A paper recently reported on Helios.com concludes that Lupus patients are more likely to have thyroid dysfunction than healthy adults. Personally, I’ve had trouble in this area this year. I’ve moved into the realm of subclinical hyperthyroidism and have thyroid nodules. Even though that is supposed to be a condition you can’t feel, personally it manifests as a sore throat and a burning sensation in the skin of my neck.
Yoga unfortunately has less to offer the hyperthyroid patient compared to other conditions. The meditative and pranayama practices help with the insomnia and anxiety but asana choices are pretty limited.
According to Mel Robin in, A Handbook for Yogasana Teachers, poses such as halasana (plow) and sarvangasana (shoulder stand) are stimulating to the thyroid since the chin is being pressed into the sternum. Poses with strong neck extension such as ustrasana (camel), viparita dandasana (inverted staff) and urdhva dhanurasana (upward bow) are also thyroid stimulators according to Dr. Robin. These extensions, like the contraction poses, increase circulation to the area. If you’re concerned about hyperthyroidism, it’s prudent not to do these poses. Personally, I’ve really noticed the extensors are very stimulating and increase that burning sensation in the front of my neck. The contractors, do seem to compress my goiter a bit and I’ve been trying to avoid those as well.
B.K.S. Iyengar in, Yoga the Path to Holistic Health, also mentions Urdhva Dhanurasana as a thyroid stimulator. Salamba Sarvangasana (supported shoulderstand) is listed as a thyroid ‘improv[er]’. Navasana (boat pose) is listed as a metabolic stimulator as well as contraindicated for insomnia and diarrhea all of which are areas of concern for hyperthyroidism. Upward bow is a pose I find kind of fun, in a hard way, but I’ve taken a pause from practicing it. I’ve also taken a break from shoulderstand due to unrelated issues with my cervical spine (I’ll do a cervical post in the future). Also, boat pose hasn’t seemed to cause me any trouble so I continue to practice it.
Obviously I’m sticking with my yoga practice but I would love more clarity on the subject. It’s hard to use the no joint pain=good pose metric on your internal organs. As yoga research is blossoming maybe this is one area that will get some attention in the future.
Since I try to stay within the yoga principle of sharing direct knowledge, I won’t be doing a companion piece regarding yoga and hypothyroidism. I know that’s much more common, so if you’ve had experience with changing your practice for either thyroid condition, please comment on what you’ve done.
Online resources for yoga and hyperthyroidism:
The International Association of Yoga Therapists has a yoga and thyroid bibliography available for free to members or for purchase for non-members here.
My yoga and hyperthyroid Pinterest board:
I will try and maintain the board with other resources as I come across them.
Print sources for yoga and hyperthyroidism:
Graves’ Disease A Practical Guide by Elaine Moore and Lisa Moore. A new edition of this book was published as Advances in Graves’ Disease and Other Hyperthyroid Disorders. The new edition makes the point that experienced yoga teachers can help students with healing their thyroid glands without mentioning anything specific.
Living well with Graves’ Disease and Hyperthyroidism by Mary Shomon
The two older books mention yoga as good for managing stress as well as cite sources (Swami Rameshwarananda and Dr. Weil respectively) that mention shoulderstand as a thyroid improver.
If you’re going through thyroid difficulties and practice yoga, good luck to you. I hope your practice is a place of solace at the very least.
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