Kumbhaka Pranayama: Yogic Breathing to Support Lower Blood Sugar Levels

Kumbhaka Pranayama: Yogic Breathing to Support Lower Blood Sugar Levels

In This Article

Are You Part of the 90%? 

blood sugar test image 1

Prediabetes affects more than one-third of the adult population and, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), 90% of the population with rising blood sugars are not aware that they even have an issue!1,3 What’s worse: even blood sugar levels at the higher end of normal is damaging. 

In one study, 249 volunteers who had high-normal glucose levels (still within normal range) experienced reduced brain size by as much as 10% compared to the beginning of the study (4 years earlier).2 

Blood Sugar + Glycation 

The result of rising (even high-normal) blood sugar is the ravages of glycation.4 What is glycation? Excess sugar molecules in the blood bind to proteins, producing toxic compounds called advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). 


AGEs can accumulate anywhere in the body, but are most problematic in the arteries and brain. Think of when collagen breaks down with age, causing thin, wrinkled skin—this is the result of glycation.6 This same process can happen in your gut, arteries, inner and outer skin surfaces, and, we now know, even the brain.5,7,8 

What is Causing the Blood Sugar Epidemic? 

lifespa image, processed foods, supermarket

The cause of this epidemic is related to a handful of factors, such as a diet of highly processed and refined foods which compromise the body’s ability to digest and detox. Highly processed, refined vegetable oils used to preserve packaged foods are indigestible, particularly by our gut microbiome. These indigestible oils end up congesting the liver and gallbladder, which are paramount to healthy digestion and blood sugar function. Remember, prediabetes starts as a liver issue: the liver secretes excess glucose into the blood each morning, known as the dawn phenomenon.   

Metformin, the number one drug for type 2 diabetes, works by blocking the liver from dumping sugar into the blood. It has no direct effect on the pancreas, which is where most of us think diabetes starts. 

Pesticides are also problematic, as they kill bacteria in the mouth, stomach, and intestines that manufacture digestive enzymes we need to digest well, detoxify efficiently, and maintain stable blood sugar.14 

We recommend "Breathe Away Occasional Heartburn Ayurvedically": https://lifespa.com/breathe-heartburn/

Can Breathing Lower Blood Sugar? 

Studies find pranayama breathing exercises have a powerful effect on lowering blood sugar. 

kapalabhati pranayama skull shining breath yoga breath hold intermittent hypoxia

Breath retention, called kumbhaka in Ayurveda and yoga, is considered the most important aspect of pranayama or yogic breathing techniques.2 While it’s a practice that takes time to learn, research shows breath retention during pranayama, called intermittent hypoxia (aka not having enough oxygen for short periods of time),has numerous benefits.  

Benefits of Intermittent Hypoxia9,10 

  • lower blood sugar 
  • greater insulin sensitivity 
  • neuroplasticity 
  • stem cell production 
  • enhanced nitric oxide production 
  • increased EPO 

While the benefits of breath retention are vast, potentially lowering blood sugar levels by just breathing is remarkable!  

In one study, eight type 2 diabetics were asked to engage in 60 minutes of intermittent hypoxia during exercise and at rest. Blood sugar levels and insulin resistance markers improved significantly during intermittent hypoxia training during exercise and at rest, compared to the same training with normal breathing.11 

We recommend "Performance-enhancing Effects of Breath Retention + Pranayama": https://lifespa.com/hypoxia-pranayama-breath-retention-stem-cells-epo-nitric-oxide/

Is Oxygen Deprivation Dangerous? 

In one study, long-term states of hypoxia were shown to be harmful, but intermittently, lower oxygen levels have proven to deliver robust rejuvenation.12 Most hypoxic states are induced involuntarily in a hypobaric chamber, whereas during pranayama, kumbhaka is created voluntarily and regulated by the comfort of the practitioner. 

There is no shortage of studies linking intermittent hypoxia to helping lower blood sugar levels. Studies show moderate intermittent hypoxia, which you can replicate with pranayama with breath retention, can help lower blood sugar by increasing mitochondrial enzymatic activity and glycolysis (breakdown of sugar), while improving glucose tolerance. Moderate hypoxia also stimulates glucose disposal in patients with type 2 diabetes and, in combination with exercise, insulin sensitivity is improved.11,12 

Have you tried breath retentions to support your blood sugar? 

Thank you for visiting LifeSpa.com, where we publish cutting-edge health information combining Ayurvedic wisdom and modern science. If you are enjoying our free content, please visit our Ayurvedic Shop on your way out and share your favorite articles and videos with your friends and family.

Dr. John


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics/statistics-report.html 
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22946113 
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/prediabetes.html 
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3714534/ 
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4648888/ 
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27616134 
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27696179 
  8. http://www.lifeextension.com/Magazine/2018/4/Benfotiamine-Improves-Cognition-in-Alzheimers-Patients/Page-01 
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526028/ 
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3361916/ 
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21218513/ 
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4315448/ 
  13. https://lifespa.com/dawn-phenomenon-combating-high-fasting-blood-sugar/
  14.  https://lifespa.com/pesticides-kill-beneficial-mouth-bacteria/ 

3 thoughts on “Kumbhaka Pranayama: Yogic Breathing to Support Lower Blood Sugar Levels”

  1. Dr. John,
    Is any amount of pranayama okay during pregnancy? Is this blood sugar regulation breathing practice safe for a pregnant woman?

  2. Ive just started your latest class, Conscious Aging. Is it possible to experience “healing crisis” after starting a new, deep breathing practice like bastrika, pratiloma or kumbhaka? I’ve started these as class homework and now do not feel well (headachy, body aches, digestion off).
    Thank you for responding!


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