Diabetes Camp, Kanpur

Dr Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati, MB, BS (Syd.)

Over the years interest in yoga as a therapeutic science and a science of bettering our lives at all levels has increased phenomenally. At the same time the number of practitioners and exponents of yoga has multiplied so much that we are experiencing a renaissance within the field. With the various claims of yoga unsubstantiated by the scientific community, the role of yoga and its limitations have not yet been fully defined. Indeed, it seems that the only limitations that yoga possesses are within the individual not the science itself. The claims and subjective experiences of yoga now stand ready for unbiased and rigorous investigation.

The diabetes and asthma camp held at Kanpur in September 1982 was one step on the way towards better understanding of yoga's potential. It was a highly successful event at both the clinical and research levels. All the diabetic patients who completed the course were found to have lowered their blood sugar levels after stopping their medicines.

The camp was organised by the Lions Club, Kanpur City, and the Principal of the G.S.V.M. Medical College, Kanpur, extended close co-operation. Professor K. K. Sikka, Department of Medicine, and Professor S. Varma, Department of Physiology, organised the research side of the project while Dr Swami Shankardevananda of the Bihar School of Yoga took classes and correlated the yogic and medical sides.

This camp was conducted in order to decide how future research and camps would be run to maximum advantage. Though it is still too early to make any final claims about the results from the project, as this will depend on long term follow up, the results were dramatic and deserve to be highlighted at this particular point of time.

Diabetes research

30 patients presented themselves as being diabetic and after screening, 14 patients were found to have a positive diabetic history. Of these 14 patients, 3 did not complete the course.

Ages ranged from 33 to 56 years. All were maturity onset diabetics and 9 were taking medication at the time the camp started. Of these 9 people, 4 still showed elevated blood sugar levels.

At the start of the course all patients stopped their medications and continued with their diabetic diet. Fasting and post prandial (1½ hrs after food) blood sugar levels were taken. They began a course which covered the following practices:

  • Asana: pawanmuktasana parts one and two; surya namaskara, shashankasana, ushtrasana and vajrasana.
  • Pranayama: nadi shodhana, brahmari and ujjayi.
  • Hatha yoga: laghoo shankhaprakshalana, kunjal and neti.
  • Relaxation: yoga nidra and simple ajapa japa.

At the end of the two week course, fasting and post prandial blood sugar levels were taken again. All the subjects expressed their feelings of subjective well being and freedom from such symptoms as tension, headaches and digestive ailments after the course.

The following table describes the results of the trial so far.

F= fasting, PP = post prandial, all values are in milligrams percent. (Normal F is equal to 80-120, Normal PP is equal to less than 140.)

Patient 11.9.82 20.9.82
1 F 80 PP155 F 80 PP120
2 F105 PP175 F 80 PP140
3 F 80 PP100 F 85 PP135
4 F 85 PP140 F 75 PP125
5 F 95 PP190 F 80 PP135
6 F 80 PP190 F 90 PP155
7 F 75 PP120 F 85 PP130
8 F150 PP250 F 96 PP130
9 F 95 PP180 F 90 PP140
10 F124 PP168 PP116
11 F 80 PP150 F 78 PP125

It should be noted that the blood levels on the 11.9.82 were taken 2 to 3 days after stopping diabetic medication which may still have been exerting an effect, even though it was wearing off. This may explain the apparently normal first blood values for patients 3,4,7. It is also possible, in terms of patient compliance and understanding, that some of these people may have taken medicines even after being told to stop. After reinforcement of the instructions all patients eventually stopped medications, so that the second blood values are an accurate indication of blood sugar minus the effects of medication.

Patients 1,2,5,6,8,9,10,11 are obviously showing diabetes or diabetic tendency before starting yoga. Patient 1 was a known diabetic for 15 years taking medications daily. Patient 2 recorded F270 on the 23.8.79 and was not adequately controlled by medications.

Patient 3 recorded F125, PP180 on 3.8.75 and was also controlled by medication. Patient 4 recorded F100, PP200 on 17.9.78 and was controlled by medications, Patient 5 recorded F172 on the 3.9.82 and PP231 on the 7.9.82. Patient 6 recorded PP252 on 7.9.82. Patient 7 could not locate his old records. Patient 11 had a past history of PP185.

Discussion on diabetes

It is obvious that future camps and research will require better selection and preparation of patients. Medications should be stopped at least one week before starting yoga and blood sugar levels should be recorded along with a fuller medical history. This is, of course, essential if the research is to be scientifically acceptable. Also, long term follow up of the cases is presently underway under the control of the Department of Medicine, G.S.V.M. Medical College, Kanpur.

This research, as it stands, highlights two very important points valuable from both the patients' and the doctors' point of view. The first is that yoga has been able to dramatically lower blood sugar levels quickly and effectively, without the need for medicines and therefore minus the risk of side effects. The second point is that all the patients experienced subjective well being.

All doctors know that at present the outlook for diabetic patients, even those who are reasonably well controlled, is very poor. They face blindness, heart and kidney disease, amputation of limbs and generalised debility and fatigue which by itself makes life miserable. One of the dilemmas of medical therapy is how much we should tell patients about their prognosis. The situation exists because we, as doctors, have not had any mode of cure and have had to be content with palliating the course of the disease so that the complications of diabetes are at least reduced. We know they will occur in 99% of cases to some degree and often we do not want to scare the patient and make his life a neurotic misery of worry and concern for the future.

One of the problems of not educating our patients fully is that they tend to disregard dietary instructions and do not comply with medications. In the initial stages of diabetes this is understandable as often the disease is mild and diabetics do not suffer pain or receive any other impetus to follow seemingly unreasonable requests from doctors. Later they may have cause to regret their folly as complications arise. It is, therefore, a reasonable argument to try to scare the patient into compliance.

With the addition of yoga into the doctors' armament of available techniques a new door is opened on the therapeutic side of diabetes. As yoga is a viable alternative for most diabetics, especially uncomplicated cases of maturity onset diabetes, and as a proven method of body weight control, it should be offered to all diabetic patients in the above category. This is only fair to the patient as there is no other avenue known to this date which has been able to affect sugar metabolism as quickly as yoga has shown it can do. If the patient has even the slimmest chance of improving, or at least maintaining his health, he should be offered this alternative. No time should be wasted. Telling the patient of his prognosis without proper dietary, medical and yogic control may be warranted in an attempt to start the patient taking responsibility for himself and helping himself. This will also make the doctor's job easier.

All diabetic therapy should be either undertaken under the expert control of a yogic therapist in an ashram situation or in a diabetic outpatient clinic in a hospital. Preferably both facilities should be available.