Thyroid conditions arise out of hormonal imbalances. There is a thyroid gland located in the front of the neck. This gland takes iodine from our diet and makes the thyroid hormone, which is responsible for physical energy, temperature, weight and mood. Thyroid disorder occurs when the gland produces too little thyroid hormone, known as hypothyroidism, or too much thyroid hormone, called hyperthyroidism. The symptoms for both vary, however, common symptoms are changes in weight, mood, energy levels and body temperature. It is always best to get regular blood tests done to definitively know if there is an imbalance.
Following Diabetes and Hypertension, thyroid disorder is a very common condition today. While Hypertension doesn’t show any symptoms, the only way to know if one has it, is by getting tested. Similarly with thyroid disorders, it is hard to tell if the condition exists unless symptoms are tracked very closely and blood tests done regularly. It is also more commonly found in women than men. The American Thyroid Association estimates around 20 million people in the US have some form of the thyroid disorder, and at least 60% of those are not aware of it.
How does the Thyroid condition develop?
Thyroid develops when there is an imbalance of chemical reactions in your body which causes an imbalance in the hormone levels. The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland below your Adam's apple. The hormones produced by this gland are triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These hormones tell the body’s cells how much energy to use, and when working properly they maintain the right amount of hormones to keep your metabolism working at the right rate. The pituitary gland, located in the center of the skull, below the brain monitors this. It controls the amount of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream.
When the pituitary gland senses a lack of thyroid hormones or a high level of hormones in your body, it will adjust the amounts with its own hormone. This hormone is called thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). The TSH will be sent to the thyroid and it will tell the thyroid what needs to be done to get the body back to normal.
What are the causes of Thyroid disorders?
Like most conditions today, one of the main causes of thyroid disorder is a stressful lifestyle. Imbalance in the hormone production could be caused due to autoimmune diseases, radiation therapy, surgery and certain medication. Inflammation (that may or may not cause pain) that occurs due to a virus or bacteria could also be a cause. Sometimes, thyroid can start during pregnancy as well.
What are the symptoms of thyroid?
The symptoms of overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) are different from underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).
Symptoms of an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
- Experiencing a sudden change in appetite where you are eating too much or too less.
- Anxious, irritable or constantly feeling nervous, hurried or restless
- Having trouble sleeping.
- Sweating too much
- Losing weight.
- Have an enlarged thyroid gland or a goiter.
- Having muscle weakness and tremors.
- Experiencing irregular menstrual periods or having your menstrual cycle stop.
- Feeling sensitive to heat.
- Having vision problems or eye irritation.
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) can include
- Feeling tired, lethargic and disinterested in everyday affairs
- Feeling extreme fatigue after doing regular, everyday chores and activities
- Gaining weight even though you are not over eating
- Experiencing digestion problems or constipation
- Becoming more forgetful
- Frequent or heavy menstrual periods
- Having frequent and heavy menstrual periods.
- Dry, coarse hair or hair loss, hoarse voice and puffy face
- Experiencing an intolerance to cold temperatures
One of the most definitive ways to diagnose thyroid is through blood tests. It’s best to get it checked by the doctor in case these symptoms come up.
How can Yoga help manage Thyroid conditions?
Thyroid can be managed with the help of medications. However, yoga is the most sustained, holistic way to regulate the imbalance and overtime the need for medicines also reduces. Yoga doesn’t just work on the physical aspect but also on the mental and subtle bodies (mind and energy body). Of course, you would have to visit your physician and keep a constant check on your levels before making any changes.
A study found that 6 months of yoga practice successfully improved cholesterol and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. This reduced the need for thyroid replacement therapy in women suffering from Hypothyroidism. Asanas, Pranayama and Meditation are all helpful for thyroid. Furthermore, making changes to one’s lifestyle and adapting a balanced way of living goes a long way in impacting health.
Yoga poses for thyroid
Specific yoga asanas for thyroid work on specific systems, organs and functions of the body which impact the thyroid gland and the symptoms noticed with thyroid. Furthermore, there are specific yoga for Hyperthyroidism and yoga for Hypothyroidism respectively.
Thyroid yoga is most helpful when practiced in the right way, under the guidance of a teacher and with coordinated, deep and complete breaths. The first and foremost benefit of slow, deep breaths is the reduced stress levels. This improves mindfulness which makes one more aware of choices, thoughts, routine and habits. Asanas also work on reducing cortisol levels, which reduces stress. These are all factors that play a key role in maintaining balanced health. So while breathwork and meditation are more common or popular practices for mindfulness, asanas, too, have a strong impact on the mind and on mindfulness.
Yoga for Hypothyroidism
Asanas like shoulder stand, fish pose, camel, legs on the wall pose and plow pose are useful for Hypothyroidism. Fast paced Surya Namaskar is also good for Hypothyroidism. Let’s look at why these asanas are useful and how to practice them.
Shoulder stand or Sarvangasana
Shoulder stand being an inversion not only stimulates blood flow to the glands in the upper part of the body, but also has a strong impact on the functioning of the thyroid gland. Furthermore, the way the chin is tucked into the chest also has a positive impact on the efficiency and functioning of the thyroid gland. Always be very careful not to put pressure on the neck. It must be practiced with the right alignment. That’s where a teacher’s guidance will be very helpful.
How to practice shoulder stand
- Lie flat on the mat with the arms alongside your body and palms facing down. Now inhale, and push your legs up. As you do this, take the hands and support the lower back. This is the exact point where the rib cage ends but on the back. The fingers should remain pointing up toward your hips. Raise the legs up to 90 degrees.
- Now slowly exhale and bring your legs over your head with your feet balancing in the air. Now slowly raise your legs straight up toward the ceiling.
- Try to keep your shoulders, spine, and hips in one line if possible. You can also keep your hips away from your body at a slight angle.
- Tuck your chin into your chest. Keep the neck in one position.
- To come out of the pose, slowly release your legs back over your head. As you inhale, slowly roll your spine down vertebrae by vertebrae Bring your arms back alongside the body. Exhale as you lower your legs to the floor.
Fish pose or Matsyasana
This is an excellent counter pose to the shoulder stand. It stretches the body, and more specifically the neck, in the opposite direction. While shoulder stands press or contract the neck, fish pose extends the neck and is therefore, also very good for the thyroid glands.
How to practice fish pose
- Sit down with the legs extended in front and place the hands on the mat behind them with the fingers tucked under their buttocks.
- Now lower the elbows to the mat and lean backward. Make sure the shoulders are in line with the elbows.
- Slowly and gently drop the head back as far as it feels comfortable. Try to touch the crown of the head on the mat.
- Keep the chest up and open. Stay here and keep breathing deeply a few times.
- Now slowly lift the head up and release the arms to come out of the posture.
Camel pose or Ustrasana
This posture also provides a strong extension of the neck. It is very good for improving blood circulation in the area and stimulating the thyroid glands as well. It also strengthens the muscles in the region.
How to practice camel pose
- Come onto your knees in a kneeling position. Make sure the hips and knees are hip-width apart and in one line with the shoulders.
- Now place hands on the sides of the waist and push the thighs and hips forward as you slowly start bending backwards. Now extend the right hand to the right heel and left hand to the left heel. Now slowly drop your head backwards.
- Stay here for a few slow deep breaths.
- To come out of the posture, first release the hands, support your lower back and slowly come up. Rest in child’s pose for a few minutes.
Legs on the wall pose or Viparita Karani
A very relaxing and restorative inversion, this asana doesn’t put pressure on the throat, but rather relaxes the nervous system. It restores balance in the mind and body, and lowers stress levels. Since it is an inversion it also helps improve blood circulation from the legs to the upper body.
How to practice legs on the wall pose
- Lie down with your buttocks close to a wall and legs falling to one side. Now slowly lift the legs up along the wall. Adjust your position to make sure you are as close to the wall as possible. Make sure you are comfortable.
- Now relax the throat and head. Keep the arms on the side of the body or above your head - whichever is comfortable for you.
- Stay here for a couple of minutes. Try to take slow, deep breaths.
- To come out of the posture, slowly drop the legs to one side and push yourself away from the wall.
Plow pose or Halasana
Similar to Shoulder stand, in plow pose or Halasana the neck gets contracted and the thyroid glands are stimulated. This improves blood circulation as well.
How to practice plow pose
- Same as the shoulder stand, first lie flat on the mat with the arms alongside your body and palms facing down. Now inhale, and push your legs up. As you do this, take the hands and support the lower back. This is the exact point where the rib cage ends but on the back. The fingers should remain pointing up toward your hips. Raise the legs up to 90 degrees.
- Now slowly exhale and bring your legs over and behind the head. Rest the toes on the floor behind their head if you can reach. You may also keep a chair or blocks behind the head if you can’t reach the floor.
- Keep their lower back supported with their hands or place the hands on the mat if you are comfortable.
- Stay here and take slow, deep breaths.
- To come out of the posture, slowly bring the legs above the head and roll the spine down one vertebrae at a time.
Yoga for Hyperthyroidism
For Hyperthyroidism, bridge pose, cat stretch, child’s pose and corpse pose or savasana are useful. You can also practice Surya Namaskar at a slow pace.
Bridge pose or Setu bandhasana
This asana strengthens the thyroid gland and throat muscles. It also helps improve blood circulation. Apart from this, it also provides relaxation to the back.
How to practice bridge pose
- Lie on the mat with your back firmly on the floor
- Bend the legs at the knees. Knees should be pointing towards the ceiling. Keep the legs hip-width apart.
- Arms should be by the side of the body with the psalm near the feet.
- Now slowly start by lifting the back and then the chest off the mat. Tuck the chin into the chest.
- Stay here and take slow deep breaths.
- After a couple of minutes slowly lower the back and then the chest onto the mat.
Cat stretch or Marjariasana
The cat and cow movement provides a good stretch to the throat and thyroid glands. It massages and stimulates the glands, as well as improves circulation.
How to practice cat stretch
- Come onto all fours with the palms directly under the shoulders and knees underneath your hips. Ensure your weight is equally distributed on all fours.
- Inhale and fill your abdomen with air as you let your belly drop towards the mat. There will be an arch in your back as you do this. Look up towards the ceiling and lengthen your neck and throat.
- As you exhale, pull the naval towards the spine, curve your back and tuck your chin into your chest as you lift up.
- Continue this movement for a few breaths. Let your breath guide you through the movements.
- After a few rounds, release and come into child’s pose.
Child’s pose or Balasana
Being a relaxing and restorative asana, this posture helps balance the system, provides relief to the nervous system and relaxes the spine. It also improves blood circulation in the upper body. It is often practiced after a challenging asana as well.
How to practice child’s pose
- From thunderbolt pose or Vajrasana, bend forward bringing your forehead onto the head. Stretch the hands out in front or place the hands at the base of your spine.
- If you can’t reach the mat, you can place your palms in a fist and place the forehead on the fist.
- Relax here for a few minutes and try to take deep breaths.
- Now to come out of the posture slowly lift up, come back to Vajrasana and then release the legs by straightening them out.
Corpse pose or Savasana
An easy yet challenging asana. Lying on the back, with the arms relaxed to the sides of the body is the corpse pose. It is the most relaxing asana as it activates the parasympathetic nervous system, relaxes the spine, brings peace to the mind and restores balance. Stay still in this posture for 5-10 minutes at the end of your practice to experience its full benefits.
How to practice corpse pose
- Lie your back with your legs hip-width apart and feet falling outwards. Keep the hands slightly away from the body and in a relaxed position. Make sure the head, neck and spine are in one line.
- Relax and completely let go. Drop all your body weight onto the mat.
- You can also use cushions to support your head, back or knees. Make sure you are comfortable and try to stay still.
Some of the relaxing asanas like svanasana and legs up on the wall pose can be done irrespective of the type of thyroid as these help reduce stress and balance the system.
Breathwork for thyroid
Pranayama or breathwork relaxes the body, improves respiration and blood flow. It removes toxins, releases stress and induces slower, mindful breathing. This helps in improving balance in the mind and body. Different practices work on different symptoms experienced in Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism. For example, the frontal lobe cleansing technique (Kapal Bhati) releases congestion and blockages from different parts of the body. This helps manage weight and stress levels. Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana) releases toxins, relieves stress and balances the body. It is extremely effective in inducing calmness and peace. Bellows breathing or Bhastrika and ocean breathing or Ujjayi pranayama also work well in reducing hypothyroidism symptoms. Humming bee or Bhramari pranayama (Bee Breath) and cooling pranayamas such as Sheetali and Sheetkari pranayamas are very effective in dealing with hyperthyroidism symptoms.
Learn How to Meditate The Right Way
Meditation reduces cortisol levels and unwanted noise in the mind. There is increased focus, balance and a sense of peace. The mindfulness that is developed stays with us through the day leading to better food choices, sleep routines and positive habits. It has immense benefits for the mind and body. Even 20-minutes of meditation every day in both hypo and hyperthyroidism are very helpful. Sometimes, Hypothyroidism patients can become tired, laid-back and lethargic, so they need to make an extra effort to stay active and continue with practices.
Make Changes To Your Lifestyle
Improve your lifestyle to make it more disciplined and balanced. Prioritize what truly matters to make improvements. It’s important to only focus on what serves you well.
Following a balanced routine includes eating right, sleeping the right amount and number of hours. This also has an impact on hormones. Join a yoga class to bring regular exercise, movement and mindfulness into your life. According to Ayurveda, we are made of three qualities or minds called gunas - Tamas, Rajas and Sattva. They have a significant role in determining our personality, mood, metabolism, body structure, and much more. Furthermore, our dominating body composition, doshas, agree with certain types of foods, beverages, habits and routines etc. Know what suits you, add exercises for thyroid and try to adapt to the new routine to stay healthy.
Natural Remedies for Thyroid
Ayurveda provides several natural remedies and recommendations for a routine that helps manage Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism. A diet which is low in fat and has a good balance of fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grains and lean proteins are good. Reducing carbohydrates and salt intake can also be helpful. Try using sesame oil for cooking, or if the weather is warm, use coconut oil as coconut is a natural coolant. Essential oils and fatty acids are also good for the thyroid gland. Natural fats like flaxseeds, avocado, walnuts, nuts and fish are good for maintaining balance. Avoid soy, and soya products, caffeine, sugar, excess carbohydrates or starchy food. Include useful nutrients like iodine (in the right amounts), selenium and zinc as these will help activate and regulate the thyroid gland.
Ayurveda puts emphasis on the importance of regular physical exercise as part of your daily routine. Even a proper 30-minutes workout can help you manage symptoms like weight gain, fatigue, loss of appetite, etc. Exercise along with the right diet plays a key role in managing many of the symptoms. For women, it’s important to keep a check on raised estrogen levels, which can deplete the thyroid hormone production. Higher levels can cause hypothyroidism, and factors like birth control pills, dairy products and excess meat contribute towards imbalancing estrogen levels. Including herbs like Ashwagandha, Sarpagandha, Brahmi, etc are helpful in relieving stress and anxiety, and improving sleep.
Yoga cannot cure thyroid disorders. The role it has in managing the condition can be extremely relaxing and beneficial. In Shvasa’s online live classes, our teachers help you manage your conditions in a holistic and sustained manner. You can also speak to our Ayurveda experts to know more about your body type and get advice on an improved lifestyle and routine.