Yoga Cures: Thyroid Imbalance
By Ana Mantica
From sleep to weight to fertility, your thyroid manages it all. The small butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck pumps out hormones that play a key role in how your body functions. According to the American Associate of Clinical Endocrinologists, some 27 million Americans may have a problem with their thyroid. What’s more, research shows that 1 in 10 Americans, mostly women, have some form of dysfunction and don’t know it. A thyroid imbalance can occur if your gland isn’t making sufficient hormones (hypothyroidism), or when it’s working overtime (hyperthyroidism). People who have hypothyroidism often feel tired or cold, have trouble sleeping, or weight gain, while those who have hyperthyroidism often feel nervous or restless, have increased sweating, period irregularities, and unexplained weight loss.
Doctors often prescribe medications including synthetic hormones and radioactive iodine to treat thyroid imbalance. “I was told in my early 20s by my doctors that there was no cure, and that I would have to take a hormones everyday for the rest of my life,” says Sarah Willis, owner of Red Hook Yoga Workshop in Brooklyn, New York, and who started practicing yoga 15 years ago to treat her own hypothyroidism. “That didn’t sound great, and it didn’t make me feel good at all. So I started researching other options, and that brought me to yoga. Luckily, I was able to find many simple groups of postures and techniques that can help with thyroid imbalance.” Her results: "My symptoms have reduced by 90 percent. I no longer feel winded or exhausted from simple tasks like walking up a flight of stairs. And I no longer have extreme sensitivity to colder environments. I feel generally healthier, more energized and stronger." Here, two moves that helped Willis ease her condition, plus two she researched to help students with hyperthyroidism.
Underactive Thyroid (Hypothyroidism) Often, poses that place a little bit of pressure on the neck area are recommended for patients with thyroid troubles. The theory is that poses like this one help improve blood flow to the neck area, stimulating the thyroid gland. (However, no scientific studies have confirmed this theory yet.)
Shoulderstand Note: You’ll need two thick blankets.
Fold two thick blankets into a square. Place the blankets at the back end of your mat. Lie down with your shoulders on the blankets, but head off them. Bring your arms down alongside your body, keeping them close to your body. Keeping your legs together, swing your legs and hips up so your hips are stacked above your shoulders. Place your palms squarely on your lower back with fingers pointing up towards your heels. Tuck in your chin and nestle it right in the notch between your collarbones. Tuck your elbows in closely. Make sure elbows are square to the sides of your body, not angling out. Hold this position for a minimum of 50 breaths for maximum benefits. To come out of the position, bend your knees toward your forehead, hinging from your hips, using your abdominal muscles to roll your back and hips toward the floor. Once your hips are on the floor, straighten your legs out one at a time.
Counterpose: Fish This position opens up the throat and is said to help drain all the toxins that may have gotten compressed during shoulderstand. Recline on the floor with your torso propped up on your elbows, legs out straight, hands near your hips. On an inhale, arch your chest up. Keeping your chest arched, walk your elbows down the side of your body towards your heels until the crown of your head reaches the floor. Hold this position for 10 to 15 breaths. To come out of the pose, push hard on your elbows to lift your head, bringing your chin forward. Lower the back of your skull and shoulder blades to the mat.
Overactive Thyroid (Hyperthyroidism) Check with your doctor before starting a yoga practice. According to Dr. Bell, people with an overactive thyroid need to be careful not to overdo it. They can experience rapid heart rate and irregular heart rhythms, and in extreme cases can even get into immediate trouble.
For hyperthyroidism, Willis recommends mellow, restorative poses. Hold poses a long time for maximum benefits.
Goddess Pose (Supported Reclining Bound Angle)
Note: You’ll need a bolster and a belt. Begin sitting on the floor. Lay the bolster directly behind you, in the same direction as your spine. Place the soles of your feet together, then wrap a strap or belt around your feet, securing the soles of the feet together. Place your legs in front of you with knees open to the sides to create a diamond shape. Lie back making sure your lower back, upper back, and head are supported on the bolster. Place your arms alongside your body with forearms and elbows against the floor, palms facing up. Aim to hold this position for seven minutes, working your way up to 30 minutes.
Legs Up the Wall (Supported)
Note: You’ll need two blankets. Roll up two blankets, stack them together and place them against the wall. Sit down with your left side (shoulder, hip, and knee) touching the wall, the blankets behind you. Lie back, rotating to the left until your hips are square to the wall, your torso perpendicular to it along the floor, and your legs straight up against the wall. Hold this position for 10 to 20 minutes. To come out of this pose, bend your knees toward your chest, turn to rest on your right side and come up to a seated position and sit here for a few minutes to let your blood pressure readjust; the upside down position can cause blood pressure to lower. While this is considered an inversion, unlike poses in which your head is lower than your heart, Legs Up the Wall actually lowers blood pressure, rather than elevating it.