Wednesday, July 21, 2010
You've heard the analogy that your thyroid acts as your body's "gas pedal" by releasing energy hormones that modulate the metabolism of your organs and cells. Your thyroid determines how fast your engine runs.
In previous posts, I've commented on the interdependence of your thyroid with other key glands, particularly your adrenals and ovaries. The adrenals act, as we continue the car analogy, like a steering wheel. Your sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone), on the other hand, serve as the ignition -- sparking the life of your engine. I think of the engine as your liver: our livers govern how we metabolize hormones, and the liver in turn is significantly controlled by leptin and insulin.
Where can we simplify and just find a little relief? What can I offer when your gas pedal is sluggish or sticky or slammed to the metal of the car floor? When your slow progress toward euthyroidism (normal thyroid labs AND normalized symptoms) is frustrating you endlessly, Yoga comes to mind. Not just because I’ve found yoga to be the best system I’ve encountered for extraordinary living, but because yoga has helped my thyroid provide a smooth ride for 35+ years (I started practicing yoga as a kid, seriously) as well as those of my patients.
We know that yoga provides balance. It is a middle path, and for many of us with lazy thyroids, this is welcome news. We know that most of us seek yoga to manage stress, and that yoga is incredibly effective at balancing stress hormones such as cortisol. It lowers cortisol when it’s high and giving you that tired-wired feeling, and it raises cortisol when it’s low and giving you that “I-need-to-lie-down,-immediately” vibe (provided you don’t have the severest form, called Addison’s Disease).
In the yoga tradition of the past 2500 years, the thyroid is related to the vishuddhi chakra, which is the psychic center that purifies the toxins of the body and turns them into nectar of immortality. Good health of the entire neuroendocrine system is understood to be vital to our higher awareness.
OK, OK, Get Me to the Practical Stuff….
Here’s a Yoga Class, featuring the yoga practices that best balance your thyroid.
If you’ve ever practiced yoga, you probably know that shoulder stand is the mama of all poses (asanas) for healing your thyroid. When you properly come into shoulder stand, you place robust pressure on your thyroid, squeeze out much of the huge blood flow of our little butterfly organ with the chin against your trachea (windpipe), and when released, new and fresh blood infuses your little gland. Old secretions and hormones get washed away, circulation improves, and the nerves are stimulated, reminding the gland to wake up and assume more tasks. In the yoga tradition, you send awareness and prana to your thyroid in shoulder stand, and prana or life force is the vehicle of healing.
Shoulder stand also places robust pressure, in fact the weight of most of your body, onto your little cervical vertebrae in the back of your neck. Make sure you do the pose properly, with an experienced teacher watching your every move until you are safe and skillful at it.
After shoulder stand, we traditionally perform matsyasana or fish pose, to allow all that delicious prana to move into the thyroid.
If daunted, move on first to some of the other asanas described below which are less risky.
Ujjayi Pranayama (“Victory Breath”)
This breathing exercise acts also directs prana to the throat area and stimulates some of the reflex pathways of the through associated with breathing and swallowing. Many call it the “Ocean-Sounding Breath” or more colloquially, “Are you trying to breathe like Darth Vadar?” Learn this from a teacher – it is the basic breathing practice of Ashtanga and many vinyasa classes.
Viparita Karani (“Legs Up the Wall Pose”)
This is a really simple exercise that nearly all of us can do with little experience. Lie on the floor next to a wall. Create an L-shape with your legs up the wall, at a 90-degree angle to your torso, which is on the floor. Lie here for 10 minutes with your eyes closed and allow the pressure to weigh down on your thyroid and breath like Darth Vadar, constricting your glottis as you inhale for 5 seconds and exhale for 5 seconds.
There are many other scrumptious practices for the thyroid such as Nadi Shodhana (another breathing exercise that balances your hormones), Surya Namaskara, Supta Vajrasana, and Jalandara bandha, but that’s all I have time for today.
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- Dr. Sara Gottfried, MD
- I'm an organic gynecologist, yoga teacher + writer. I earn a living partnering with women to get them vital and self-realized again. We're born that way, but often fall off the path. Let's take your lousy mood and fatigue, and transform it into something sacred and useful.