Yoga entails more than black stretchy pants and planks. It’s an Eastern practice that goes back thousands of years, an exercise of body, mind, and spirit. In the West, it’s become a trendy form of exercise that for many is employed only for its low-impact stretching aspect.
What you may not realize is that there are many thousands—arguably millions—of yoga poses from which you can choose to target different parts of your body to address specific health concerns. Poses run from easy to advanced, so they’re good for every age and shape.
Is Yoga for Real?
Absolutely! Yoga is effective for relieving many common health complaints, including:
- back pain
- stiff knees
- facial wrinkles and eye bags
- heart health
- anxiety and depression
- abdominal strength and tone
- neck pain
- and more!
All About the Thyroid
Your thyroid lives in the front of your neck, producing hormones that regulate your metabolism and affect every organ in your body. Thyroid hormones are also important for bones and heart function. (1)
About twenty-seven million Americans have thyroid disease and even more have low thyroid function.
Symptoms of thyroid dysfunction include:
- dry skin
- slow pulse
- waxy, inflamed skin
- dry, brittle hair
- low libido
- difficulty concentrating
- low metabolism and weight gain.
A number of environmental factors can take their toll on the thyroid. It’s a very resilient gland but certain triggers can contribute to the risk of autoimmune thyroid disease. Much of compromised thyroid function comes from autoimmunity; a genetic disposition to thyroid problems can be activated by certain environmental factors.
These factors include (2):
- certain medications (e.g., lithium, amiodarone, interferon α, interleukin 2, campath-1h, and highly active anti-retroviral therapy, prednisone)
- chronic infections
- iodine deficiency
- environmental toxins (e.g., pollutants in the air)
If your thyroid isn’t working as well as it should, yoga is a great place to start!
Yoga for Thyroid Function
Here’s an unexpected condition we can add to the list of the many health conditions that yoga can improve. These two poses will stimulate the thyroid and promote blood flow.
1. Shoulder Stand – Sarvangasana
“Sarva” means “all” or “whole”; “anga” means “body part”; and “asana” means “posture” or “pose” in Sanskrit. The object of the exercise is to bring the entire body in line to rest on the shoulders. While performing this pose, be mindful of keeping your legs and back straight and balanced, regular abdominal breathing, and focus on your throat and thyroid. We want to stimulate the thyroid but not put undue pressure on it.
Keep in mind: do not do this pose if you have high blood pressure or if you are menstruating.
- Lie flat on your back with your legs together and straight, your arms at your sides.
- Raise your legs together slowly and pause when they are in line with your hips.
- Pause and flex your feet. Keeping your upper arms flat on the floor, raise your legs and hips together until they are in line with your shoulders, using your hands to support your back. All of your body weight should now rest on your shoulders and upper arms.
- Relax your feet and point toward the sky.
- Bring your chest as close to your chin as you comfortably can.
- Maintain a steady straight line and breathe normally. Hold for 30-60 seconds to start. As you become comfortable with this pose, you can lengthen the time held in the position for up to 3 minutes.
- Lower your hips and legs in the same fashion as you raised them.
- Slowly move your head from side to side 3 times, then return to center.
- Repeat the pose twice.
Variation – Salamba Sarvangasana
“Salamba” means “support” in Sanskrit. This pose places supports under the shoulders and begins and ends with bent knees to ease the weight and pressure of Sarvangasana. Watch the video below for detailed instruction on this pose variation.
2. Matsya Asana – Fish Pose
This pose stretches the back and elongates the neck and thyroid. It is an instrumental follow-up to Sarvangasana for stretching the neck in the opposite direction, promoting blood flow, opening the neck, and stimulating the heart and thyroid.
Keep in mind to not perform this pose if you have a back or neck injury.
- Lie flat on your back, toes pointed toward the sky, arms at your sides.
- With palms down, place your hands under your buttocks with thumbs touching under you. Tuck your forearms close to your torso.
- With elbows and forearms pressing into the floor, inhale and raise your chest and head, arch your back, and allow your head to drop back behind you until it touches the floor. Your back should be curved and your head resting comfortably on the crown or slightly toward the back of your skull.
- Take several deep breaths. Avoid focussing the weight on your head—push into the floor with the heels of the feet, arms, and buttocks, using your abdominal and back muscles to support your upper body weight.
- Hold for at least half the time you held your Sarvangasana pose.
- As you exhale, release the head, straighten your back, and slowly lower down to the floor.
- Raise your pelvis to move your hands from under you to your sides.
For advanced variations of fish pose, keep watching the video.
Take advantage of your thyroid’s resilience and give it extra attention so it continues to work properly. Ancient practices still work to stretch and open constricted muscle and connective tissue, improve blood and lymph flow, reduce stress, and stimulate the endocrine system of which the thyroid is a part.