Diabetes and high blood pressure are two of the most prevalent and deadly illnesses in the African-American community. According to current statistics, 14.7% of African-Americans over the age of 20 have diabetes; this number increases to 25% for individuals within the 65-74-age bracket. When it comes to high blood pressure (or hypertension), the numbers just get worse: 35% of African-Americans have high blood pressure. It’s the silent killer that is responsible for 20% of deaths in our community.
The Effects of Diabetes and High Blood Pressure
There are numerous complications associated with diabetes and high blood pressure, including blindness, heart disease, poor circulation, heart attack, kidney disease and stroke. Common methods prescribed by physicians to control these diseases include medication, maintaining a healthy weight, proper diet, and exercise. But there is another effective method (widely touted among holistic and naturopathic doctors) that is slowly but quickly picking up steam in mainstream western medicine: yoga.
The Origins of Yoga
Yoga means to “yoke or unite with God”, and it’s a centuries-old practice originating from the East that uses postures, movement, and breathing techniques as a means of finding holistic health – spiritual, physical, and mental. There are different types of yoga practices ranging from calming and soothing Hatha yoga to the more challenging and purifying Ashtanga yoga. No matter which type of practice you engage in, a daily yoga routine has a variety of health-related benefits for your body. Yoga boosts your immune system, increases your muscular range of motion, provides internal organs and glands with stimulating massage, increases muscular strength, slows down heart rate, significantly reduces stress, fights depression, purifies toxins from your bloodstream, and the list goes on and on. More important, yoga can effectively improve the health of those individuals who are suffering from hypertension and/or diabetes.
How Yoga Works to Control High Blood Pressure and Diabetes
When it comes to diabetes, most African-Americans suffer from Type 2, which affects the pancreas. Certain yoga postures or “asanas” work to stimulate the endocrine system, giving your pancreas a nice kick-start if you will. “Yoga reduces blood sugar levels, effectuates weight loss, and lowers blood pressure and the overall rate of progression of diabetic complications. Yoga works because it relaxes and improves the blood supply to muscles. This actually enhances insulin receptor expression and lowers the body’s blood sugar,” says Dr. Scott Whitaker, Board Certified Naturopathic doctor and author of the book Medisin. Yoga is also a great way to stimulate circulation in the lower extremities; pain in these areas is a common complaint among those suffering from diabetes.
Studies have shown that Yoga also has wondrous results for relieving or significantly lowering high blood pressure. One of the main factors leading to high blood pressure is long periods of sustained stress. The breathing techniques and asanas of yoga calm your overall central nervous system and encourage your body to enter a state of total relaxation. In fact, 30 minutes of yoga has the effect of lowering the amount of cortisol in your blood stream, which is why so many yogis speak on the feelings of peace, calm, and Zen that keeps them committed to the time they spend on their yoga mat.
Yoga is beneficial for these diseases because it works on relieving the core causes for the disease, but also the associated complications. It is important to note that not every yoga position is safe for those suffering from certain health problems. In order to make sure that you are engaging in a practice that is safe and helpful, make sure to inform your yoga teacher of any medical conditions you might have and practice only with certified instructors.