Yoga, Stress, and Blood Glucose

Yoga, Stress, and Blood Glucose
Diabetes, insulin resistance, and obesity are all on the rise. What do these conditions all have in common? Blood glucose, or the amount of sugar that’s loose in the circulatory system. In the right amount, blood glucose provides energy to the cells of the body. However, overly elevated blood sugar wreaks havoc on the human body. The pancreas exhausts itself sending out too much insulin; the cells build up a resistance to the chemical after repeated volleys. This creates a vicious cycle that ultimately results in diabetes, with its long list of complications. Not a pleasant thought. We are fortunate that yoga can help!

In a 2003 study published by the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, twenty-seven nurses served as the “guinea pigs,” as scientists attempted to discern the effect, if any, of yoga on the amount of sugar in the blood. This was what is known as a randomized clinical trial, where the people in question were chosen randomly, as a representation of the nursing population. While fifteen of the nurses went about their regular lives, the other twelve added one hour a week of yoga, relaxation, and yoga nidra for a period of three months.

Before and after the trial period, the nurses were tested for blood sugar levels and rated for levels of anxiety. At the end of the study, the ones practicing yoga showed lower glucose readings. They also demonstrated noticeably reduced stress. Keep in mind these were nursing students learning how to work with patients. In a field known for its stress, the trial group stood out -- in other words, asana, pranayama, and yoga nidra made a difference!

The yoga practice did not involve difficult asana. The nurses did ten repeats of Surya Namaskar, or Sun Salutation, followed by five minutes in Savasana and thirty-five in guided yoga nidra. All participants reported similar levels of stress and blood sugar levels at the beginning of the study; by the end, the yoga nurses demonstrated significant changes. While the stress levels of the control group went up, that of the yogis went down; additionally, the yogis demonstrated better blood sugar control.

Scientists posit that the stretching and movement of the torso during Surya Namaskar alternately moves and relaxes the pancreas, aiding its blood supply and regulatory systems. Thus, the movements help keep this vital organ in fit condition, enabling it to continue performing at a better level. In addition, the use of pranayama along with movement affects the Central Nervous System of the body, bringing it from a “flight-or-fight” state to a “tend and befriend” status. This allows the entire body to relax, rid itself of excess cortisol, and renew.

The study is backed by others that also suggest that yoga is good complementary medicine for those with blood glucose issues. While those with hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and diabetes all need to receive appropriate medical care from a health professional, the addition of yoga to one’s life is obviously a positive. Whether regular yoga can work as a replacement for medication hasn’t yet been proven, but there is research aplenty to demonstrate that our practice can indeed support the body away from these frightening conditions.

Disclaimer: I am not connected to this journal. I reviewed the study on the Internet.

For further details:

Kim, Sang Dol. “Effects of Yogic Exercises on Life Stress and Blood Glucose Measurements in Nursing Students. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 2003; published online in 2014.

You Should Also Read:
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A Yoga Sequence for Abs

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