It seems like every city block and town center you see these days has a yoga studio and everyone is carting around their yoga mats. Why is that? Because yoga can have a multitude of health benefits. Athletes, even pro football players, do yoga because it increases strength and flexibility—and that’s just the start. The deeper benefit of yoga practice is the sense of calm and well-being that it can produce.
Not only does yoga support the parasympathetic nervous system, it can support hormone balance—including thyroid hormones. Deep breathing is an integral part of yoga practice. Each movement is coordinated with an inhale or exhale. Doing the postures without the accompanying slow breaths misses the mark of the practice. As Baron Baptiste, famous yogi to the stars, says in his classes, “No breath, no yoga.”
Deep breathing slows the production of the hormone cortisol and this makes yoga particularly good for calming our nervous system. For those with hypothyroidism, which is essentially a hormone deficiency, specific yoga poses increase blood-flow to the thyroid gland. Some scientific research even points to yoga practice positively impacting thyroid health.
Additionally, many yoga experts believe there is a strong connection between the chakras, or energy centers of the body, and specific health issues. For anxiety, Lori Mayer, yoga instructor and owner of State of Grace yoga studio, recommends yoga postures that help open the root chakra and the heart chakra.
Below are several yoga postures that can help balance the hormones of our nervous system and thyroid glands. (Note: Before beginning any new physical activity, always check with your medical doctor. Use caution if you have a history of back, neck or spinal injuries or pain.)
This grounding pose promotes a sense of emotional well-being and resilience. It’s a simple yet powerful pose that gives one a stable foundation for further yoga practice.
- Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Begin slow rhythmic breathing.
- Imagine your legs begin under your ribcage and gently engage your leg muscles to lift yourself to your full height.
- Shift weight to the heels of your foot as you stretch the toes. Bring your toes to the ground. Press your weight into the four corners of your foot.
- Drop your shoulders away from your ears and slide your shoulder blades down and towards your spine.
- Face palms forward.
- Imagine a thin, golden thread gently lengthening your spine all the way through the top of your head. (You’ll notice this visualization does actually make you stand taller.)
- Continue slow rhythmic breathing. Notice any sensations in your body as you stand in this posture.
This pose can be done on the floor or even in bed. Be sure to have some kind of padding under your knees. This pose opens the heart chakra (good for anxiety) as well as the throat chakra which is connected to the thyroid.
- Get into a hands and knees posture, with your hands evenly placed under your shoulders and your knees in line with your hips. Start with a flat back and your elbows straight.
- Breathing in, allow your eyes to look up towards the ceiling and follow the eye movement with your chin. At the same time drop your chest and abdomen towards the floor and curve your tailbone towards the sky. Focus on creating space within the spine as you move through this pose.
- Exhale as you tuck your chin into your chest, pull your bellybutton in towards your spine, and round the top of your back (like a cat).
- Push out as much air as you can while you continue to lengthen your back muscles.
- Repeat the movement and coordinate with the breath.
Fish pose opens the chest and throat and increases blood flow to the thyroid gland. (NOTE: This pose should not be done if you have neck or spinal injuries.)
- Lie down flat on your back.
- Place your hands at your sides, palms facing down.
- Using your forearms for support, inhale, lift your chest and arch the top of your back.
- Allow your head to tilt back until the top of your head reaches the floor. Do not rest the weight of your head on the floor. Instead, your weight will be supported by the forearms, hips and legs.
- Breathe slowly and steadily. Maintain poses for 1-3 cycles of breath.
Modified Bow Pose
Many poses that stimulate the thyroid gland and increase blood flow to the area are not recommended for people with neck or shoulder injuries. Bow pose offers a gentler alternative while increase core stability.
- Sit on the floor with legs in front of you and hands near your hips.
- Gently raise both legs to roughly a 45% angle. (Modify the angle as needed.)
- Lean back so that your torso is at roughly the same angle as your legs. Use your hands for support until you feel comfortable raising them alongside your legs.
- Tuck your chin into your chest. You’ll be balancing on your sitz bones (and likely wobbling until you get used to the pose).
- Inhale and exhale slowly.
- Increase length of time holding the pose as you are able.
Corpse Pose or Savasana
They really ought to come up with a better name for this one—cloud pose or bliss pose seem about right. This is usually the last pose done in a yoga class, and just about every yoga teacher tells their students not to skip this pose at home. Savasana allows your body and mind to integrate the work you’ve done in other poses, while giving you an opportunity for deep relaxation.
- Lie comfortably on your back with whatever support you may need.
- With your legs straight (or propped under the knees), let your feet fall open.
- Face your palms to the sky. Close your eyes.
- Slowly and deeply breathe in and out.
- Stay in savasana as long as you feel comfortable.
Taking time to practice yoga poses gives us a chance to step off the carousel of stress we’re so often riding and allows us a few moments to relax and recharge. If you try some of these poses, prepare for an increased sense of calm, well-being, and healthier endocrine functioning—something that makes everything better. Yoga, when paired with specialized thyroid care can get you back to feeling your best.