Monday, August 15, 2011

A little asana sequence for reducing blood sugar

I did some yoga with a friend a couple of days ago. He is diabetic, and we went online to look up asanas that are useful in stimulating the pancreas/increasing insulin production. And then I strung these asanas together into something that somewhat resembles the Ashtanga sequence: We did Suryas A and B, and a few standing postures at the beginning, and ended with Yogamudra (and savasana, of course). The sequence seems very effective: He measured his blood sugar at the end of the practice, and found that it had dropped by more than a hundred points!

Of course, this was just one session, and since it wasn't a controlled experiment, we have no way of knowing if other variables may have played a part in lowering his blood sugar. But even though we have no conclusive proof as yet that this sequence actually plays a direct role in lowering blood sugar, I still think that the results were encouraging enough to warrant my sharing this sequence here. If you know anybody who is diabetic, and is interested in yoga as a treatment modality, the following sequence may be a starting point. I emphasize starting point, because being the Ashtanga Fundamentalist that I am :-), I still think that ultimately, the Ashtanga Primary Series is probably the best thing to do to treat all diseases of the physical body. But not everybody is ready to do full primary from day one; and perhaps many people, for one reason or another, may not be ready to invest the time or effort to learn the primary series mysore style, posture by posture. This being the case, this sequence may also give one a taste of what one may encounter in Ashtanga, and will perhaps encourage the individual to seek out the Ashtanga Primary series. In any case, here's the sequence:

1. Surya Namaskar A (5x)

2. Surya Namaskar B (5x)

3. Utthita Trikonasana

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4. Utthita Parsvakonasana

5. Prasarita Padottanasana A, B, C, D

Prasarita Padottanasana A
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Prasarita Padottanasana B
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Prasarita Padottanasana C
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Prasarita Padottanasana D
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6. Standing wind-relieving posture

I don't have a picture for this posture. But it basically involves standing on one leg, bending the other knee, and bringing that knee to the chest (kind of like a standing version of Marichyasana A). Hold for five breaths, then repeat on the other side. The idea is to put pressure on and stimulate the abdominal organs, especially the pancreas.

7. Tree pose

 [Image taken from here]

8. Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana

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This posture may be attempted if the individual in question has sufficient hip flexibility: The pressure of the half-lotus heel has a massaging/stimulating effect on the abdominal organs, including the pancreas. If the individual in question does not yet have sufficient hip flexibilty, skip this posture for the time being.

9. Vajrasana

[Image taken from here]

In order to enhance the pressure on the abdominal organs, a further variation of Vajrasana may be performed. Staying in Vajrasana, curl the hands into fists. Place the fists in the hip creases, and fold forward. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.

10. Virasana

 [Image taken from here]
11. Double Pigeon Posture

12. Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana

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As with Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana, this posture may be attempted if the individual in question has sufficient hip flexibility. Otherwise, skip this posture for the time being.

13. Ardha Matsyendrasana

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14. Dhanurasana

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This posture is useful for the pressure that it places on the abdominal organs, especially the pancreas.

15. Salamba Sarvangasana

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If individual in question is not yet able to achieve the full expression of the posture with the body perpendicular to the ground, propping the body at a 45-degree angle off the ground (or whatever angle is attainable) works too.

16. Matsyasana

[Image taken from here]

17. Sirsasana

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If individual in question is as yet unable to do to full expression of the posture pictured above, he or she can try working with Sirsasana prep:

[Image taken from here]

Although the picture above shows an individual doing sirsasana prep against the wall, I personally do not recommend using the wall: It makes one too reliant on the wall for balance, and causes one to neglect cultivating the core strength needed to eventually do the full expression of the posture.

As an additional prep for Sirsasana, one can also use the following posture to build up strength in the upper body. This is sometimes called the dolphin pose:

[Image taken from here]

Here are some directions for getting into dolphin. Start in downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Bring the elbows to the ground, keeping the legs extended. Try to gaze forward. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths.

18. Child's pose

[Image taken from here]

19. Wind-relieving posture

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Hold the posture for 5 to 10 breaths, and then repeat on the other side. If you want to, you can also go on to do the posture with both knees bent towards the chest.

20. Yogamudra

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The traditional expression of this posture involves getting into full padmasana, binding one's hands behind one's back (as pictured above), and then folding forward. If the individual is as yet unable to perform padmasana, sitting in a cross-legged position, grabbing one's elbows behind one's back, and then folding forward also works.

21. Savasana

So, this is the sequence in full. If any of you out there have any suggestions about how to improve the sequence and/or additional postures that have a stimulating effect on the pancreas, I'll love to hear from you. I'll also like to leave whoever's interested in trying this sequence with some unsolicited advice:

(1) If you do not see results immediately (i.e. after a day or two), do not give up. Give this sequence a try (i.e. do it everyday) for three weeks before you decide. As some wise guy once said, do your practice, and all is coming :-)

(2) When you get to the point where you are fairly proficent in all the postures in the sequence, you may also want to add vinyasas (chaturanga-updog-downdog) between all the seated postures. This will work your upper body more, and enable you to develop your practice in a more balanced fashion.

May the Force be with you.  


  1. OK, I have to disagree with this one. This seems to be an Ashtanga thing: "I personally do not recommend using the wall: It makes one too reliant on the wall for balance, and causes one to neglect cultivating the core strength needed to eventually do the full expression of the posture."

    First, if someone is practicing on their own, how else are they supposed to learn the pose? Are they to magically just be able to stand on their head? What is your proposal for someone practicing alone?

    Second: sorry, but I never, ever would have learned Sirsasana were it not for the wall. The very concept of standing on my head was foreign to me; I just didn't understand how it was possible. While I'd let a teacher assist me into it, I was paranoid about falling out of it if they let go. I needed to get comfortable with the very concept of being upside down, and for me, a teacher was not even necessary for that. Now, my process--immediately--was kicking my feet off the wall so I was not leaning against it and using it as support. But no wall was not really an option. In fact, the first time I tried it without a wall (on my own) because that's "what I was supposed to do", I rolled right over and slammed my butt down. I refused to try that again anytime soon, for fear of breaking my neck.

    Were it not for the wall, I would certainly not be doing Ashtanga. People who never get off the wall need a teacher who can coach them off the wall by exaplaining how to lessen their reliance on it. I am not of the school that people need to face the entire extent of their fears all at once. Some people are happy to do that. I am not. Going upside-down was, in my opinion, facing enough fear. Not using a wall was just a distraction that also prevented proper breathing.

    Sorry if I am rather opinionated about this, but I think it's this kind of dogmatism that drives many people away from Ashtanga, as it almost did to me many times. It's one thing to want to do only what you want to do or whatever feels good; people with that attitude can't do Ashtanga. It's another thing entirely to want to be cautious, or to not want to go the deepest possible and do the most extreme practice, especially at the beginning.

    I don't think we need to make beginners cry. (But we can make advanced people cry.) :-)

  2. Interesting, Frank. I am actually one of those people who never used the wall to learn headstand. The very first time I attempted Sirsasana, I got so nervous that I just fell flat on my back like a sack of potatoes the moment I tried to extend my legs! But that moment was also when I learnt that there is nothing scary about headstand; the worst that can happen is you fall over like a sack of potatoes. Then you brush yourself off, laugh, and try again!

    So as to your question: "if someone is practicing on their own, how else are they supposed to learn the pose?" My answer would be: Allow yourself to fall over, and discover that falling over is not half as bad as you imagined it would be. And then laugh it off, and try again (and do it again next time).

    So, far from making beginners cry, I am actually encouraging them to laugh :-)

    I also have independent reasons for not being in favor of using the wall: (1) I have seen too many cases in which people develop very bad habits (doing the banana-curve-headstand is one) while using the wall; habits that take a lot of time to unlearn later, (2) It is actually safer to fall and roll onto the ground than to fall onto a wall, and possibly crunch one's neck, (3) If one is going to fall onto the ground anyway, one might as well get it over with from the get-go, and put the fear behind.

    That said, if people insist on using the wall, I probably won't insist otherwise.

  3. Interesting. I still don't understand how it's safe to fall out of headstand. Yes, I've seen people do it many times, but I guess I just don't understand why it doesn't cause some whiplash or broken necks or something. I eventually got fairly comfortable with headstand, but I think what solidified it for me was going to a workshop where we worked on Vipartia Dandasana. Since I could actually do the drop-over-from-headstand part, I realized I didn't have to worry so much. Now, I know I can actually take the headstand into a backbend if I feel I'm falling (though I can actually take it quite far past vertical before I need to drop over). Now, on some of the other headstands (i.e., end of 2nd Series), I do have some fear. I'm not sure how to drop/fall out of those. Glad I haven't (yet)....

  4. I think falling out of headstand is safest if one kind of rolls into the fall (kind of like a judo roll/breakfall), rather than stiffen as one falls. But one can only roll if there is space behind one; and having a wall gets in the way of this.

    That said, I suppose it is also true that there are people with prior neck/whiplash issues, for whom it is never safe to fall out of headstand. Maybe these people will benefit from learning headstand at the wall, under the supervision of an experienced teacher... then again, should these people even be doing headstand, in the first place?

    So are you saying that you have never actually really fallen out of a headstand, except when dropping into Viparita Dandasana from headstand?

  5. Correct, except that one time I mentioned. Started to lift the legs (bent, at the time), and fell over, slamming my butt a bit. Never fell out of it again. And dropping into Viparita Dandasana doesn't really count as falling out of it. I suppose it would if you were doing that without having a sufficiently deep backbend (and thus doing it prematurely). But back-bending is not my issue. :-)

    I will agree that distance from the wall is quite important. You don't want your hands/head up against the wall, as you won't be in a position to kick your feet away to try to balance on your own. However, if you go too far away and you fall, you'll hit the wall, which, as you said, is not a smart way to go. Need to be at least a few inches away and up to maybe about 1-1.5 feet. Beyond that, you want to be at least a few inches more than your height (since feet are pointed, at least in Ashtanga) away from the wall. So, ideally, 4 to about 12 inches, or at least 6-7 feet from the wall.

    I think I have fallen *sideways* out of Mukta Hasta Sirsasana B (end of 2nd Series), but that was more collapsing than falling, and you can put down the elbow/forearm and basically stop yourself from doing a total timber where your hips or even feet hit the ground first. Different.

  6. Interesting, Frank. I don't do either Viparita Dandasana or the "seven deadlies", so I can't really relate to your experiences, although I can kind of try to visualize and imagine...

    This has been a very productive conversation. Maybe I will write a post about learning headstand in the near future.

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