Deborah Charnes performs the twisted chair pose. Courtesy photo.
Deborah Charnes performs the twisted chair pose. Courtesy photo.

 The City of San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District reported last year that more than one in seven residents has been diagnosed with diabetes. The figure skyrockets to one in three among seniors in Bexar County.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that Hispanics are almost twice as likely as their non-Hispanic white counterparts to be diagnosed with diabetes, and Latinos are 50 percent more likely to die from diabetes as non-Hispanic whites.

There is no clear-cut answer for what will alleviate the diabetes epidemic in our community. We can, however, address blood sugar management to prevent renal failure, amputations, cardiovascular disease, and other problems associated with Type 2 diabetes.

Whether someone is injecting themselves with shots, using a pump, or swallowing oral medications, diabetes management represents a permanent lifestyle change. We’re not talking 10 days on an antibiotic or giving up candy for Lent, but constant injections, finger pricking and restricted food intake, which can be depressing and stress-provoking. The diagnosis, prognosis and prescription can be frustrating, depressing and stressful, and stress aggravates the blood sugar levels.

Deborah Charnes performs the mariachi pose. Courtesy photo
Deborah Charnes performs the mariachi pose. Courtesy photo

While it’s pretty much common knowledge that yoga helps reduce stress, doctors rarely prescribe yoga for diabetics. Yoga therapists and Ayurvedic practitioners have many ways to help those with Type 2 diabetes. Yoga is a holistic practice. It is not just about a 60-minute workout.  

Yoga therapy, beyond the eight limbs of yoga, can tap into Ayurveda, physical therapy, psychotherapy, nutritional counseling and myofascial remodeling to help the client change their lifestyle and lower their blood sugar. 

“If you only address physicality, you won’t reach the cause,” said Chase Bossart, co-director of Yoga as Therapy North America (YATNA) at a workshop in Central Texas on Yoga Therapy for Diabetes.  “Yoga Therapists can train people to alter their lifestyles to help them with specific issues, and at the same time, help them have a healthier mind, body and soul for the longer term.”

Gary Kraftsow, a yoga therapist who studied with one of the foremost yogis in India, agrees it’s about lifestyle.

“A personal practice will enable you to break unconscious and self-destructive behavioral patterns and establish new ones that will lead to positive change. The basic principle of yoga cikitsa (therapy) is that diseases are symptoms of imbalance; and therefore, the orientation of yoga cikitsa is to restore balance.”

Research has also proven that yogis have better balanced diets. A five percent loss in body weight can reduce blood sugar levels. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle conducted a study of 1,500 overweight individuals over the age of 50. Those who dedicated time at least once a week to yoga (regardless of the type of yoga) over a period of four years or more were nearly 20 pounds lighter than those who did not practice yoga. The researchers’ theory was that the yogis had less stress and better diets than the others in the study, most likely because the practice of yoga generally brings about a more positive and healthy lifestyle. 

Deborah Charnes practices yoga in unusual places. Courtesy photo.
Deborah Charnes practices yoga in unusual places. Courtesy photo.

Yoga therapy for diabetics should be a holistic, customized approach under the guidance of a qualified yoga therapist and a general practitioner or endocrinologist. Because yoga therapy and Ayurveda are person-centered, each yoga therapist will likely have a different protocol for each client. The following are just a few easy steps for diabetics to incorporate into their lives:

  • Walk outside for 10-15 minutes daily. Use walks as time to connect with nature, your pets or family.
  • Breathe in bed. Feel your tummy rise and fall as you inhale and exhale. Count each breath for 5-10 minutes nightly before sleep, or during interrupted sleep.
  • Eat mindfully. Count your carbs (less than 50 milligrams per meal) and skip any high-glycemic foods. Reduce or eliminate animal fats, including meats, cheese and butter. Use cinnamon instead of sugar in your coffee, oatmeal, smoothies or other foods.
  • Twist* your body in both directions, 5-10 minutes daily.

*Contraindicated for pregnant women, or those with spinal fusions, herniated discs or other spinal injuries.  

Featured/top image: Deborah Charnes performs the twisted chair pose. Courtesy photo 

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Deborah Charnes, of The Namaste Counsel, is a certified yoga teacher with advanced training in Ayurveda and yoga therapy. A San Antonio resident since 1998, she also owns The Write Counsel providing marketing...