Home Yoga Sequence to Improve Strength and Flexibility
Practicing yoga helps Rachel Zinman through the ups and downs of managing diabetes. She created this series to help you improve strength and flexibility, manage stress, and gain a more positive outlook—at any age or fitness level.
The word "Yoga" means oneness, or wholeness. As a physical form of exercise, yoga can remind you of the nature of yourself: whole, complete, and perfect. When we live with chronic illness, it can be hard not to get lost in feelings of imperfection. Turning your attention to your breath and body can pull your mind away from stressful thoughts and emotions. Yoga isn't meant to replace your usual aerobic and strength-based activities, but it can complement them. A regular yoga practice can benefit your blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity, and keep you grounded in the present.
How to Use This Workout
Each pose in this workout has two versions. Begin with the easier version, moving on to the more challenging version when you're ready. Hold each pose for 10 full breaths. Aim to do this sequence, choosing one version of each pose, twice a week.
This pose stretches the hamstrings and shoulders. It also strengthens the wrists and forearms.
Easier: Half Dog
Begin on your hands and knees with your hips in line with your knees. Point your toes toward the floor and take a breath in. As you exhale, walk your hands forward as far as is comfortable and rest your forehead on the mat. Actively extend through your fingers to deepen the stretch through your torso and armpits. Lower your forearms to the mat if you need to. Breathe here.
More Challenging: Downward-Facing Dog with Bent Knees
Start on your hands and knees, with your fingers spread wide. Tuck your toes under, push down into your hands and feet, and lift your buttocks toward the sky. Keep your knees bent and your back flat. (If you feel that there is too much weight on your arms, bend your knees more.) Deepen the stretch in your torso by pushing your hands and fingers into the floor as you reach your hips upward. Breathe here.
Holding a lunge stance strengthens the legs and helps to release tight hips.
Easier: Easy Warrior
Stand at the top of the mat. Take a big step back with your right foot so that your torso faces the right side of the mat, keeping your front foot facing forward. Stand so that your back (right) heel is in line with your front (left) heel. Bend your front (left) knee slightly, so it is stacked over your ankle and facing straight ahead. Place your hands on your hips. Breathe here; repeat on the other side.
More Challenging: Warrior 2
Stand at the top of the mat. Take a big step back with your right foot so that your torso faces the right side of the mat. Line up your front (left) heel with the arch of your back (right) foot. Bend your front knee to a 90-degree angle, keeping your knee stacked over your ankle and facing straight ahead.
Raise your arms to shoulder height above your legs and reach out through your fingertips. Gaze forward over your left hand. Gently bring your front (left) hip slightly back and your back (right) hip slightly forward to deepen the stretch. Breathe here; repeat on the other side.
Tip: To ease the stretch in the hips, pivot the toes of your back foot toward the front of the mat or lessen the width of your stance.
Elongating through the back side of your body stretches the chest and shoulders.
Easier: Baby Cobra
Lie on your belly with your legs together. Place your hands under your shoulders with your thumbs in line with the center of your chest. Tuck your arms in close to your body, elbows pointing straight back. Press down into your hands and use your arms to lift the front of your chest, keeping the bottom of your rib cage, entire abdomen, and pubic bone on the ground. Keep your neck in line with your spine and gaze forward. Focus on elongating your body: legs reaching behind you, spine long, and elbows hugged in. Breathe here.
More Challenging: Locust Pose with Clasped Arms
Lie on your belly and interlace your fingers at the small of your back. On your next inhale, lift your feet, legs, upper chest, and head off the ground, and lift your arms straight back, keeping your hands clasped. Keep your neck in line with your spine. Hug your inner thighs together and lift them toward the sky while relaxing your buttocks. Focus on stretching through the front of your chest and keeping the bottom of your rib cage, entire abdomen, and pubic bone on the ground. Breathe here.
Sitting tall with your legs extended strengthens your abs & back while stretching your hamstrings.
Easier: Comfortable Staff Pose
Sit on your mat with both legs extended in front of you. Pull your toes back toward your shins and lift your torso upright. Bend your knees and shift your weight back slightly so that you're sitting on the center of your buttocks muscles. Place your hands beside your hips. Bring your shoulders back; breathe here.
More Challenging: Staff Pose
Sit on your mat with both legs extended in front of you. Engage your thigh muscles and pull your toes toward your shins. Place your hands on the floor beside your hips. Bring your shoulders back, engage your core, and breathe.
Tip: If you feel your torso leaning back at all, sit on the edge of a folded blanket or cushion to help your torso stay upright. This will lengthen the lower back.
Balancing here strengthens the ankle and foot while stretching the hip of the bent leg.
Easier: Supported Tree
Stand tall and press down through your right foot as you shift your weight to your right leg. Rotate your left leg outward, bending your knee to bring your left heel up to rest on your right ankle, pressing the ball of your left foot into the floor. Press your left heel into your right leg to help maintain balance. Bring your hands together at your heart and gently push them together as you relax your shoulders down and back. Breathe here; repeat on the other side.
More Challenging: Balancing Tree
Stand tall and press down through your right foot as you shift your weight to your right leg. With your left hand, take hold of your left ankle and place your left foot against your right inner thigh, placing your heel where your groin and top thigh meet. Press your left foot into your right leg to hold your position and balance. Keep your hips level and face forward as you bring your bent knee forward slightly. Place your hands together at your heart and relax your shoulders back and down. Breathe here; repeat on the other side.
Tip: When holding this pose, notice how your breath slows and your mind relaxes.
This seated pose challenges your balance while strengthening the core and quads.
Easier: Boat Pose with Feet on the Floor
Sit on your buttocks with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your knees. Exhale as you shift your weight back slightly to just below your tailbone and come onto the tips of your toes. Breathe here, sitting tall and opening up through your chest.
Make It Harder: Engage your core and alternate lifting one leg at a time.
More Challenging: Boat Pose with Bent Knees
Sit on your buttocks with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your knees. Exhale as you shift your weight back slightly to just below your tailbone and come onto the tips of your toes. Engage your core and lift your toes off the floor so that they are in line with your knees. Focus on sitting tall, lifting up through your torso. Breathe here.
Make It Harder: Lengthen your arms alongside your legs, palms facing each other.
Yoga is a great way to strengthen your body and mind, whether or not you have diabetes. Try this flow to get some movement and find your center.