Do you sometimes feel sluggish or foggy-brained, or do you feel cold easily? Do you prefer a good night’s sleep over a night out with friends? If it’s a yes to any of the questions, you could suffer from an underactive thyroid gland, also known as hypothyroidism.
Thankfully, Yoga is a great way to naturally re-energize and balance an underactive thyroid gland.
Yoga supports the thyroid gland by massaging and stretching tissues in and around it. As a result, it also improves blood flow to it and stimulates the production of thyroid hormones. Some of the best (and easy) poses to balance the thyroid gland include the Cat-Cow pose, Bridge pose, Cobra pose, Boat pose and Camel pose.
In this article, we briefly discuss the thyroid gland and how it works in the body, together with some key (and surprising) symptoms you might not be aware of. Find out which Yoga poses can be done easily and safely to stimulate and balance the thyroid gland. Also, check out our tips on Yogic breathing and key foods to keep your thyroid healthy.
What Does The Thyroid Gland Do?
The thyroid gland produces hormones that are vital for our bodies, including the regulation of energy and body weight.
Out of balance, the gland can produce either too little (hypothyroidism) or too much hormone (hyperthyroidism). An underactive thyroid gland can affect our wellbeing profoundly in many different ways.
The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped organ located at the front of the neck, just above the collarbones. It is part of a larger hormonal complex and linked to other glands in the body such as the pituitary gland and the adrenal glands.
Together, these glands produce important hormones that help regulate our metabolism, from our heart rate to how quickly your body burns calories:
- heart rate and cardiovascular function
- the function of key organs such as liver, gallbladder
- the nervous system
- body temperature
- muscle strength
- body weight
- cholesterol levels.
Overall, a balanced, optimally functioning thyroid gland is crucial in supporting a healthy metabolism and overall health.
Symptoms Of An Underactive Thyroid Gland
Thyroid disorders have become more common over recent decades, together with other diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. Around 20 million people in the US suffer from some form of thyroid disorder, with a higher percentage among women.
Diet and lifestyle and in particular stress are among the more common causes for an underactive thyroid gland. The resulting hormonal imbalances can are often not detected via blood tests.
Therefore, for many people, an underactive thyroid is never diagnosed and may cause considerable issues.
According to Eric Bakker, a well-respected naturopath, observable, and some surprising, symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland may include:
- fatigue (the most common)
- hoarse voice
- gritty and burning eyes and puffy eyelids.
- dry, cold, rough skin
- sex drive: none or poor
- elevated and resistant cholesterol levels elevated
- itchy skin in various places
- coarse and brittle hair, higher than normal hair loss
- thinning eyebrows, especially outer 1/3 of the eyebrow
- sensitivity to cold
- perspiration may be decreased or even absent
- resistant constipation
- difficulty losing weight, despite rigid adherence to a strict diet.
Yoga Poses That Help with Hypothyroidism
Yoga is very helpful to re-energize and balance an underactive thyroid gland naturally. Some poses are particularly useful to massage and stretch the thyroid gland and stimulate the production of thyroid hormones.
Scientific information seems to confirm the benefits of Yoga for the thyroid gland. For example, a 2016 study found that a group of women who practised 6 months of yoga experienced both a significant improvement in cholesterol levels and levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). As a result of the practice, a significant number of women were able to reduce their thyroid replacement therapy.
A number of Yoga poses help balance the thyroid gland, providing stimulation both by compressing and stretching it. Some of these (for example, shoulder stand) can be too demanding. However, five poses which are relatively simple to perform for most who suffer from hypothyroidism.
These include the Cat-Cow, Bridge, Cobra, Boat and Camel Poses. Of these, Cat-Cow pose, Boat pose and Camel pose can also be approximated while sitting in a chair at home or in the office.
Find greater detail on these poses below, together with some instructional videos to make sure you get them right.
The Cat-Cow pose is an old favourite and comprises two Yoga poses: Cat Pose (Marjaiasana) and Cow pose (Bitilasana). It is an old favourite among Yoga practitioners and accessible to most.
Both poses help stretch and bend the lower spine, hips, and back and core muscle groups. The pose also stimulates internal organs including the digestive tract, opens the heart and lungs, and often brings relief from back pain and sciatica.
Lastly, Cat-Cow is also great for the thyroid, by both compressing and stretching it.
Watch the following video to get structured guidance on doing cat-cow.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
The bridge pose (Setu Bandhasana) helps build the core and lower body strength, lengthens and strengthens the spine, fortifies the thighs, and most importantly, stimulates the thyroid gland and the nervous system. The pressure exerted on the thyroid gland during this pose will help improve the blood flow to the area.
Watch this video to get the bridge pose right:
Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)
The cobra pose (Bujangasana) gets its name for its likeness of a cobra lifting its head. Effectively a backbend, it stretches the muscles in the shoulders, chest and abdomen, with beneficial effects on the thyroid gland.
The pose also increases the flexibility of the spine and opens the chest and heart. It improves the circulation of blood and oxygen through the spine and pelvis and is generally beneficial for low energy, mood and energy levels
Watch the video below to get great guidance on how to do cobra pose correctly (and incorrectly). For those Yoga students who are beginners or not that flexibility, there’s the option of a just a “baby” cobra. Only go as far as your body allows and enjoy that.
Boat Pose (Navasana)
We are listing these poses in line with the increasing difficulty to perform them. So while the first three poses are relatively easily performed, boat pose (Navasana) definitely requires a bit more core strength – but in turn is wonderful for building core strength, as well as the strength of the back and legs.
The boat pose also stimulates the kidneys, thyroid and prostate glands, and the digestive tract.
It has a beneficial effect on balance and strengthens confidence.
This following video demonstrates how to develop the boat pose in baby steps. Start small to go far!
Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
The camel pose (Ustrasana) involves a back bend that opens the chest, neck and shoulders. It is beneficial for spinal flexibility (and back pain) and for opening up the lungs and the heart, both physically and energetically. It nourishes the digestive tract and helps increase metabolism through stimulation of the thyroid gland.
The pose is performed while resting on the knees and carefully bending backwards. It can be somewhat challenging for people with back pain or a stiff back.
The video below shows clearly how to approach the camel pose in a correct and safe manner, starting from a slight, supported backbend and extending to a full backbend. Note: only go as far as is comfortable and appropriate for you.
Yogic breathing is also incredibly helpful in supporting the thyroid gland. The most effective breathing exercise (pranayama) is the so-called ujjayi breath. This focuses on restricting the out-breath at the base of the throat, directly stimulating the thyroid gland.
Ujjayi breath can be practised every day. The slow and rhythmic nature of it is also very helpful to calm the nerves.
Foods That Naturally Support The Thyroid Gland
In addition to doing regular Yoga, nutrition is a key element for good thyroid health. Of particular importance are a few nutrients which way may not get enough of in our daily diet.
Iodine is an essential mineral required to make thyroid hormones. Iodine deficiency is very common, especially in areas where soils have a low level of iodine. One way of addressing is to eat iodized salt and foods that are rich in iodine such as seaweed, fish and eggs.
Selenium is instrumental in “activating” thyroid hormones so they can be used by the body. It also serves as an antioxidant that can protect the thyroid from damage created by so-called free radicals. Selenium-rich foods include Brazil nuts, tuna, sardines, eggs and legumes.
Similar to Selenium, Zinc is also required to help activate TSH, the hormone that instructs the thyroid gland to release thyroid hormones. Foods naturally rich in zinc include oysters and other shellfish, beef and chicken.
What Foods To Eat
A number of foods have a reputation as “goitrogens“. These are food compounds that can interfere with the optimal functioning of the thyroid gland – such as for example soy and cruciferous vegetables. However, these only seem to be a problem in people who already have an iodine deficiency.
In general, rather than avoiding certain foods it is best to add many foods that promote the health of the thyroid gland. Healthline provides a list of these:
- whole eggs
- meats, including lamb, beef, chicken, etc. – best organically sourced
- seafood, including salmon, tuna, halibut, etc.
- vegetables are fine to eat – including cruciferous vegetables in moderate amounts
- fruits including berries, bananas, oranges, tomatoes, etc.
- gluten-free grains and seeds such as rice, buckwheat, quinoa, chia seeds and flaxseed.
- dairy products including milk, cheese, yoghurt if tolerated
- water and other non-caffeinated beverages.
There are a number of relatively easy and safe Yoga poses which you can use to strengthen and balance your thyroid gland. Together with Yogic breathing and a healthy diet, Yoga is a wonderful, natural way to improve the health of the thyroid gland.
Please note that there may also be genuine medical reasons why your Thyroid gland may be underactive. If in doubt, please make sure to consult with a medical professional. Similarly, if you are pregnant, have injuries or are on medical drugs always get professional advice before embarking on Yoga.
Featured picture sourced from HowCast YouTube video