During the course of a Yoga teacher training many interns discover that shoulder stand (Sarvangasana) is a good asana for thyroid health, but the reasons why might not be explained. The reason is actually quite simple: Gravity encourages good blood flow toward the neck.
The thyroid, a tiny gland weighing less than one ounce, is located just below the larynx in the front of the throat. Associated with the throat chakra, the butterfly-shaped organ produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism. Thyroid disorders frequently result from exposure to environmental toxins, emotional stress, or an imbalance in hormones and nutrients. The use of Yoga as an adjunct to traditional medical care in the treatment of thyroid problems is becoming increasingly more popular.
Symptoms of disorders include irregular heartbeat, problems with sleep, fluctuations in weight, mood swings, and pain in the muscles and joints. Yoga, in general, calms the body and improves the flow of oxygen and nutrients, both of which help to reduce stress. Some exercises, however, target areas that specifically affect the condition and stimulate the closely related pituitary and pineal glands.
Exercises for Students
• Yogic breathing techniques calm the nervous system, improve circulation, and increase lung capacity. They also lower the pulse rate and reduce levels of cortisol.
• Meditation helps to stabilize erratic moods, lower heart rate, and balance the autonomic nervous system. It also supports a healthy lifestyle and reduces inflammation caused by stress and toxins.
• Some Yoga poses directly affect the endocrine system. Inversions, such as shoulder stands and Viparita Karani, massage and increase blood flow in the neck area, and Boat and Fish Poses strengthen neck and shoulder muscles. Bridge Pose forces blood to the neck area and stimulates the thyroid gland.
Notes for Yoga Teachers
Although more research is needed to determine the effect of Yogic exercises on thyroid function, preliminary case studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that a regular practice not only keeps the thyroid healthy, but it can also be useful in managing thyroid disorders. Nevertheless, each person who suffers from a thyroid disease should continue medication after starting a Yogic exercise practice with the approval of his or her medical professional.
As with all new endeavors, our should consult a doctor before undertaking a new exercise practice. An experienced Yoga instructor can ensure optimal benefit and help students avoid injuries or activities that aggravate existing conditions. The question is not whether Yoga can help. It is, instead, a matter of knowing what to do and how to do it.
Lastly, as we have learned in Yoga teacher training sessions, inversions are often advised for thyroid problems, but may not be advised for high blood pressure. This is one more reason why a student should consult with his or her doctor.