The pancreas is about 18-25 cm long and is located behind the stomach sitting close to the small intestine. Said to be about the size and shape of a flattened banana it is connected to the small intestine via a tube called the pancreatic duct.
The pancreas has a dual role. Ninety percent of it is devoted to its function as a digestive aid and the other ten percent maintains blood sugar and salt levels in the body.
As a digestive organ the pancreas secretes fluids which are passed down the pancreatic duct into the part of the small intestine where it joins the bottom of the stomach. These pancreatic fluids contain some enzymes which neutralize the stomach acids and others which will specifically act on carbohydrates, proteins or fats and break them down into more easily absorbable particles. Once these nutrients are able to be absorbed they are transported through the intestinal wall into the blood stream and sent around the body as fuel sources and construction materials.
Although only ten percent of the pancreas is devoted to its other functions they are very important to our health. Any problem in the production or regulation of insulin, glucagon somatostatin, or gastrin will manifest itself as problems with blood sugar and fluid / salt imbalances.
Insulin plays the important role of maintaining a normal range of glucose or sugar within the blood. When there is a high level of glucose in the blood insulin is produced and it forces many cells of the body to absorb and use the glucose thereby decreasing the blood sugar levels. When the pancreas is unable to produce insulin, diabetes manifests and when the pancreas makes too much insulin, hypoglycemia results.
Glucagon acts in the opposite way to insulin. When the blood sugar levels are low it forces many cells of the body to release or produce glucose and thus increase the blood sugar levels. If the pancreas malfunctions and produces too much glucagon, hyperglycemia results.
Other secretions of the pancreas help to slow down the hormonal actions in the body, encourage the stomach to produce acids and to regulate salt and fluid absorption from the intestines.
Yoga for the Pancreas
Studies have shown that a well balanced yoga practice lowers excess blood sugar levels in people suffering from diabetes. In general however it will have a great toning and revitalizing effect on all the organs of the body including the pancreas. Back bends will stretch it, forward bends squeeze it and twists will wring it out. The relaxation, breathing and meditation practices will relax and oxygenate the pancreas and all the surrounding tissues allowing it a free-flowing nutritious blood supply. One yoga practice specific to the pancreas is Uddiyana Bandha or the Stomach Lock Pose. This pose puts pressure into the pancreatic area squeezing it tightly. When the lock is released fresh blood supply floods in.
Yoga works to keep the body healthy by allowing the nutrients to have free access to the organs and allowing wastes to be successfully carried away but we must bear in mind that other areas of our lifestyle like diet, relaxation and even our outlook on life must be healthy as well.