Yoga

Spinal Health: Yoga For Healthy Thyroid

By January 5, 2021No Comments
Assisted-Bridge Setubandhasana Yoga for healthy thyroid

Our neck region is a connecting link between our brain and rest of the body. It needs special attention and care.

Welcome to Part 3 of the Spinal Health segment, where we focus particularly on yoga for healthy thyroid. If you have read Spinal Health Part 2, you know how each of our endocrine glands lie along the spinal pathway and how yogic postures influence endocrinal activity. Of the eight major endocrine glands, the thyroid is one of the largest and most crucial, responsible for releasing hormones that regulate metabolism, growth, energy usage, body temperature apart from other crucial aspects.

And yet owing to the stressful lives we lead, unhealthy food habits, genetics or lifestyle choices, many of us are prone to thyroid malfunction. As per the Thyroid Foundation of Canada, an estimated 200 million people in the world have some form of thyroid disease. It is widely prevalent across geographies, impacting both genders but not equally. Women are said to be 5 to 8 times more likely to develop thyroid ailments than men.

Thyroid illness is fairly common, and yet there is nothing simple or ordinary about this ailment. Many of us may know people within our own family and friends circle with existing thyroid issues, who are possibly on lifelong medication to regulate the necessary hormones. Often people go undiagnosed for years, experiencing severe stress, weight issues, fatigue and even depression (apart from several other symptoms) before they finally attempt to find out what may be causing this.

What exactly is a thyroid gland and how does it get impacted?

Thyroid is a gland located around the front of the neck and is responsible for making two major hormones – T4 and T3 which it secretes into the blood stream. When the gland functions well, the body’s metabolism functions smoothly, including digestion, heartbeat, temperature etc. However, when this balance is disturbed, the secretions can become excessive or impaired.

Excessive release of the hormones causes hyperthyroidism and impaired release causes hypothyroidism. In both instances, major systems and organ functions get impacted causing persistent weight issues, effecting bowel movements, menstrual cycle, and increasing fatigue apart from many other symptoms. However, one of the most common and worrying symptoms of a thyroid disorder is experiencing persistent feelings of anxiety and depression. The intensity may vary depending on the hormone level but most people will experience these to some degree.

Several studies conducted in the last two decades have established a connection between thyroid disorders and mental health. Research has indicated that people who suffer from thyroid related disorders are more likely to experience depression and vice versa.

This compels me to also mention the growing number of research papers published, which have categorically stated the therapeutic effects of yoga in managing thyroid health.

Yoga can act as an effective preventative therapy for thyroid illness. All the 84 basic postures and different breathing techniques help stimulate endocrinal activity and reduce stress by calming down the nervous system. Out of these, several specific postures are designed to positively stimulate the neck region, which is achieved through breathwork, mindfulness and stretching of the neck in different directions to increase blood and energy supply to that area.

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If practised consistently, yogic practices can also be a supportive therapy in managing an existing thyroid condition. They can be taken along with other treatments or medications recommended by your physician but not as a replacement.

Almost all of the yoga postures stimulate the neck region to a certain extent, if not directly then through the holding of drishti (gaze) which helps build focus as well as creates beneficial movements in the neck. Few of the asanas that are well-known for directly stimulating the thyroid region are inversions such as Setubandhasana (Bridge pose), Sarvangasana (Shoulder stand), Halasana (Plough) and Viparita Karani (Leg up the wall/ waterfall pose).

The last segment (Spinal Health Part 2) has a 10-minute video that includes instructions on how to transition to Bridge pose, Shoulder stand, Plough as well as counter pose such Matsyasana (fish pose). Do check it out.

Additionally, there are several more that help in channelling awareness to the entire neck region and will serve to benefit us in our daily practice. I will outline three of these a bit more in detail.

Anjaneyasana (Low crescent lunge pose)

Spinal Health: Yoga For Healthy ThyroidWhen we arch back into this pose, we give the front of the neck a wonderful stretch directly stimulating the thyroid gland situated in the front, lower portion of the neck.

Points to note:
Keep head, neck and arms aligned. Avoid dropping the head beyond the arms. Idea is to stretch the neck but not cause strain.
Do a counter pose such as Balasana (child’s pose) right after to balance out the backbend.
If any hip injuries, modify with alternative postures such as Ardha Anuvittasana (Standing backbend) or Ushtrasana (Camel pose) or Matsyasana (Fish pose).

Baddha Utthita Parsvakonasana (Bound extended side angle pose)

Spinal Health: Yoga For Healthy ThyroidWhile all warrior poses and variations can help stimulate the neck region by engaging drishti (gaze), this one involves a sideways upward movement of the neck which can also be beneficial.

Points to note:
Neck movements must be slow and mindful. Do not hold it too long if feeling strain, ensure deep breathing to help relax any tension while in the pose.
Alternative postures – Utthita Parshvakonasana or Trikonasana.

Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)

Spinal Health: Yoga For Healthy ThyroidWhile this is considered a backbend, I see it as a complete spinal workout that engages the spine all the way from the cervical (neck) region to the sacral (tail bone) region. It also helps stretch front of neck as in other postures mentioned above.

Points to note:
Ensure knees don’t go further apart than the hips.
Place a soft blanket under lower abdomen/ hip region for more comfort.
Do a counter pose such as Balasana (child’s pose) right after to balance out the backbend.
Alternative postures for similar neck stretch – Bhujangasana (cobra).

Please attempt these postures after a brief warm-up such as sun salutations to ensure muscles and joints have opened up sufficiently to aid safe movement. Apart from postures, including breathing techniques such as Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (alternate nostril breathing with retention) as well as a consistent meditation practice will help bring overall long-term well-being.

Deepa Hegde

Deepa Hegde

Deepa Hegde has been an avid yoga practitioner since 2014 and a yoga instructor since 2017. She is also a student of Ayurveda and Vedic chanting. Follow her on Instagram @ahamdeepa.

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