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Yoga Class for Your Thyroid

Post Published: 08 July 2010
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Category: Guest Bloggers, Yoga Class for Your Thyroid
This post currently has 14 responses. Leave a comment

You’ve heard the analogy that your thyroid acts as your bod’s “gas pedal” by releasing energy hormones that modulate the metabolism of your organs and cells. Your thyroid determines how fast your engine runs.

We’ve discussed in previous posts about the interdependence of the thyroid with other key glands, in particular the adrenals and ovaries (testicles in men). The adrenals act, in the car analogy, like a steering wheel. Your sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) serve as the ignition – sparking the life of your engine. I think of the engine as the liver: our livers govern how we metabolize hormones, and the liver in turn is significantly controlled by leptin and insulin.

How complicated. 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.

Shoulder Stand

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.

If you read this before 10am PST, join me for Natural Hormone Balancing — a FREE interactive teleconference right here.

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14 Responses to “Yoga Class for Your Thyroid”

  1. faith72 says:

    Thank you for the advice. I’m one that once stayed fit and did for myself,now. I don’t do much just be online and walk…

  2. Monica says:

    I practice yoga almost daily, in class and on my own, and these are some of the best poses for our little thyroids.

    I wonder though how do these poses affect those of us who no longer have a thyroid? I asked this question of one of my yoga instructors, Dr. G, and would appreciate hearing your view on this.

    Mucho thanks,
    ☮ ♥
    Monica

  3. Lori says:

    Dr. G – I understand your explanation of how these yoga poses are good for the thyroid (personally I am not physically able to do them, except for one), but how does exercise and yoga help balance, not just the thyroid hormone, but all the hormones?

    Thanks in advance for your reply.

  4. DrGottfried says:

    Thanks for your comments! Yoga has been mostly proven to improve the thyroid through reducing stress hormones, and thereby amping up conversion of T4 to T3 (make more active thryoid hormone). Exercise also have been shown to increase testosterone, especially weight lifting, which is of interest really in folks with low testosterone. It also makes estrogen more efficient – overall lowers it, but also makes it go further and get into the brain and muscles more readily.

    For those of you without a thryoid, I believe there is still a benefit to these yoga poses — if you’ve had a previous problem with thyroid cancer and had surgical resection for instance, the yogis would say that “speaking your truth” from the throat chakra is still a very important task for you, and these poses are designed to set intention in the throat area of the subtle energetic body.

    Hope that helps!

  5. Johanna Seltzer says:

    I’m curious as to what other aspects of natural treatment you would recommend for Graves Disease. I’m a yoga practitioner and teacher and practice these asanas several times a week. I was recently diagnosed and am taking medication to get back to normal. I do not want to become medicine dependent, however, and am curious what you would suggest.

  6. Bee says:

    . After hypo dx i couldn’t physically do any exercise for a long time…when I started feeling a little better I decided to try another yoga class-should’ve checked up on the new instructor. Her favorite pose was downward facing dog so we did that A LOT then she’d have us end every position by resting with our chests on the floor and then scooping our selves up on outstretched arms with our backs arched .The night we did both of these positions too many times in a row to count, my shoulder gave way and i heard a pop,& i knew i was in trouble. Yep, torn rotator cuff. Just what i needed. Long story short, I still can’t assume any poses requiring arm strength and I’m pissed about this. However, I have been going to our gym pool after work and doing water aerobics. The problem with that is I’m doing them by myself when all the testosteroned hunks are swimming laps-usually preparing for a triathalon or something silly-there’s the little round lady with the “Billy Idol” hair (a run-in with the wrong hair color)flapping around in her own pool lane with Mr America swimming to the left of me and Capt. Steroid swimming to the right. the only thing keeping me from dying from embarrassment is I look crazy enough for ppl to think I’m crazy;but i’m exercising these tired achy muscles and maybe i’ll have lost a # or 2 by my next lifetime. Sorry Dr G, didn’t mean to highjack your post-guess I had fingers that felt like talking tonight

  7. Dear Thyroid says:

    Johanna – Welcome to Dear Thyroid. We’re happy to have you. I am very sorry about your recent diagnosis with Graves disease. Many of us in our community have Graves, too.

    You might also want to check out our nutrition column, which has a lot of insight about thyroid nutrition, all scientifically based. http://dearthyroid.org/?cat=13

    Please know that we are here to support you in any way that we can. Feel free to join us on Facebook http://facebook.com/dearthyroid, to connect with other patients. Twitter: http://twitter.com/dearthyroid and/or create a profile: http://dearthyroid.org/profiles/mingle-signup-page/

    How are you doing and feeling? Do you feel well informed? Do you need resources or information regarding Graves disease? What is the current course of treatment?

    We’re all ears, if you want to talk about it.

    Wishing you the best,
    Katie

  8. Dear Thyroid says:

    Dr. G, thank you so much for this post. I love yoga, though I’m new to it. I’ve always wondered if yoga had benefits for thyroid patients – it makes so much sense that it does.

    Thank you for another fabulous installation!

    Katie

  9. Sarah Downing says:

    Thank you, Dr Gottfried, for an interesting installation. I’ve always been interested in trying out more yoga. I think I am naturally quite flexible and instinctively already do a lot of stretches that seem to be taught in yoga. It’s interesting and confusing to me that exercise raises testosterone levels – I am thinking this is only a transient process where testosterone levels are raised during and directly after exercise? – because women with PCOS/high testosterone are told to exercise as part of their hormone balancing process – this, of course, is mainly because weight loss is supposed to help the testosterone levels go down, although I can’t really say that that has ever been my experience. My testosterone has always been slightly elevated, even when I was a Size 10.

    Thank you again,

    Sarah

  10. DrGottfried says:

    Thanks for many more fantastic questions. For Graves disease, I think knowing if you need more iodine, or less, is helpful and I recommend testing for that (you can do a 24-hour iodine load test, which i believe is most accurate). Other natural therapies include glandular treatments, but as many of you know, thyroid augmentation therapy is a lot like shoe shopping, and Jimmy Choos don’t fit many fit – it’s often a long search before you find the right thyroid therapy for you.

    I am working on another blog post specifically addressing the high androgens of PCOS and how best to approach it naturally. Regarding exercise and testosterone – the data can be confusing indeed. Here’s the short version: intense, short bursts of exercise (sprinting, weight workouts of 30 min or less) raise testosterone, while longer duration exercise (such as jogging or on an eliptical, longer than 30 min) tend to lower testosterone. For PCOS, I recommend the latter duration of exercise – but as Bee mentioned, the risk of injury is high if you increase too fast. Slowly (increasing duration perhaps by 10% per week) increasing how long you work out to the range of 45-60 min seems best for the female body.

    Sarah asked about whether the testosterone increase is transient and you are absolutely correct. Exercise for 30 min or less of high intensity (running fast, lifting weights again as an example) raises testosterone for 45-60 min, then cortisol rises and testosterone declines.

    For my PCOS friends, also know that testosterone is 30% higher in the morning. So when you measure your testosterone levels, I prefer to measure in the morning but not after exercise in my patients.

    Hope that helps! Have a gorgeous day!
    Dr. Sara

  11. Sarah Downing says:

    Hey Sara,

    Thanks for your informative answers. It is very interesting to read about the effect of exercise on testosterone. I work out with my trainer twice a week for an hour each time. I don’t usually get my levels tested after training, but this is definitely a useful bit of information. Whenever I exercise outside of that, I also like to do it for at least an hour – I’m a big fan of biking and occasionally swim.

    I for one am so looking forward to your post on how to lower androgens naturally because I am sick and tired of being on meds purely for a hormone imbalance that doesn’t actually present symptoms for me. As you can imagine, I am less motivated than someone who would notice a huge difference in symptoms by lowering their androgens. My personal hope is that I can get my androgens down and keep them balanced by balancing my thyroid, as I know the two work hand in hand. I am hoping that at some point I can go off these goddamn meds, which I’m only really taking in case things get worse in the future, but so far (I was diagnosed at 24 and am now 32), things haven’t got any worse, so I have no reason to believe that they will, but it still scares me because I know the symptoms can be nasty! Personally, weight loss or building up muscle has not really helped that much with lowering my levels either, which is very frustrating as I know that this is one of the main things that is suggested. I’ve also lowered my blood sugars, but this doesn’t seem to have helped so much either, so I’d be interested in hearing about other options – I know I am not alone with PCOS (although in my case, purely based on definition, I think it is more likely to be hyperandrogenemia) and that it is very common in thyroid patients, so I think this will be an awesome post! I don’t want to be on the BC pill for the rest of my life:-(.

    Love,

    Sarah

  12. MaryAnne says:

    Dr. G,
    I do have Addison’s disease. I haven’t been able to stick to any exercise program since my diagnosis. But there is a great yoga class here and I am going to try that. Are there any poses that you would recommend specifically for someone with Addison’s and hypothyroid? Any I should avoid?
    Thanks in advance for your help!!
    Mary Anne

  13. Anjeanette says:

    Shoulder stands are great. It’s important especially for newbies to utilize key positioning skills. I found that Leeann Carey has a great free yoga video on this very thing. Your readers might want to check it out: http://planetyoga.com/yoga-blogs/index.php/free-yoga-video-key-positioning-skills-kps-push-and-reach/

  14. Denise B says:

    Helpful post! Thanks for spending the time to write this, as I found it very interesting! I really enjoy doing yoga because it has really helped me open my mind and body!

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