Keeping your blood sugar balanced is ridiculously important: Unbalanced blood sugar contributes to energy slumps, hanger, irritability, low libido, or fat storage. One lifestyle practice that can improve your body’s response to insulin (the hormone responsible for blood sugar management) is—you guessed it—yoga.
As a diabetic health coach and yoga instructor, I try to integrate yoga into my schedule daily. I used to be the "all-or-nothing" type: I was either dedicating 60 minutes to my practice or, if I didn’t have time, not practicing at all. In recent months though, as a midday reset from being behind the screen of the computer and my phone, I give myself the space to practice right in my apartment, even if I only have time for 15 minutes.
These yoga poses have helped balance my blood sugar by helping to reduce stress, strengthen muscles, stimulate hormonal secretion of the pancreas, build up the immune system, promote better sleep, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve energy levels.
1. Sun salutations.
Sun salutations are a sequence of eight moves strung together. It begins with standing mountain pose at the top of your mat and moving through upward salute, forward bend, half-standing forward bend, plank pose, chaturanga, upward-facing dog, and downward-facing dog. Sun salutes involve movement of the whole body, which strengthens and lengthens the muscles, ultimately helping to increase insulin sensitivity in the body. Try going through the cycle 5 times, connecting your inhale and exhale with each movement.
Whether or not you’re conscious of it, your body is under dual control. Sure, your body is self-regulating—but you also have a good amount of power over your body. Whether you pay attention or not, you breathe in and out automatically; it’s a basic survival mechanism. But anytime you want, you can intervene and breathe a different way, faster or slower, deeper or shallower. Because the body operates as a whole system, your interventions aren’t local—a different style of breathing could be linked to a panic attack at one extreme and a mindful yoga practice at the other. Which means that every intervention has the possibility of moving you away from your natural state of wellness.
Apparently, millions of people have done just that. The signs are obvious in dozens of ways—poor sleep, chronic lifestyle diseases, obesity, anxiety, and depression head the list. The healing response is compromised by a huge disruption like pneumonia or polio, but these devastating events are becoming rarer and more curable. The real threat to healing comes from the daily interventions we make that have negative or unforeseen consequences; these are the raindrops that can eventually cause a flood.
Because everyone’s life is a mixture of good and bad choices, everything in life must be viewed as either raising your state of wellness or lowering it. Our cells, all the way down to the genetic level, tolerate our indulgences but are paying the price for them as well.
So what’s the solution? Use the body’s dual control as a tool of healing. In the most basic terms, there are two kinds of healing going on in every person right now:
By Karen Sherwood
Imagine you just ate sugar, rich dairy, or (GASP!)processed foods before a yoga class. Or how about a large coffee and a muffin before a class with some deep twists? Or a cheeseburger and fries before some inversions? What effect would it have on your practice? Would your energy spike and then plummet? Make you moody? Sad? Violent? All of the above?
The modern yogi generally turns up her nose at junk foods and many of you have probably not touched a french fry since the '90s, so it’s safe to say that by now, we all know what NOT to eat.
But what are the foods that make us thrive? How much of them should we be eating? And more importantly…why?
Nourishment: Think like Patanjali
So what are the best foods to eat before we roll out those mats? All you have to do is walk down any aisle at Whole Foods Market and you'll discover it’s Disneyland for the health-conscious yogi. That said, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone fill up his shopping cart with health foods, (which are often pricey) but don’t really understand why. To put it simply, foods that keep the body light, and the mind focused are encouraged as well as foods that give us sustainable energy and balance.
A sampling of my favorites include:
Ha! Oh how I wish that were true, it’d make things so much easier at Whole foods! Though we don’t know exactly what they ate thousands of years ago in India, I’m pretty certain it wasn’t olive oil. Ayurvedic medicine is probably the closest we can get to a Patanjili-like diet.
Here are some ground rules:
Moderation: Think like Goldilocks
Looking at the 8 limbs of yoga, specifically the Yamas, or “the yoga commandments,” Mitahara suggests moderation. In the nutrition world, the word moderation leaves clients frustrated since they’re left with no image of what that’s supposed to look like. Mitahara says “not too little, not too much.”
There are some extreme eating guidelines which suggest fasting for several hours before a yoga class so that you’re practicing on an empty stomach. For most people, however, this is a bit too extreme. For the modern yogi, let’s break this down into two more exciting terms: (1) portion control, or even better, (2) common sense.
Starving yourself for 6 hours before a yoga class will most likely leave you light-headed with very low blood sugar. On the opposite extreme, eating a heavy meal right before a yoga class is probably not a good idea, either.
Let’s imagine Goldilocks was a modern healthy yogi, she’d pick the peaceful place in between: a 200-300 calorie mini-meal approximately 2 hours before a class containing a protein and a carbohydrate. If you’re taking in liquid calories, it can be consumed closer to classtime, since the gastric emptying time is much quicker. Goldilocks would also indulge sometimes so there’s nothing wrong with some dark chocolate, or a glass of great wine as long as they’re enjoyed mindfully.
Bio-individuality: Think like yourself
Here are some questions I'm often asked: Should I be eating only raw foods? What’s the deal with juicing? Is that too many carbs?
I like to always answer with a few questions of my own: Well, how do you feel when you eat raw foods? Is it realistic for your lifestyle to juice consistently? What is your activity level from day-to-day?
Just like in yoga, what’s right for one person, is not always right for the other. Just because your sister LOVES the Paleo diet doesn’t mean it’s right for you and your entire tribe.
The beauty of yoga is that every pose is endless. Every posture comes with several delicious modifications so that every yogi has the opportunity to express the pose that’s right for them. Nutrition is no different.
The idea when guiding a client through any nutrition program, is that everybody is different. In his book, Nourishing Wisdom, Mark David says it best, “If there are 6 billion people on the planet, there should be 6 billion diets.”
A person’s weight, food allergies, accessible foods, intolerances, activity level, and health concerns, are all going to be different, and need to be taken into consideration when developing a meal plan.
The good news is, yoga always gives the body a second chance, no matter what you do (or in this case eat) prior to rolling out your mat. Every practice represents a new beginning, so just by attending a yoga class, you’re already there as long as you stay committed to yourself.
Namaste from the table to the mat!