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Diabetes and Yoga

Intimidated by what you’ve heard about yoga? Don’t be! Yoga can be a restorative and enjoyable way to engage in physical fitness.

To help get rid of some of the mystery surrounding yoga, Clinical Exercise Physiologists Jacqueline Shahar, M.Ed., RCEP, CDE, and Michael See, MS, RCEP, of Joslin Diabetes Center, answer some of your questions about this ancient form of physical fitness.

What is yoga?

Yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India, where it has many different spiritual meanings. Outside of India, however, yoga is mostly viewed as a helpful form of exercise that focuses on easing the body into several postures, which are intended to increase flexibility, balance, strength and enhance one’s sense of well-being. There are different styles of yoga, including hatha, ashtanga, iyengar, and many more; it is important you research each to find the one that best meets your needs.

What are the benefits of yoga?

Different people have varied outcomes after practicing yoga, so not everyone will experience the same benefits. However, many people who practice yoga report a deep sense of relaxation, substantially increased flexibility and blood and oxygen supply after regular classes—regardless of aerobic exercise, points out Jacqueline Shahar. In addition, some reports suggest that because yoga can decrease stress, it may be helpful in controlling glucose levels in people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Is yoga a replacement for my cardio exercise?

Yoga isn’t a replacement for your cardio exercise, and should be done in addition to your regular exercise routine.

"While significant research exists regarding the benefits of aerobic exercise like walking or swimming and resistance training on the management of blood glucose and risk factors that accompany diabetes, the research has not been as plentiful in regards to yoga and diabetes," states Michael See. However, See emphasizes that those findings don’t mean that yoga isn’t beneficial. "On the contrary, yoga is an excellent type of exercise for posture, balance, relaxation--and some forms of yoga can favorably impact strength," he concludes.

Do I need special equipment for yoga?

Yoga studios or classrooms usually provide all of the tools you’ll need to get started with yoga, but you may want to bring your own yoga mat to class. The only other equipment you’ll need is your body. Yoga is often practiced without socks, so if you have any problems with your feet, be sure to touch base with your doctor to make sure practicing barefoot is alright, and if not, ask about some alternatives to going barefoot.

How do I find a yoga class?

Referrals from friends and family about yoga classes in your area can be helpful; however, if you have diabetes, it is important you look for an instructor who is qualified and experienced enough to understand that yoga is a process that shouldn’t be rushed.. Check out Yoga Alliance, a website through which you can search for yoga teachers based on several variables including state, level of expertise, and style of yoga offered. You may also want to ask your healthcare team if they have any recommendations.

What kind of teacher should I look for?

If you have diabetes, and especially if you’re starting a new yoga routine, you should look for an instructor that has at least 200 hours of training from their home institution. Once you’ve made a list of potential instructors based on a search through Yoga Alliance, contact each one to ask them if they have worked with people who have diabetes before, and discuss your fitness level, too. If you’re just beginning to exercise or practice yoga, tell the prospective instructor in advance. If they’re a good teacher, they’ll advise you to start slowly, and offer advice on easing into the practice of yoga. Don’t worry that you’re not putting in enough time to see the benefits. As Shahar points out, "you can practice [yoga] for five to ten minutes each day and see results."

How do I know if I can perform a yoga routine?

As with any new fitness routine, you’ll need to consult your doctor before starting yoga. "Various postures may not be appropriate for individuals with eye complications secondary to diabetes," See advises. In addition, if you have any muscular or skeletal problems, be sure to discuss them with your doctor—or a clinical exercise physiologist and certified diabetes educator—and how they might affect your practice of yoga. Shahar also cautions those with diabetes complications such as retinopathy, neuropathy, foot problems (foot ulcer or charcot foot), or high blood pressure to avoid certain yoga postures. If you have any of these complications, your best bet is to ask your healthcare team what risks these compliations may pose.

"The good news is that yoga can be modified, and it will still provide as many benefits for people with diabetes as it does for those who do not have the condition," says Shahar. If you do have special concerns, you may want to try one-on-one yoga classes to start out with, and move onto group classes once you get comfortable with the experience.

What are some resources for people with diabetes who are interested in the practice of yoga?

Joslin's Why Wait? Program is a one-of-a-kind program that was created to address the unique weight-loss and weight-control needs of people with type 1 and 2 diabetes. The newest addition to the program is a gentle yoga practice that emphasizes the importance of the body-mind connection, and introduces participants to various forms of yoga.

For more information about the Why Wait? Program, please contact Joan Beaton, Coordinator of the DO IT and Why Wait? Programs at The Joslin Diabetes Center, at 617-309-2628, or via email:



You may schedule an appointment with an exercise physiologist at the Joslin Diabetes Center for a one on one consultation at 617-732-2440.

This session is often covered by insurance under ‘diabetes education’. Call your insurance provider for more information about coverage for this helpful and informative session.

Page last updated: September 18, 2019