Before we look into some of the most effective yoga poses for thyroid, let us first understand what exactly is thyroid, what causes thyroid disorders and how does it affect our body.
What is Thyroid?
The thyroid is part of the endocrine system, which is made of glands that produce, store, and release hormone into the bloodstream and body’s cells. This thyroid gland is best described as a butterfly shaped organ located in the base of your neck. The released thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) have numerous roles to play when it comes to maintaining your body’s metabolism and regulating vital body functions, including breathing, heart rate, body weight, muscle strength, menstrual cycles, body temperature, nervous system, cholesterol levels and much more!
It is thus important that the thyroid hormone levels are not too high or too low. The imbalance or thyroid disease can cause the thyroid gland to be underactive or not secrete enough hormones into your blood, resulting in hypothyroidism or slowing down of bodily functions.
The disease can also cause thyroid gland to become overactive and secrete too many hormones, resulting in speeding up of bodily functions or hyperthyroidism.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Fatigue, feeling mentally foggy, dry skin and hair, trouble sleeping, sensitivity to cold temperature, constipation, fluid retention, muscle and joint ache and frequent heavy periods are some common symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland.
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
Anxiety, irritability or moodiness, nervousness, hyperactivity, sweating or sensitivity to higher temperatures, hand trembling, shaking, hair loss, missed or light menstrual cycles, increased bowel movement, unintentional weight loss and fatigue, are some of the most known symptoms of an overactive thyroid gland.
While a simple blood test can easily determine how much thyroid hormone you have in your blood, doctors often don’t think to check TSH or other thyroid levels since the symptoms of a thyroid problem can mimic the symptoms of many other conditions. If you think you might have thyroid dysfunction, ask your primary care doctor to evaluate your symptoms and get a blood test. Endocrinologists are trained to understand the nuances of thyroid dysfunction.
If you are a woman nearing menopause, it is especially important that you seek out an evaluation of your thyroid if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms.
Thyroid diseases can be treated through medication, resulting in normal thyroid function. One of the most common causes of thyroid imbalance in the US is the Hashimoto’s disease, a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the body’s own cells and organs. Other cause could be iodine deficiency. Also, to maintain a proper thyroid function, a delicate balance between stress hormone and cortisol must exist, if not chronic stress can further complicate the issue.
Can Yoga Cure Thyroid?
It is important to know that Yoga can not cure but can help maintain and improve thyroid function. A regular practice guided by a teacher who is well-versed or certified in teaching therapeutic yoga, will be most beneficial. However, Yoga is a complementary therapy and should not be used as a replacement for your existing medical therapy.
The chakra associated with thyroid gland is the throat or Vishuddhi chakra. Thus most of the asanas that are recommended for thyroid regulation are considered throat-stimulating and focus on increasing circulation and energy flow around the throat and neck area. The practice of Yoga is also known as a stress-buster and has been proven to restore mind-body balance. Thus there has been research and studies conducted to assess the effect of yoga practice on thyroid functions.
A 2014 research conducted at by the Yogic Science department of Mangalore University concludes that before the yoga practice, the subjects had sudden problems like-increase in the weight, tiredness, hair loss, constipation, weight loss, tremor, laziness and improper hormone level. After Yoga practice, the above mentioned problems were reduced significantly. A follow up was made for a period of 15 days.
Another 2016 research concludes that a 6 months practice of yoga may help in improving cholesterol level, serum TSH, may also help in reducing the thyroxine requirement in female patients suffering from hypothyroidism. However, in both the cases, they suggest that a long term study on a wider number of subjects will help further confirm the present findings and get better results.
Before attempting any of the following asanas, please consult your doctor and yoga teacher. If you are trying these for the first time, it is advisable that you seek guidance.
Asanas for Hypothyroidism
Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand)
This inversion helps balance the entire body and mind, from circulatory, respiratory system to endocrine and nervous system. It stimulates thyroid glands, boost immune system and helps calm the mind and relieves emotional and mental stress.
Begin by lying flat on your back. Relax your body. You can place a blanket under the shoulders for cushioning. Slowly begin to raise the legs off the mat, followed by buttocks and spine. Bend the elbows and place the hands behind the rib cage to support your spine.
In the final position, the legs are vertical and together and the arms continue to provide stability.
Viparita Karani Asana (Inverted Pose)
Viparita Karani has similar benefits as Sarvangasana as it increases blood flow to the neck region and helps in regulating thyroid glands and balance functions of other endocrine glands. All inversions help release gravitational weight from all organs. This asana helps ease complications caused by hypoactive thyroid.
Begin by lying flat on your back. Raise your legs up till they are perpendicular to the floor. Now gently lift your hips and place your palms under your lower back (waist level). With the support of your palms, and elbows pressed to the floor- working as prop, keep lifting your torso till it is around 45 degrees to the floor.
In the final position, the legs are at 90 degrees to the floor and the body is maintained at a 45 degree angle. Alternatively, you can use a yoga block to support your lower back.
Janu Sirsasana (Seated Head to Knee Pose)
This forward bend helps calm the nervous system, reduce stress and anxiety as it helps increase flexibility in hip joints and give a deep stretch to hamstring muscles. It is also helpful for those suffering from insomnia.
Sit with legs extended and feet together. Bend the left leg and place sole of the foot against right inner thigh. The closer the left heel to the perineum the better. Inhale and place hands on the right knee. Exhale and slowly begin to bend forward, sliding the hands down the right leg. If possible, grab your right foot or toes.
Stay in the forward bend for a few exhalations. Repeat with the right leg bent and left leg straight.
Matsyasana (Fish Pose)
Matsyasana is usually performed as a counter pose to inversions like Sarvangasana, Halasana or Viparita Karani asana as it provides a reverse stretch to the neck.This pose not only exposes the throat area and stimulates the the thorax, but also stimulates the spine, cervical muscles and expands rib cage and lung capacity.
To begin, lie in supine with your hands resting next to the body. If you can, fold your legs in Padmasana, if not keep your legs straight on the floor. Bend your hands and with the help of your forearms on the floor, lift your back, chest, neck and head off the mat. Bring the top of your head / crown to rest on the mat, giving your neck a deep stretch. If holding padmasana, wrap your fingers around the big toe and try and rest your elbow on the mat, next to your body.
Stay in this posture for a few deep breaths. You can also attempt this pose from a seated Padmasana position and let the elbows support you as you gently drop your head back to rest the crown on the mat. You can use a headstand pillow as a prop for cushioning.
Halasana (Plough Pose)
You may find it easier to hold a Halasana when compared to Sarvangasana. It helps improve function of thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal and pituitary glands, thus improving overall function of endocrine system. It helps reduce menopause symptoms, stimulates reproductive organs and is therapeutic for insomnia, infertility, backache and headache.
From Sarvangasana, drop your legs back, behind the head. Allow the toes to touch the floor and slowly straighten your knees to increase the distance between the head and toes. This will help you achieve a chin lock or Jalandhara bandha which is highly beneficial for thyroid function. The hands can continue to support the back. If comfortable, you can extend the hands, place them on the floor and interlace your fingers.
In the final pose the body resembles the plough. Thus the name Halasana. Stay in the pose for few breaths and return to Sarvangasana before releasing the posture completely and rest in supine.
Marjariasana (Cat-Cow Stretch)
This vinyasa like flow for the back and neck helps release stress and improves body coordination. It is a combination of two asanas, Marjariasana (cat stretch) and Bitilasana (cow stretch) done with breath awareness to increase emotional balance. It helps stimulate abdominal region and organs like kidney and adrenal glands. It involves neck movement, which also works on the throat chakra.
Begin in table pose by placing your palms and knees on the floor. You can either place your insteps (flat) on the mat for stability through the practice or shift to balance on toes in cow stretch. First maintain a neutral spine and look straight. With the next inhalation, arch your back, allowing your belly button to sink closer to the floor and stretch your neck/head upward. As you exhale, drop your head and bring your chin closer to the chest as you simultaneously lift and round your spine outward and draw your navel towards your spine.
Repeat this fluid movement with breath awareness without using force to stretch the neck or forcing your chin to the chest. Keep your head and shoulders relaxed and let the movement be as natural as possible.
Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation (fast-paced)
It is a popular sequence of yoga asanas done with breath awareness. It is a complete sadhna or yoga practice in itself and includes asana, pranayama, mantra and meditation techniques. 1 set comprises of 12 asanas. 1 cycle of sun salutation comprises of 2 such sets done for the right and left side.
Repeating these cycles help you lead an active and healthy life as it regulates and balances the solar energy of the body which flows through pingala nadi. It is performed in a steady rhythmic way which also reflects the biorhythms of the body, 24 hours of the day, and the 12 zodiac signs and this rhythmic process helps transform your mind and body completely.
You will experience a boost in immune system, improved digestion, increase in your lung capacity, and a balanced metabolism, reproductive and circulatory system. Regular practice helps in naturally balancing endocrine system and restoring hormonal balance, giving you a glowing skin, healthy bones, and a great mood to kick-start your day with positive energy. To learn the complete sequence, visit our blog on Surya Namaskar.
Apart from yoga asana, the practice of dynamic breathing exercises like Kapalbhati, Ujjayi Pranayama, Bhastrika and Nadi Shodhan Pranayama will help restore balance and regulate thyroid glands.
Asanas for Hyperthyroidism
Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)
Setu means bridge and bandha means a lock or a bind. Apart from working on the spine, neck and chest, this bind is also great for the lower body and helps tone buttocks and hamstrings. It stimulates the thyroid glands, abdominal muscles and helps calm the nervous system. It also helps relieve symptoms of menopause, tiredness, high blood pressure and is therapeutic for hypertension
To begin, first lie in supine with arm resting on the side. Bend your knees and place the feet hip distance apart, on the floor, and as close to the buttocks as possible. With your palms down, press into the upper arms and feet and begin to lift your hips towards the ceiling. You may interlace your fingers if possible to lift the torso higher. The knees should remain parallel to each other and in line with ankle. As you lift higher, feel the bottom firm up and the chest moving closer to the chin. Do not move the chin or exert pressure around the neck and shoulders.
Hold this posture for a few breaths and observe how the body is equally supported by the feet, arms, neck and shoulders. You can even try holding the ankles with your hands to deepen the posture.
Marjariasana (Cat-Cow Stretch)
Repeat the same step as mentioned earlier. It is important to keep the wrists aligned with the shoulders and knees aligned with the hip in the table pose to avoid strain and to ensure stability as you breathe in and out in this spinal stretch.
Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation (slow-paced)
It is also called Sarvanga Sundara Asana which means Total Body Workout. You can practice the sequence slowly by staying in each asana for few breaths or you can practice it at a faster pace, breathing in and out as you move from one asana to the other. Holding postures has a therapeutic benefit on the body and mind. Read our detailed blog on Sun Salutation (link shared above) for step by step guide.
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
This pose has a calming and soothing effect on the mind and also helps relieve tension in the spine and neck by stretching and strengthening back muscles. It is usually practiced as rest-pose during vinyasa.
Sit in Vajrasana and fold forward from the hips, stretching the hands forward, letting it rest on the floor. If possible, allow the forehead to rest on the floor as well and continue to breathe gently.
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
This deep relaxation pose can be practiced any time of the day to de-stress and relax and should definitely be practiced after asana practice. It helps relax body and mind completely and increases inner awareness. You can extend the time from 5 minutes to upto 30 minutes and include Yoga Nidra (guided relaxation or yogic sleep) for deep healing and relaxation.
Lie flat on your back with arms and legs relaxed and palms facing the ceiling. You can place a yoga blanket or headstand pillow under the head for support and comfort. Shift the awareness from the body to the breath and continue to breathe in a natural relaxed manner.
Apart from these relaxing postures, you can also practice Nadi Shodhan Pranayama, Bhramari Pranayama or Sheetali or Sheetkari Pranayama after relaxing in corpse pose. This helps calm the body and mind and also prepares you for meditation. A regular practice of meditation can also be included in your daily practice for best results.