Build a Better Me, Month 3: Get Back into Yoga

Build a Better Me Healthy Blogging Challenge

More than 10 years ago, I started doing yoga. Right after I had back surgery (L4-L5), a friend told me it would be good for my recovery. I was hesitant because I am the least flexible person in the world (well, except for my brother). I found something called “Gentle Yoga” and the description of the class said things like “learn to modify poses if you have physical limitations.” It sounded perfect for me.

I went to my first class and I was hooked. Debbie Jensen-Grubb, the instructor, was kind, gentle, funny and encouraging. I looked forward to my weekly sessions and even practiced some of the poses at home. I felt great. Since then, I’ve gotten remarried, moved and let “busyness” take over my life. And, boy, is my stiff body showing the effects. It’s time to Build a Better Me and get back into yoga.

I’ve kept in touch with Debbie over the years and was delighted to learn that she has just come out with a new DVD called Gentle Yoga for Strengthening. I can’t wait to get my copy! I also asked Debbie if yoga was a good thing, in general, for people with diabetes to do. See below for a wonderful article she wrote about the subject.

If anyone is in the Baltimore-Washington area, I highly recommend that you check out Debbie’s classes at The Yoga Center of Columbia (Maryland). Debbie is known as The Yoga Teacher online.

Yoga and Diabetes
by Debbie Jensen-Grubb of The Yoga Teacher, LLC

Gentle Yoga for Strengthening by Debbie Jensen-Grubb
Learn more about
Debbie’s new DVD

Diabetes Mellitus is a disease related to the impaired glucose tolerance of the body. There are different types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, pancreatic, or gestational. While all diabetics can find relief from the symptoms of diabetes through yoga, Type 2 diabetics can effectively aid their treatment with dramatic results from practicing yoga. This is because yoga reduces stress and improves physical fitness.

In yoga the use of postures (asana), different breathing modalities (pranayama), and meditation brings health to body, mind and spirit which brings relief to the person on many levels and reduces stress on all of the body’s systems.

Asanas (poses) stretch, twist, and strengthen muscles and internal organs which increases the blood flow, removes toxins, and oxygenates the body’s systems. All of this leads to a healthier endocrine system. Many poses have a positive effect on the functioning of the pancreas which aids in insulin secretion, especially backbends and twists.

Pranayama (breath work) aids in reducing stress, bringing blood pressure down, and oxygenates the blood, which helps many who often also have cardiovascular issues. It also makes use of the abdominal muscles and the diaphragm which in turn massages the internal organs. Nadi Shodana, alternate nostril breathing, is especially good to help calm the nervous system while enlivening the mind. Another good breathing technique is the 4-7-8 breath: this is when you inhale through the nose to a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 7, and exhale slowly blowing out of pursed lips for a count of 8. Do this three times and you’ll feel completely relaxed.

Meditation aids in stress relief. It brings the mind into the present moment and that helps to enhance your mind’s concentration and awareness of how you are being in any given moment. This can help greatly when you are having to watch what you eat and brings more cognizance to what you are putting into your mouth.

Yoga Nidra, a type of meditation, is especially useful for the diabetic to bring stress relief to the whole body/mind process. It is a guided meditation in which the participant lies comfortably while listening to instructions that relax the body, emotions, and mind. It is profound in how it can bring relief on so many levels and especially aids in insomnia. An added benefit is that anyone can do it, even quadriplegics or amputees. [DF note: Debbie has two CDs called Yoga Nidra Cat Naps and Essential Relaxation, which help tremendously if you have trouble sleeping.]

There are so many types of yoga out there these days and they all embody the methods mentioned above. How do you choose which yoga that is right for you? The first thing you want to figure out is more about your preferences. Do you like to move fast, slow, or not at all? Do you need more energetic exercise or is obtaining flexibility more important? What are your capabilities / limitations? Once you’ve answered those questions then you can look at what is available in your area.

As a general guideline most American yoga is known as hatha yoga, within that framework you have various types of yoga that include:

  • Restorative – props are used to support the person so that there is no strain when doing the poses which are held for a long time (2-15 minutes) usually in a supine or prone position. Yin Yoga and Svaroopa Yoga are restorative.
  • Vinyasana – or flow yoga, this when you move from one pose to another in time with your breathing without stopping between poses. It can be rigorous, is great for the cardiovascular system, and requires a good teacher and mindfulness so that you don’t hurt yourself. Ashtanga Yoga, Power Yoga, Hot Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Jivamukti, Moksha, Forrest, Power, and Kudalini are among the many that use this method.
  • Therapeutic – is probably the yoga that fits the abilities of most people and may be the best one for those with diabetes. It is a good yoga to start out with to learn the poses, terminology, and get a comprehensive view of yoga. The class will be slow paced, focused on healing, and gentle. There is an emphasis on alignment, strengthening, and flexibility within an individual’s own parameters. Positive thinking is also highlighted. Props are used prominently. Yoga brands that fall under this category are: Iyengar, Viniyoga, Kripaula, Anusara, and Sivananda to name just a few.

The next step is finding a good yoga teacher. There are no organizations that qualify or certify yoga teachers. Teacher training programs can vary from a weekend to two years, so you need to be careful when choosing a teacher. The Yoga Alliance (YA) is a good first step towards finding a teacher that has gone through a registered yoga school; look for the initials RYT, which means Registered Yoga Teacher, the designation they give to someone who has completed training with one of their schools. YA also has varying levels depending on how many hours the teacher has had in training i.e. RYT500 = 500 hours in training.

No matter if they are certified or not, most yoga teachers are dedicated and sincere. It’s the ability of the teacher to transmit his or her knowledge, how they make you feel, their knowledge of yoga and physiology, and their competency in modifying the poses to fit each person’s ability that counts in the long run. Use your intuition, try out a class, talk to the teacher, and question current students before making a decision.

You must also take responsibility for your own safety when doing yoga. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Tell your teacher before class that you have diabetes or any other health challenges.
  • If it doesn’t feel right then stop or modify the pose until the teacher can help you. Don’t compete, it’s when we push ourselves out of our comfort zones that we incur injury.
  • Be patient with yourself especially when trying something new.
  • Don’t take a class just after a big meal. On the other hand be sure to keep your blood sugar levels up, so don’t not eat either, some almonds or an apple is fine.
  • Wear comfortable clothing.
  • Yoga is performed in bare feet which is a sensitive area for diabetics. It is proper yoga etiquette not to wear shoes in the studio but do wear them up to the door or to the bathroom. You can also bring a pair of flip-flops just for that purpose.

Every-body can do yoga. Whether you are a couch potato, overweight, have a chronic illness, or are approaching your golden years, it matters not. Yoga is accessible to everyone. There is no reason not to do it except for your own personal excuses, many times we are the ones that get in our own way.

So begin now, it’s never too late.

Quick reminder: Those of us involved with Virtual Potluck are working to make ourselves healthier in 2012, but we aren’t focusing exclusively on losing weight. Once a month, we’ll each be posting what we are doing to improve our health and well-being. Thanks again to Foodhunter’s Guide to Cuisine for coordinating this project.


  1. says

    I started my yoga journey last January, and find the yoga way so peaceful. I haven’t been doing as much Asanas lately, still trying to balance my busy schedule out. But I definitely live the yoga way! I agree, yoga is amazing, and anyone can do it. I hear people saying they hate yoga, but they think it is always like Hatha yoga, there is intense yoga out there too. I remember sweating like crazy to a Shiva Rea video, loved it! Thanks for sharing, Enjoy!
    Namaste Terra

  2. says

    What a wonderful introduction to yoga. I’m so glad to hear that you are getting back into it. I’m a huge fan. I began doing it years ago to deal with herniated disks and sciatica and it helped so much I became certified to teach. As Debbie, explains the key is to find the style of yoga and teacher that is right for you. Look forward to hearing more about your progress.

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