease with nearly one in four people having it, ranging from newborn babies to the very elderly.

What is Diabetes?

In order for the body to work properly, it needs to convert sugar into energy. In those people who have diabetes, either the hormone insulin, essential for the conversions of the glucose (sugar) into energy, is no longer produced in sufficient amounts by the body or the insulin produced is not working properly and therefore glucose cannot be absorbed. Both of these then result in high sugar levels in both the blood and urine.

The most common symptoms for those people with diabetes include the need to urinate often, frequent thirst, weight loss and increased appetite.

Ushtrasana – Camel Pose

Ushtrasana – Camel Pose

Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes mellitus is the type of diabetes most people have heard of. It is a disorder of the pancreas characterized by glucose in the urine and is the most common form of diabetes, of which there are two main types:-

Type 1

Type 1, in which almost no insulin is produced, represents about 15 per cent of Australian cases and is one of the most common childhood diseases in developing nations. It is also referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes (Juvenile Diabetes). It usually affects children, teenagers and young adults and requires daily injections of insulin. It is one of the most common childhood diseases in Australia and is at a very high rate compared with most countries in the world.[1]

Type 2

Type 2, also known as non-insulin dependent Diabetes (Adult-onset Diabetes), is aggravated by unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and obesity. Although it is found mostly in adults over 45 years old who are overweight, it is increasingly being found in younger people. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the majority of people with diabetes have Type 2.[2] In fact, Type 2 diabetes is potentially preventable because many of the major risk factors are related to lifestyle and can be modified, such as obesity, lack of physical activity, and poor diet.[3]

Recovery from Diabetes through Yogic Practices

There were tears of gratitude in her eyes as she narrated her experience. When those who were listening to her got up to say good bye, their eyes were filled with tears. Here is the story of 50-year-old Prema Krishnamurthy:-

"It was in the year 2001 that I had the greatest opportunity of my life – to attend the Art of Living Course. After the one-week course I was able to do the daily yogic and breathing practices, including the kriya (a truly wonderful breathing technique) as part of my regular routine. Within six months I was able to notice considerable change in my blood sugar level and my family Doctor was amazed with my rapid recovery. From insulin dependent to oral medication the change was so fast.

It is now two years since I did the course. I continue doing the practices everyday and feel healthy. People who see me now say that there is freshness in my look and I am very active throughout the day. I feel that I have been healed both mentally and physically. I would like to convey this healing experience to as many people as possible."

Allopathic Remedies

Although diabetes can't be cured medically, doctors manage their patient's progress through lifestyle changes, tablets or insulin. Whilst allopathic medicine can be beneficial, there is always the risk of negative side-effects. Whilst doctors keep prescribing insulin and antidiabetic medication, continued long-term use of these medicines can create complications of their own. What are the other options? Let us take a look at how Yoga can benefit diabetics.

Eastern Versus Western Approach

Whilst research on diabetes in the west has primarily focused on diabetes as a physical disorder, research in India recognizes diabetes as a psychosomatic disorder and has studied accordingly the beneficial effects of the practice of yoga.

According to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder of the International Art of Living Organization, a great Master of Yoga, there are seven layers of existence – body, breath, mind, intellect, memory, ego and consciousness. Whilst diet, exercise and medicine focus on the layer of body, we also need to know a little bit about these other layers of existence if we are to experience good health and be free from disease. The practice of yoga brings the body, the mind and the spirit into harmony, which naturally benefits our health. Through these practices the mind also becomes still, naturally coming into the present moment where it is free of worries and stress… In this state a great amount of healing takes place on all levels.

Whist exercise in general encourages insulin to work more efficiently in the body and can help avoid the onset of diabetes, yoga also works on the more subtle levels of our existence. Although diabetes is considered incurable, the practice of yoga can contribute to its reversal. Yogic Asanas (postures) and (pranayama) breathing techniques were understood by the ancient rishis in India, who knew of the effect that yoga has on the mind as well as on the various glands in the body. Certain asanas are more beneficial to the functioning of specific organs and glands. Compression of these glands, followed by relaxation, causes an increased volume of highly oxygenated blood to reach the cells, bringing nourishment that rejuvenates cells which have deteriorated within those organs or glands.

Yoga for Diabetes Insipidus

The most common abnormality associated with dysfunction of the posterior pituitary gland is diabetes insipidus.4 Most diabetes insipidus is caused by inadequate secretion of vasopressin by the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland, located at the base of the brain, just behind the bridge of the nose, can be stimulated through various yoga asanas, including yogamudrasana and matsyasana:

Yogamudrasana – Psychic Union Pose

Sit comfortably on the floor with your legs crossed, or in padmasana (lotus) with your legs crossed and your feet on your thighs or in ardha padmasana (half-lotus pose) with only one foot on one thigh and the other on the ground. Close your eyes. Breathe normally and relax your body. With your hands behind your back, take hold of your left wrist with your right hand. Fold the thumb of the left hand into the palm of the hand and wrap the fingers around the thumb. Inhale deeply. As you exhale, slowly allow your body to drop gently forward. The spine will naturally bend as you move forward, but do not bend the spine more than you need to. Instead, aim to touch your chest to the ground and rest your forehead gently on the floor. Relax your body as much as you can and allow your breath to be slow and deep. Stay here for as long as is comfortable for you and then slowly come up to an upright position as you breathe in. If it is difficult for you to hold the asana, then come up after a short while and repeat the asana a few times. Cross your legs the other way round and repeat the pose.

  • People with serious heart and back problems or those in post-operative or post-delivery period should not attempt this pose;
  • Yogamudrasana massages the abdominal organs, stretches the spine and tones the spinal nerves;
  • Ideally this forward bending pose can be followed with a backward bending asana, such as the Matsyasana (Fish Pose), Ushtrasana (Camel Pose) or bhujangasana (the Cobra Pose). Of these three, The Cobra Pose and the Fish Pose are highly recommended for those with diabetes.

Matsyasana – Fish Pose

Matsyasana – Fish Pose

Matsyasana – Fish Pose

Lie down on your back and relax your whole body. Place your hands underneath your buttocks with your palms facing downwards. Pull your elbows together, so that they are as close to your spine as possible. Using the support of your elbows, press them into the ground and lift your back and neck off the ground, arching your back and expanding into the chest. Keep the top of your head on the ground, feel the stretch along your throat. Adjust your head so that the maximum arch of the back can be reached and keep your legs straight.

Consciously relax the body in this position and allow the head, buttocks and legs to support the weight of your body. Close your eyes. Relax and breathe slowly and deeply. Hold for a couple of minutes or for slightly longer if you feel you are able. When you are ready to come out of the pose, press your elbows into the ground, lifting your head off the ground and then relax onto your back.

• Ideally Fish Pose should be followed by a pose which will bend the neck in the opposite direction, such as Halasana (Plough Pose) or Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand). Take note that these are rather advanced poses and should not be performed without the expert guidance of an experienced yoga teacher. Before incorporating the practice of Halasana one should master Poorwa Halasana (the Preliminary Plough Pose) under guidance.

As Diabetes Insipidus is a disorder in which the kidneys are unable to retain water, Cow Face Pose will be beneficial as it is induces relaxation, alleviates tiredness and anxiety and stimulates the kidneys.

Gomukhasana – Cow Face Pose

Sit on the floor and cross your legs in front of you so that the right knee is directly above the left knee and the feet are tucked close to the sides of your buttocks. Raise your right arm above your head, breathe in, and then bend your elbow, dropping your hand behind and resting the palm of your right hand flat against your back. Take your left arm behind you and with the elbow pointing towards the ground and see if you can interlock your hands behind your back. Do not force this movement. If your hands do not connect behind your back, just hold them where they are. Make sure that your head is not dropping forward onto your chin. You want to keep the chest expanded and the face looking outwards. Keep your spine straight and long and close your eyes. Stay in this position for up to two minutes and then unwind the body and repeat the same position on the other side with the left leg above the right and the left arm raised above the head.

Yoga for Diabetes Mellitus

As Diabetes mellitus is a disorder of the pancreas, asanas that are effective in activating the pancreas may be of particular benefit to people who have this type of diabetes. If the pancreas is restored to function healthily, it is possible for them to be cured of the disease.

Yoga can definitely have the effect of reducing insulin levels for Type 1 diabetics and control diabetes without any external medication for Type II diabetics. Yoga will also certainly help to improve poor circulation, a major complication of diabetics.

Asanas that stimulate the pancreas include various backward bending postures such as:

Bhujangasana – Cobra Pose

Bhujangasana – Cobra Pose

Bhujangasana – Cobra Pose

Lie down on your stomach and relax completely. Place your hands under your shoulders so that your palms are resting flat against the ground. Take a deep breath and slowly raise the top half of your body off the ground, arching back. Allow the head to drop back and keep the mouth closed so that you can feel the stretch along the throat. Keep the arms bent and your elbows tucked in close to the side of your body. Take a few slow, deep breaths whilst holding this position and then, very slowly lower your body to the ground as you breathe out. Complete five rounds and relax completely.

Salabhasana – Locust Pose

Lie on your stomach with your legs together and place your chin on the ground. Fold your thumbs into the palms of your hands and wrap your fingers around the thumbs so that the hands are in a fist. Place your hands underneath your body. You may need to shuffle around a bit to find a comfortable position for your hands. Close your eyes and relax your body. Now begin to raise your legs, keeping your ankles together. Raise your legs as high as you can, keeping them straight and together. Either you can hold the breath whilst your legs are in the air, and exhale as you relax them down, or you can breath long, deep breaths as you hold. You will feel the lower muscles in the back contracting. Hold this position for as long as you can and then relax the legs down to the ground, move your arms away from beneath you and relax with your head to one side. Repeat this asana three times.

  • This asana is most beneficial when it is preceded by Bhujangasana (cobra pose) and followed by Dhanurasana (bow pose), as presented out in this article;
  • Those suffering from a weak heart, hernia, peptic ulcer or high blood pressure should not attempt this asana.

Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)

Lie down on your stomach. Bend your knees and bring your feet towards your buttocks until you can take hold of your feet. Take a deep breath in as you lift your head, looking forwards. At the same time, raise your feet as high as you can whist keeping hold of them. Breathe deeply through your nose for 20 to 30 seconds. When you exhale, exhale completely until there is no more air in your lungs. This will give the internal organs a chance to be massaged. Relax downwards as you breathe out. Rest on your stomach with your legs straight and your head to one side, arms by the side of your body, palms facing towards the sky. Relaxing deeply after doing the bow pose is essential if the benefits are to be fully absorbed into the body.

Poorna Dhanurasana is said to affect most of the endocrine glands. It is particularly beneficial for someone with Diabetes mellitus as it stimulates the pancreas.

What Else Can I Do?

Exercise in General

For exercising diabetics, the intensity of the activity should be moderate. Physical activities like bicycling and swimming are particularly indicated because they involve much less orthopaedic risks.

Exercise for Type 1 Diabetics

Exercise seems to bring little improvement to the metabolic control of diabetes for Type 1 Diabetics, but can reduce certain risk factors related to the heart.

Exercise for Type 2

For Type 2 Diabetics regular exercise is recommended as it helps to reduce weight and increase the absorption of insulin.


Here are a few general diet tips for diabetics:

  • Smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day work to deep the blood-sugar level steady;
  • Although the diet does not need to be sugar free, soft drinks, cordials, lollies and other sweets should be limited;
  • Limit or eliminate processed and convenience food;
  • Let your diet contain mostly high fibre carbohydrate foods – wholegrain cereals and bread, vegetables and fruit;
  • Replace saturated fats such as butter, cream, cheese, cooking margarine, palm oil, coconut milk and cream with olive oil;
  • Limit or eliminate meat and replace it with high protein lentils such as moong dal;
  • Limit fat and oil intake. Learn to differentiate between poly and mono-unsaturated and saturated fats;
  • High fibre such as wholegrain breads, oats, spinach, beans, cereals and almonds reduce the body's need for insulin and lower the fat levels in the blood;
  • Garlic, onions, cabbage and pumpkin seeds help to reduce blood glucose levels;
  • Garlic and raw vegetables help normalize blood sugar.

Other Tips

  • Spirulina is an excellent natural food supplement that helps to stabilize blood sugar levels;
  • Herbs used to normalize blood sugar levels include Dandelion Root, Fenugreek, Ginseng and Juniper.


2. 4364.0 National Health Survey, 2001. Summary of Results, Australia.
3. Dr Bennett. Diabetes: Australian Facts 2002 report. AIHW. November 2002.
4. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology. 519.


An altered version of this article has been published in Wellbeing, Sydney Australia, June 2004. The editor can be contacted via


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About Meggan Brummer

Meggan Brummer (BA Hons) is a health writer, Hatha Yoga and Meditation Teacher, teacher of The Art of Living courses for the International Art of Living Foundation (, singer and traveller. Having taught yoga in Africa and Asia, Meggan now lives and teaches in Sydney, Australia. Although she specializes in Yoga and Ayurveda, Meggan is dedicated to exploring and sharing the myriad of alternative ways in which we can live happier and healthier lives through her writing. She can be contacted on

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