When it comes to physical health, I would say that yoga is a golden bullet. It would be fair to call me bias on this one but bear with me.
For me, the not-so-secret secret to yoga, is that it is a lot more than just a physical pursuit. Yoga is a holistic approach to wellbeing and when you treat the various different elements that constitute our overall wellbeing as a whole, the individual elements, whether physical, mental, or if your open to it, spiritual, flourish subsequently.
I get the feeling that, as yoga grows in popularity, and significantly, commercial success, many who don’t already practice yoga, and some who do, are increasingly cynical towards it. I get it. I tend to be, at least initially cynical, towards anything that receives too much hysteria or praise, especially when an increasing number of people are cashing in on it.
But there is a reason that yoga is accumulating such a large following of people and it goes far beyond the fact that lulu lemon leggings are now the height of fashion whether doing yoga, going to the shops, going to the cinema or anything else that has absolutely nothing to do with yoga.
Yoga is open to anyone and everyone. It is not about getting from A-B. It is not about training for a race. It is not about competing. It is not about being able to touch your toes or become super bendy like all those people you see in the yoga magazines. It is definitely not about spending $60 on a pair of leggings.
it's simply about doing it
It is about taking time for yourself, a novel concept in this day and age, to focus on your breath, on your body and on the present. If your yoga practice consists of folding forwards for 15 minutes, then that’s great. You should feel as accomplished as the most contorted yoga practitioner. Because the ‘objective’ is the same - the ‘objective’, is the process.
Hatha yoga, or the physical practice of Asanas, is a process that is designed to still the mind. And there’s no shortage of testimony to point towards the positive effects of yoga and meditation on mental wellbeing: it reduces stress, induces relaxation and opens the way for a more objective attitude towards our emotions, non attachment - therefore allowing for greater control over our emotions - instead of letting our emotions control us. As someone with a tendency to get frustrated quite quickly, I will testify to this. Yoga has become a channel for contemplation, relaxation, and quite self-acceptance.
the physical effects and diabetes bit
I started practicing yoga when I was 16 and seeking some kind of therapeutic device. This was after a series of unfortunate life events, the most recent being my diagnosis. I also wanted to adopt another more dynamic form of exercise than just running. So when yoga cropped up at my college, I decided to investigate. My teacher was a slightly older, wiser and very nurturing woman. When I told her I was going to India for 5 months after finishing college (high school), it was her that encouraged me, when I was lacking confidence due to my ability and age, to do my teacher training.
As mentioned in my post on diabetes and exercise, having diabetes allows us to measure the impact of exercise on our bodies, in a very concrete way.
I took my teacher training at Anand Prakash, an ashram in Rishikesh, India. Without going into too much detail here about the overall (fantastic) experience, my life was regimented for a month in the following ways: We ate at the same time every day, three times a day, we ate an ayurvedic, vegetarian diet, our latest meal was at 6pm and we did around 2-3 hours of yoga practice a day around theory, philosophy and anatomy lessons.
During this time I dropped my Levemir --or slow release insulin-- from 19 units a night, to just 9 units. Kapow: proof.
So why is yoga so effective? Yoga comes in many different forms: it can be very gentle and mellow, or, it can be a highly aerobic form of exercise if you choose to do a fast paced, high-energy flow. Yoga is also far reaching in terms of exercising and strengthening different muscles (including ones you didn’t even know you had). While the low impact nature of yoga may make it seem less physically demanding, yoga provides a very thorough physical workout. It builds lean tissue and muscle mass, which aside from leaving you feeling stronger, also demands greater glucose reserves for muscular restoration and increases insulin absorption and efficiency.
Now I know most people functioning in modern society can’t do 2-3 hours of yoga a day but even a 15 minute practice can help you to unwind, increase flexibility, build muscle strength and get you sweating.
If you don’t have any prior yoga knowledge, you should look into whether there are any classes available near you. That way, you can learn how to practice safely and build a good foundation for practicing on your own. If not, there are endless youtube tutorials these days or I also recently discovered this great website Yogaglo where for $18 dollars a month, you have unlimited access to a mix of different lessons and styles, hosted by professional teachers. The first 15 days are free, so you might as well check it out. After all, you shouldn’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
- check your blood sugar level before practicing
- keep some sugar on standby
- check your blood sugar 1 hour after you’ve finished
- drink plenty of water after finishing your practice