Yoga for Thyroid Health

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One of my favourite Yogis that regularly attends my classes asked if there were particular yoga poses which improved thyroid health.  Not needing much of an excuse to jump back into my India yoga notebook to do some research, I went on my merry way and designed a class around yoga for thyroid health. I taught this class last Monday and received some lovely feedback. I thought it might be helpful to share some of the poses and knowledge behind them here for anyone who would like to practice at home.

An awareness of the general functions of the thyroid, while working on this area of our bodies is important.  The Thyroid gland is also known as the metabolism manager. It is responsible for creating energy, warmth and digestion in the body. Having a thyroid disease means that people experience many of the following symptoms:  fatigue, low energy, weight gain or loss, slow or fast heart rate, dry skin, constipation or diarrhea, sluggish type feelings, depression, irregular menstrual cycle. Each symptom depends on which type of thyroid dysfunction is occurring. Any interference with the process of the production of thyroxine and triiodothyronine made by the thyroid can cause any of the above symptoms.  There are some common possibilities which cause this to occur in the body which are worth investigating further if you are experiencing thyroid issues.

  • Mineral Deficiency: Particularly iodine and selenium which are essential to thyroid hormone production. Be mindful that foods high in antioxidants vitamins A,b,C and omega 3 fatty acids all support the thyroid and its functions.
  • Hormones: Disruption between the balance of estrogen and progesterone impedes normal thyroid hormone production which is why pregnant women and pre-menopausal women are particularly at risk as they experience extreme fluctuations in their hormones.
  • Stress: Cortisol and Adrenaline hormones made by the adrenal glands rise excessively with unrelenting stress which have a negative impact on thyroxine and triodothyonine production and its utilization in the body.  Practicing deep meditations focusing on breath helps your nervous system transport itself from a ‘Flight or Fight’ to a ‘Rest and Digest’ state. (I go into a lot more detail relating to this on a previous blog named Anxiety: Friend or Foe)
  • Environmental Toxins and Drugs: Exposure to pesticides, radiation, fluoride and smoke can contribute to thyroid problems also. Try to minimise your contact with the each of these.  

As described above, a stressful lifestyle can be a major contributor to thyroid dysfunction. From a holistic perspective and from Ayurveda schools of thought, learning to express oneself is often the key to unlocking any thyroid issues. The Throat Chakra is the centre of creativity and expression. Therefore try to encourage self-expression to heal this imbalance in your health. Learn to express yourself in whatever way might be necessary for you in your life right now. Are you suppressing anything that you feel you need to say? Perhaps you may literally need to use the tool of your voice to create change in the world or to stand up for something you believe in. You can have fun with this; go ahead and sing out or shout. Take up a theatre course or join a choir. Try and get those creative juices flowing and experience true self-expression.

Again like I always say yoga can be used as a complementary therapy so please don’t treat it as an ultimate solution to any medical conditions you may have.  Be sure to honor the limitations of your body each day. Bring awareness to your practice that your range of motion will not be the same every day. Most of the yoga poses below are considered throat stimulating as they include flexion and extension of the neck. They are thought to improve circulation and energy flow around the thyroid. Yoga asanas are good for both hypo (caused by not having enough thyroid hormones) and hyperthyroid (caused by having too much thyroid hormones). You don’t have to do all of the poses in one session. You can try a pose or two throughout the day to reap the benefits.

Marjaryasana, Bitilasana- Cat Cow Pose

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I like to start with Cat Cow pose to firstly warm up the spine and get all the lovely juices flowing. The fluid motion in Cat Cow is thought to stimulate the thyroid area. Exposing the throat chakra brings blood flow to this area which is not often stretched. Focus your awareness on the throat area while completing this movement and recognize the mental clarity and enhancement of energy it brings.

  • Come on to all fours. Your Joints need to be in a closed kinetic chain with shoulders, elbows and wrists in a straight line. Make sure you have equal weight on all fours points touching the ground.
  • Inhale and let your belly fill with air and drop to the mat.
  • Look up towards the ceiling and lengthen your neck and throat.
  • Exhale and draw your navel into your spine.
  • Tuck your chin towards your chest as you lift and round your spine towards the ceiling.
  • Allow your breath to guide the movement and complete a few rounds at your own pace.

*If you are pregnant only do the cat pose and come back to centre and neutral position. The pressure on the lower back in Cow is not recommended in pregnancy.

Salamba Sarvangasana Supported Shoulder Stand:

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This is often the first pose recommended for any thyroid issues since it is an easier inversion which is achievable by most. This position stimulates blood flow to the glands in the upper body which is believed to have a positive impact on the efficiency of the thyroid. Having your chin tucked similar to the above position is also believed to have increased benefits as it is using the muscles in the neck’s range of movement.

  • Lie flat on your back with your palms facing down on the mat. Press your back and your arms into the mat for support.
  • On an inhale lift your legs up to ninety degrees.
  • Exhale and bring your legs up over your head.
  • Bring your hand behind your lower back for support.
  • Raise your legs straight up towards the ceiling.
  • Keep your chin tucked as you keep your neck in the same position throughout.
  • To come out of the pose slowly release your legs back over your head.
  • On an inhale slowly roll your spine down towards the mat vertebrae by vertebrae.
  • Exhale as you lower your legs to the floor

Halasana Plough Pose

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Following shoulder stand it can be nice to do plough pose as they are similar. Some may find it easier than shoulder stand. Your thyroid is believed to get the same stimulation as when it is in Shoulder stand.

  • Lie flat on your back with your palms facing down on the mat. Press your back and your arms into the mat for support.
  • On an inhale lift your legs up to ninety degrees.
  • Slowly exhale and bring your legs over your head.
  • Bring your hands to your lower back to support your body.
  • Reach your legs behind you so that your toes touch the floor.

*I find this pose quite claustrophobic. It is one of the yoga poses I really struggle with. Nonetheless, the ones we struggle with are often the poses we need to practice the most. I have found putting a cushion or a bolster behind my head and under my feet for support and as a reference point helps me overcome the suffocating sensations associated with this pose.

Matsyasana Fish pose

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This is the perfect counter pose to both Shoulder stand and Plough pose as it again encourages the muscles in your neck to use their full range of motion.

  • Sit on the bony part of your bum with your legs extended out in front of you.
  • Face you palms down with fingers pointing towards your toes
  • Draw your elbows in close to the side of your chest and expand your chest area
  • Slowly lean back onto your fore arms and elbows
  • Press into your arms to stay lifted and slowly drop your head back to open up the throat chakra area.
  • To come out slowly lift your head, release your hands and relax back down onto your mat.

*you can expand on this pose by clasping your hands in Ksepana Mudra reaching out in front of you and lifting your legs off the ground pointing your toes towards the front of the room. However make sure you are not dumping too much weight into your neck by engaging you core and you thighs while doing this.

Bhujanga Cobra Pose

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This pose provides gentle stimulation to the thyroid compared to other poses and is a good one to do before coming into Camel pose as it brings a gentle stretch to the neck area without tilting your head all the way back. It also warms up the muscles in the lower back.

  • Lie face down and centered on your mat.
  • Press into the floor with both hands.
  • Activate you thigh muscles.
  • Pull your shoulders slightly down and away from your ears.
  • Engage your core by drawing your bellybutton in.
  • Lift into a cobra pose by using your back and abdominal muscles to bend your back slightly backwards.
  • Hold the pose for four to five full breaths before releasing back to the floor.
  • On each round try to push yourself a little higher with each exhale however remember that proper form is more important than a deeper stretch.

Ustrasana Camel Pose

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The strong neck extension in Camel pose is said to stimulate the thyroid gland and increase circulation in this area.

  • Coming onto your knees inhale and lengthen your spine reaching your head towards the ceiling.
  • Bring your hands to you back as if you were putting your hands into your back jean pockets.
  • Inhale here and broaden your chest area lifting up from your collarbones.
  • Exhale slowly walk your hands down to either your calves, ankles or soles of your feet. If this isn’t comfortable you can bring your hands to blocks at either side of your calf muscles.
  • If you are comfortable here you can reach your head back and open up the Throat Chakra.
  • Hold for a few breaths.
  • Come out of the pose in the same way that you came in by placing your hands back on your bum tucking your chin and walking your hands up your back to slowly come out of the pose.

*It is really common to see stars after doing this pose as we are not used to being in such a strong back bend. Don’t be alarmed by this simply come into child’s pose for a rest if this happens.

Lastly my all-time favourite pose

Viparita Karani- Savasana with Legs up the Wall

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This is a restorative inversion. It is an excellent choice to help with thyroid function as it is passive and helps to restore balance. This pose is thought to relieve stress that can contribute to thyroid imbalance.

  • Sit with your right side against the wall.
  • Lift your legs up against the wall at the same time as you lie back.
  • Your bum can be right against the wall or a few inches away from it.
  • Soften your throat as you relax your throat and chin.
  • Keep your arms in any comfortable position beside your body or above your head.
  • Remain here for at least 10 minute to really feel the benefits.
  • To come out of the pose simply push against the wall and slowly bring your feet down.

I hope you found this helpful. If there is a particular area of yoga practice you would like me to expand on further please get in touch. I hope everyone is enjoying the lead up to Christmas. There is a lot more to come in the coming weeks on Smiling Soul relating to Christmas and how it can be a difficult time of year for many and also some goal setting strategies for the New Year ahead.

Happy reading and Yoga-ing.

Namaste!

Lia xxx

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