Yoga For Diabetes Mellitus
30 Sep 2021 HYN Himalayan Yoga Academy
Diabetes mellitus is a disorder in the metabolism of sugar. In the diabetic, the primary problem is the defective utilization of sugar by the body. Dietary sugars and starch are broken down to glucose by the process of digestion, and this glucose is the major fuel for the various processes, organs and cells of the body.
Glucose metabolism is under the control of the hormone insulin, which is secreted by the pancreas, a large gland behind the stomach. When this gland becomes stressed or exhausted, the hormone insulin becomes deficient in quantity or sensitivity and the blood sugar level becomes high and uncontrolled as a result. The symptoms of diabetes are due to excessive sugar in the blood.
Diabetes is a very common disease today, especially in our affluent communities. Its incidence has paralleled the rising affluence of our lifestyle.
The cause of diabetes
Yogic science recognizes two interrelated causes of diabetes. Firstly, long-term devitalization and sluggishness of the digestive processes due to dietary abuse, overeating, obesity and lack of exercise. High intake of a sugar and carbohydrate rich diet is especially implicated.
If a person takes a large amount of sugar, sweets or chocolates, etc., their pancreas is ready to respond by pouring out a large amount of insulin to rapidly manage the rocketing blood sugar level without incident.
However, if such a sugar-rich diet is eaten every day, the pancreas is being called upon constantly to secrete enormous amounts of insulin, and sooner or later it begins to tire and become depleted. Insulin production in response to sugar stimulation becomes increasingly inadequate. As a result, the blood remains saturated with sugar for long periods of time. It is then only a matter of time before diabetes is diagnosed. This usually occurs when the patient attends the doctor for investigation of one of the symptoms of high blood sugar, for example, an excessive thirst or urination, a resistant skin or urinary infection, or failing eyesight.
The second causative factor is that diabetes is stress related. The stress and frustration of modern sedentary humans are largely manifest on the mental and emotional planes, unlike those of our ancestors who had to wage a physical battle for survival. Nevertheless, the adrenal glands are in a constant state of activation, spilling the ‘stress hormone’ adrenalin into the bloodstream. This is a potent stimulus to the body to mobilize glucose into the blood. In the way a constant heavy burden of worries and anxieties imposes a constant demand for insulin secretion which can ultimately precipitate diabetes, especially in conjunction with a diet rich in sugar.
Two types of diabetes
The less prevalent but more severe form of diabetes occurs in young people. This is juvenile onset diabetes where the capacity of the pancreas to produce insulin has been partially or even completely lost. This may be due to a genetic defect, or may follow a viral infection or a severe psychic, mental or emotional trauma. This form of diabetes tends to occur in thin, sensitive, intelligent people. The medical treatment consists of daily injections of replacement insulin.
The more common form is late onset diabetes, which develops gradually in middle-aged , stressed, overweight, underexercised persons, whose diet contains an excess of sugars, starches and fats. This long-term overloading of the digestive system, especially the pancreas, leads to progressive deterioration of the insulin secreting mechanism and desensitivity of the body tissues to insulin.
In this form of diabetes, insulin is released in insufficient quantities and too late. Because some insulin producing capacity remains, this form of diabetes can be initially controlled through dietary restrictions alone. When this becomes insufficient, oral hypoglycaemic drugs, which decrease the blood sugar level directly are prescribed. At some later stage, due either to diminishing control or increasing side effects, these drugs are abandoned and the patient is put on daily injections of insulin, which will almost certainly be needed for life. However, with a system of regenerative yogic practices, it is often possible to cure this form of diabetes.
The dangers of diabetes
Because insulin is required to push sugar from the bloodstream into body cells, insulin deficiency causes high blood sugar but low intracellular sugar. Though sugar is freely circulating in the blood, it is useless because it is not being put to use by the body’s cells. Therefore, the cells may actually be starving. It is case of “Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink!”. The muscle cells which form the walls of the blood vessels are particularly affected by sugar starvation, leading to a whole range of degenerative vascular changes, including heart disease, arteriosclerosis, hypertension and kidney failure. Secondary effects of poor circulation, which are frequently seen in poorly controlled diabetes, include skin infections, gangrene, retinal destruction leading to blindness, loss of sensory nerve functions in the extremities, and impotence.
A blood sugar level which drops below normal, hypoglycaemia, poses a further dangerous problem for the diabetic. This can occur for a variety of reasons, such as excess insulin injection, and is probably the most dangerous situation the diabetic faces. Because the brain is totally dependent on a constant supply of glucose, brain cells immediately begin to die of starvation when this supply is cut off. Unconsciousness (diabetic coma) and even death, will result unless sugar is rapidly replaced. Furthermore, when blood sugar is unavailable, the body releases fats from the storage tissues as a source of fuel. In the burning this fat to produce energy, a state of high acidity (metabolic acidosis) results, which severely disturbs the delicate acid/base balance of the body. This is another frequent cause of death in uncontrolled diabetes.
The role of insulin
Before the advent of insulin replacement therapy, the diagnosis of diabetes was equivalent to a death sentence; its victims rapidly wasted away and did from starvation. They drowned in a sea of sugar. Insulin has certainly saved or prolonged many lives in the past fifty years. However, in the intervening decades it has been recognized that insulin therapy has certain drawbacks, as well as the inconvenience of lifelong dependence on daily injections. In recent years, yogic science has been found to offer an effective alternative treatment in controlling diabetes, especially before complications set in.
Holistic Management of diabetes
The first important principle is nutrition. Many diabetics are overweight. This often causes the body’s tissues to become resistant to the effects of naturally secreted insulin. Evidence shows that a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates assists in increasing muscle bulk (which increases insulin sensitivity) and thus helping to diminish the fat mass. These changes alone can eliminate diabetes in some sufferers. In addiction, a number of nutrients assist in improving the process of sugar metabolism and prevention of damage to the eyes, the nervous system, the kidneys, and the cardiovascular system, which are inevitable in any diabetic patient. These include vitamin C, lipoic acid, magnesium, zinc, chromium picolinate, vitamin E, B complex and selenium.
The Yogic Alternative
When medical science claims diabetes is incurable, many studies have proven that it responds very well to yogic management. In clinical trials, newly diagnosed diabetics have reduced blood sugar to normal levels and insulin dependent diabetics have been able to either discontinue insulin usage completely or have been able to considerably reduce their insulin consumption. The newly diagnosed diabetic has excellent prospects of completely controlling and correcting his condition if he adopts yogic practices and lifestyle under guidance.
Yoga does not accept that a lifestyle based on excessive consumption of rich food, obesity and lack of exercise is a natural or desirable state. To simply prescribe insulin or other drugs to counteract the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle is a disease promoting rather than a health promoting practice. The yogic treatment of diabetes is directed at the underlying causes of the disease as well as to its symptoms. It is based on the internal readjustment of the whole organism through stimulation of the body’s own regenerative processes.
The yoga practices are thought to act in two distinct ways to overcome diabetes. Firstly it seems that the cells of the Islets of Langerhans, the secretory portions of the pancreas which have been prematurely exhausted due to oversecretion of insulin, are rejuvenated. This would mean that insulin production is stimulated and that its release is better timed so as to be appropriate to the level of pranic energy in the mid-digestive tract are restored.
Secondly, yoga seems to bring about a more general resensitization of muscle and fat tissues to the body’s own(endogenous) insulin. This is achieved specifically by the anti-rheumatic series of pawanmuktasana, which removes blockage of energy in the peripheral muscles and tissues, and by the anti-gastric series of pawanmuktasana part 1, which selectively activates and mobilizes the body’s fatty adipose tissue stores. Surya namaskara is a powerful pranic generator which also helps to restore a balanced metabolism.
Rejuvenating the pancreas
Rejuvenation of sluggish pancreatic secretion patterns in the diabetic occurs gradually by the performance of specific asanas, pranayamas, shatkarmas and bandhas, including uddiyana, and nauli. These probably act by increasing the diminished flow of blood to exhausted and atrophied glandular segments of the pancreas.
Performance of the hatha yoga shatkarmas of laghoo shankhaprakshalana and kunjak kriya on a daily basis greatly aids the process of pancreatic restorataion by removing toxic wastes from the whole gastrointestinal tract, and by cleaning and irrigating associated ducts and glands.
Provision of physiological rest is the greatest of all medicines in recuperation from diseases of depletion and exhaustion in any bodily system, the pancreas is no exception and restriction of dietary starch and sugars enables the gland to rest and recuperate from past abuse. Restoration of normal insulin levels in the Islets of langerhans gradually occurs. This is aided by gradual withdrawl of external insulin injections incases where the body has become accustomed the regenerating Islets of Lagherhans to produce insulin is halted by adoption of correct diet, regular meal times, no snacks and not overeating.
Yogic Management of Diabetes
Yogic management of diabetes is demanding and it is best undertaken while the patient is fully resident in a properly equipped yoga ashram. At least one month should be allowed for the initial period of training and treatment,so that the new attitudes and practices can be thoroughly integrated into the patient`s lifestyle.
It is important that diabetics undertake yogic therapy n conjunction with the qualified medical supervision. Laboratory facilities should be available , so that in therapy can be objectively measured by serial assessment of blood and urinary sugar levels. This is especially important in the period of training when blood sugar levels begin to drop.
The gradual withdrawl of daily insulin can be dangerous procedure, and in our opinion should not be attempted lightly, as the risks of precipitating the patient into keto-acidosis and hypoglycaemic coma are considerable. However, with the proper medical collaboration this objective can be safely achieved.
Simplified one months yoga programs
The yoga sadhana and progress will vary for each individual . This program should not be considered absolute for all diabetics, but should serve as a general guideline from which programs can be devised according to individuals needs and capacities. Here is a general program of practices for diabetes management, modifiable according to individual needs.
- Asana:Pawanmuktasana parts 1 and 2 , Vajrasana
- Pranayama: Bhramari and nadi sodhana stage 1.
- Shatkarma: Neti
- Relaxation: Abdominal breathing in shavasana.
- Asana: As for the first week plus shakti bandha series.
- Pranayama: Nadi sodhana stage 2;bhastrika (20 breaths).
- Shatkarma:Kunjal and neti
- Relaxation: Yoga Nidra.
- Meditation: Ajapa japa stage 1
- Surya Namaskara: Practice according to capacity.
- Asana: Vajrasana series.
- Shatkarma:Nadi Sodhana stage 3 with jalandhara and moola bandhas. Bhastrika (30 breathe), with antar kumbhaka and jalandhara bandha. Sheetali and sheetkari
- Shatkarma: Full Shankhaprakshalana once. Laghoo shankhaprakshalana each subsequent day. Kunjal and neti.
- Relaxation:Yoga nidra(full one hour practice).
- Meditation:Ajapa japa stage 2.
- Surya Namaskara: Up to 12 rounds.
- Asana:Practice sarvangasana, halasana, matsyasana,paschimmotanasana , ardha matsyendrasana, mayurasana, bhujangasana, gomukhasana.
- Pranayama: Nadi sodhana stage 4 with maha bandha. Bhastrika with antar and bahir kumbhaka and maha bandha. Sheetali and Sheetkari.
- Shatkarma: Lagoo Shankhaprakshalana, kunjal and neti daily.
- Relaxation:Yoga nidra and prana vidya.
- Meditation: Ajapa japa stage 3.
- Diet- A low carbohydrate , sugar free , natural vegetarian diet should be adopted from the outset of therapy. Avoid rice, potatoes and all sugar products. Minimal spices, oils, and dairy products. Eat wholemeal chapattis,leafy and watery vegetables, lightly boiled or steamed, salads andn fruits.
- Exercise- Daily walking is recommended.
- Insulin- Withdrawl should begin in a stepwise manner at some stage in the first two weeks when laboratory results show that yoga is effectively lowering blood sugar levels. Continue reduction under medical supervision according to serial tests.
- Drugs- Oral drugs should be reduced and then stopped once therapy commences.
- Time: Yoga program and dietary restrictions should continue for at least six months, and longer to prevent recurrence.