Many yoga poses have been found to be especially effective for diabetes. I’ve selected a few that incorporate the various benefits of yoga through different mechanisms of action. Some of the ways that Yoga can improve diabetes are:
a) Reducing insulin by lowering cortisol – the stress hormone. Yoga is well known for reducing anxiety and stress, which lead to inflammation, poor sleep, increased levels of cortisol and insulin. Yoga helps reverse all of that.
b) Reducing excess weight. Either a cause or byproduct of diabetes, excess weight leads to all sorts of other problems such as storing toxins and increasing inflammation. A vigorous yoga practice can help burn calories, increase metabolism, and reduce fat stores.
c) Reducing neuropathy. Yoga improves circulation and hence blood flow to the peripheral nerves and tissues. This can reduce pain and swelling. Better circulation also helps digestion, which will aid in removing toxins and improving nutrient uptake.
d) Increasing mindfulness – which translates to better eating habits. We can learn to be mindful of when we’re hungry versus bored; when we’re satisfied versus full; and also to be more gentle and patient with ourselves as we go through life changes. You will your focus, memory, energy, and mood improving!
You will see yoga poses in this series that tap into all of these wonderful benefits. Each pose is annotated with a, b, c, or d, corresponding with the benefits above.
FOR OPTIMAL SUCCESS:
1. Be consistent with your practice. A 2008 study in the British Journal of Medicine showed a 30% reduction in blood sugar after 6 months of yoga practice; however, benefits are often seen after just 30 days. Also, most studies were based on practicing 2-3 times per week.
2. Begin each practice lying down and taking 7 slow, deep breaths to fill the lungs, keeping the belly flat. Then exhale for the same amount of time as the inhale, completely emptying the lungs.
3. Attempt all the poses during each session. As your schedule and stamina allow, increase the length of time you stay in each pose from a few seconds to a few minutes each.
4. End each practice by lying down in savasana or “corpse pose” for a few minutes. This is where we practice “letting go”. Let go of muscle tension. Let go of chasing after thoughts. Let go of controlling the breath. Let go of judging your practice. Let go of time-traveling to the past of future. Just be.
THE POSES (“ASANAS”)
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Lie on your back, pressing all your ribs and low back into the floor, with your palms down next to your hips. Bend your knees, picking up your feet from the floor, and then straighten the legs up towards the ceiling. Lengthen up from the sitting bones through the heels and push the ball of the feet further away from you. Now, very slowly, lower your legs about 1/3 the way down, keeping the low back pressed firmly into the floor. If the lower back arches at all, you’ve gone too far. Bring the legs back. Repeat this at least three times, working up to 20 or 30, but always keeping the low back on the floor. It’s not how low your legs go, but how flat your back remains and how straight you keep your legs.
2. Jathara parivartanasana or “Windshield wipers“ [b,c,d]
Lie on your back, pressing your shoulder blades into the floor, with your arms straight out to the side. Bend your knees, picking up your feet from the floor, and then straighten the legs up towards the ceiling. Lengthen up from the sitting bones through the heels and push the ball of the feet further away from you. Turning slowly from the waist, lower your legs towards the right (your toes are aiming for your right hand), keeping the left shoulder blade pressed firmly into the floor. If the shoulder blade lifts up from the floor, then bend your legs at the knee but keep the legs together. If you are able to bring your feet all the way to your hands, then let them hover one inch above rather than resting them on the floor. On an exhale, bring the legs back up towards the ceiling, and then lower the legs to the left. Repeat 3-5 times on each side, working up to 10 times and/or holding each position for several breaths.
3. Salabhasana or “Locust” [a,b,c]
Lying face down on the floor, stretch your arms back towards your feet with palms up. Extend the legs, making the thighs longer and opening the front of the hips. On an exhale breath, lift the head and chest up simultaneously with the legs. It’s ok if the feet separate, but lift firmly from the buttocks and hamstrings. The arms also lift and continue stretching back towards the feet. Rest on the abdomen while breathing fully, focusing on the exhale breath. Repeat 2-3 times or simply extend how long you hold it.
4. Janu sirsasana or “Seated L – Stretch” [a, c, d]
Sit on the floor with legs outstretched in front of you. Bring the right foot in towards the groin with the toes resting on the inner left thigh. Keep the outer right thigh resting on the floor or blanket. Lifting the chest to keep the spine tall, reach forward from the hips and catch your left toes with both hands. If this is not possible, use a belt or scarf around the toes as an “arm-extender”. Deepen your forward bend on a few successive exhales, keeping the front of the torso facing the outstretched leg. Sit back upright on an inhale. Return the bent leg to the front, and then switch sides. Repeat once more each side. Increase your stamina from 15 seconds on each side to a minute on each.
5. Paschimottanasana or “Seated Forward Bend” [a, c, d]
Sit on the floor with legs outstretched in front of you. Lifting the chest to keep the spine tall, reach forward from the hips and catch your toes with both hands. If this is not possible, use a belt or scarf around the ball of the feet as an “arm-extender”. Deepen your forward bend on a few successive exhales, focusing on keeping the spine straight and the torso lengthening along the legs. Sit back upright on an inhale. Increase your stamina from 15 seconds to a minute.
6. Marichyasana 3 or “Seated Twist Pose” [b, c, d]
Sit on the floor with the legs outstretched and then bend the right leg, placing the sole of the right foot flat on the floor near the inner left thigh. On an exhale, turn the trunk towards the right thigh and hug the bent leg with your left arm. Your right arm behind you presses firmly into the floor to ensure the chest stays lifted and the spine upright. On the next exhale, deepen the twist and pass the left arm up and over the right thigh. Eventually work towards eliminating all space between the armpit and the bent leg. Increase stamina in the pose by holding from 15 seconds up to a minute with normal breathing.
7. Savasana or “Corpse Pose” [a, d]
This is the essential end to every practice and every day. It is simply lying down on your back. The eyes are ideally closed, but only softly. Do not squint. If you are squinting, it’s better to let the eyes open slightly. The hands are relaxed at your side, palms up. In this pose, we learn to lie down in a way that relaxes the body, mind, nervous system and spirit. We also learn to let go of all types of tension, whether physical, mental or emotional, through sustained practice. Stay for 5-10 minutes. This is the perfect time to listen to a guided meditation or simply follow your breath as it comes and goes.