Yoga for Diabetes – A Perfect Match

22 Jul 2019


By Rachel Zinman

I can still remember the first time I stepped onto my yoga mat after my diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. I was in shock. A yoga teacher for half my life and now this. I didn’t know what to do let alone what to think and I was afraid. I knew nothing about diabetes.

You know how it sounds when you try to talk underwater? All warmly and far away? That’s how it felt when my doctor told me that the type of diabetes I had was an autoimmune condition were the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas are under attack and eventually die out. Down the line I’d be on insulin.

In order for the body and brain to function optimally we need just the right amount of sugar in our blood. Too little and the brain is starved of sugar. Too much and we corrode the system. Insulin is produced by the beta cells to lower blood sugar when the glucose level gets too high in the blood. The liver produces Glycogen in the blood stream when the blood sugar level gets too low. When the beta cells die off there isn’t enough insulin to lower blood sugar. Diabetes affects every organ and every cell. Some of the scary complications of diabetes are: nerve damage, blindness, kidney disease, heart attack, stroke and gangrene due to poor circulation.

Knowing all this, I can’t say it was an easy time in my life. I lived in denial for 6 years, trying everything I could from acupuncture to ayurveda until I was so unwell that I had to choose between Insulin or having permanent nerve damage.

How did a health conscious yoga teacher get Type 1 diabetes? I have no idea. But what I do know is that because of yoga I was able to first, come to accept my diagnosis and subsequently, understand the blessing in living with this condition. Yoga saved my life!

If you’re wondering if its relevant as a yoga teacher to know about diabetes I can reassure you it is. There are an estimated 1.2 million people aged 2 years and over (5.1% of the population) with diagnosed diabetes in Australia.

85% live with Type 2, a lifestyle disease which is preventable, curable and or reversible. Type 2 is different to Type 1, rather than the immune system attacking itself the cells either produce less insulin, the insulin is not working effectively or the cells resist the insulin, called “ insulin resistance”. Even though Type 2 is a lifestyle disease research shows that there are definitely genetic triggers.

Whether one lives with Type 1, Type 2 or gestational diabetes (blood sugar levels can rise during pregnancy, but if managed well can then go back to normal) yoga is a powerful and beneficial support tool alongside traditional allopathic medicine and treatment.

Here are just some of the many benefits of bringing yoga into a diabetes management plan:

Better blood glucose levels
Increased insulin sensitivity
Less stress
Good fitness levels
Balanced mind
Increased breath capacity
Weight loss
Enhanced mood

Having lived with diabetes now for 10 years it’s hard to remember my life prior to diagnosis. I’ve let go of my ideals and accepted the fact that sometimes things happen that can’t be fixed. Teaching yoga with this attitude has increased my tolerance, patience and compassion, and I am loving working with people who thrive on the therapeutic aspects of the practice. I would encourage any yoga teacher wanting to teach to people living with diabetes to dive in. I can’t share enough how rewarding it is to help people who need it the most.

Rachel Zinman has been practising since 1983, teaching since 1992 and teaching teachers since 2000. She’s studied with some of the most influential teachers in the west including Alan Finger and Mark Whitwell as well as immersing herself in the study of Vedanta. She is the Author of Yoga for Diabetes, How to Manage your Health with Yoga and Ayurveda. She writes for many online and in print magazines including Australian Yoga Journal and Australian Yoga Life. and

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