Gastro Intestinal Diseases
Yogic Management of Ulcers
Yoga works along four principal mechanisms. First is that of intra-organ massage, improving blood flow and allowing better healing; second is by better glandular secretion of mucus; third is acid reduction by specific poses; and the last, and most important, control of the mind and senses.
The quality of massage is such that in specific asanas like supta virasana, purvottanasana and back bends done on props, blood circulates healthily in the gastric area. This helps healthy healing of ulcers and digestion which is hampered in such patients. Healthy absorption follows, with good energy levels. This reduces stress on the nerves. Each asana is held for a period of five minutes at least. Props are used, without which it is difficult to maintain timings. As healthy blood flow occurs, the glands secrete mucus which coats the lining of the stomach or duodenum.
The stretch of the vagus nerve is probably the most important mechanism in back bends which reduces acid flow. Hunger decreases. The normal effect of stimulation of the nervous system and mind by back bends does not occur as the poses are done with props and with the bandage on the eyes. A particular property of an asana is nullified, yet the asana is used.
Inversions promote a feeling of lightness in the organs at once. They also help good absorption of food and elimination of excess wind in the system. Forward bends, though they quieten the mind, are contra-indicated, as they increase acidity with the vagus nerve being stimulated. They may be introduced after healing has occurred and the condition is under control with yoga alone. If drugs are still being used, forward bends should not be introduced.
To relieve bloating, belching, fullness and acid burn after meals in both conditions, some asanas can be performed after food. These are supta virasana on pillows and purvottanasana. They can be repeated any number of times in a day in addition to the morning and evening practice sessions. The effect is just like ingestion of antacids, and even faster as lightness is perceived in the organs at once. This feeling cannot be achieved by cimetidine and other drugs. It is a very good policy to start treatment with drugs and simultaneously ensure asana practice. The effect is additive. The drugs can be tapered off as the condition improves. If the person is patient enough and the disease is in the early stages, yoga alone is sufficient.
Drugs work at the cellular level, inhibiting acid flow by antagonising some receptors. The peripheral effects are controlled but the crux of the problem is not tackled. If medication is discontinued, it recurs. Asanas prevent this, as yoga works on the vagus nerve itself, reducing acid flow. This is healthier, especially in the long run. Yoga also quietens the entire system, inducing hibernation, so that all cellular responses are quietened. Drugs can be discontinued fully, if a patient combines yoga with medication in the early stages of disease management. Moreover, asanas maintain acid flow in old age, preventing invasion of the stomach by pathological -organisms.
It is also important for the person to make lifestyle changes by delegating work, practising a little detachment emotionally from the work scenario, not being a perfectionist, adhering to meal timings strictly, and ensuring good sleeping hours. Keeping the mind in control is very important for patients with duodenal ulcer. The value of pranayama along with pratyahara has been repeatedly emphasised. The use of the bandage in asana practice cools the senses. Tranquility occurs, reducing acid flow further. This allows healing of ulcerated areas. Pranayama reduces sympathetic stress on the mind and the body, and thus acid flow is reduced. Again, the cells are not antagonised, it is along natural principles. Acid pain and other symptoms reduce very fast, if pranayama is done with total involvement and sense withdrawal. The contemplative type of nadi shodana is the best as it brings the mind to focus on the breath and produces withdrawal of the senses. The use of the bandage on the face is essential.
The asanas useful for both gastric and duodenal ulcers include supta virasana, purvottanasana, setu bandha sarvangasana on pillows, dog pose with the rope, inversions on the ropes (which drain and allow fresh blood for healing the ulcerated areas), half halasana (which removes stress on the mind), setu bandha sarvangasana on the box and viparita karani. The gastric fire which is overstimulated is quietened by back bends.
The question of how the same asanas work for both diseases may be raised. The reason is that, in both, healing is needed, acid flow is to be decreased, mucus secretion is necessary, digestion is to be optimised. In the case of gastric ulcer, the stomach is kept comfortable after a full meal by these asanas and in the case of DU, the stomach and duodenum are kept non-irritated by the soothing of the vagus nerve.
Acid peptic disease is a classic example of the breakdown of mind and body connections. It is interesting to note that persons who practice yoga from a young age never develop peptic ulcer disease as the training of the mind and body is already instilled. Yoga philosophy teaches the right way to live, and asanas and pranayama protect the system.
Even if there is mental stress, so long as the person is practising yoga, the body does not feel the impact. It is easier to protect the body than the mind. Hence the ancients advised us to practice yoga so that at least the body is kept healthy and gradually, some day, the mind that is under stress can also be made likewise.
Our ancient preceptors had no facility to measure acid flow in the stomach, no endoscopic facilities, no barium facility, and yet they analysed the problem in their own way according to the theory that our body is made up of five elements, and the fire element is aggravated in such disorders. They even prescribed the correct asanas to alleviate them. How, one may ask, did they understand so much and even prescribe? Intuition? The silence that touches your mind when asked these questions will provide the right answer.