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In fact, I was a figure skater (of course being born in Russia figure skating was a preferable choice of sports for girls) since I was three years old and spent at least two hours at the gym as long as I can remember. I used to push myself and run and flex to the point of breaking, thinking all while that It was what I was supposed to be doing to be healthy. Needless to say it was shocking for me to realize one day that my hands were shaking, my heart was palpitating and I have gained 30 pounds of weight in one month.
Even though thyroid disorders in the recent years became a household name, still not many of us are familiar with Graves’s deceases (hyperthyroid) and once I heard my diagnosis I was in disbelieve. “What is this Graves Decease?” I kept thinking to myself.As I come to find out, graves deceases was actually named after an Irish physician Dr. Robert Graves and as it is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system becomes confused. “It is considered a disorder of hyper-immunity since immune system cells overreact and produce autoantibodies” * (Moore, Elaine A., and Lisa Moore. Graves’ Disease: A Practical Guide. McFarland & Co., 2001). In other words, while the immune system is confused it cannot differentiate intruders from its own cells and starts attacking (in my case) thyroid. This is, of course, simplified explanation of the condition from which at least 3% of the population of the US are affected. And on top of all this, Graves’ disease affects everyone differently, which makes the course of progression, treatment or healing impossible to predict. Of course, the first question he or she has when they get sick is “why” and “how”, and those were the same questions that were bothering me. Western doctors and literature were able to answer “how” but were unable to tell me “why”. At this point, I subconsciously knew that pills and radiation will only help with the symptoms for some time.
I wanted to know the root cause and I wanted to get well. I didn’t want to sit at home tired and depressed, and I didn’t want to have to skip on my life just because I feel self-conscious, anxious and sick. I turned to reading.Part Two- “Our Body speaks our mind’ – Stanley Keleman Of course, all the reading in the world could not answer all the emotional, and phycological effects of my Graves Deceases Journey. I knew I was on the right path with the diet and supplementing my body, but felt like something else was missing. I felt like my body was still reminding me that it has reached its physical limits and it was time for me to take care of my body in a different way. That’s when I came across interesting material that was addressing in detail yoga therapy and “A very important aspect of yoga therapy that teaches us to control the effects of the brain upon body” (Iyengar, B. Yoga the Path to Holistic Health. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited., 2001). This makes a perfect sense since we know that the thyroid is located in our neck, and our neck is a “gate” between our thought and our voice. Once the gate is broken our emotions cannot be communicated correctly. We may think one thing and say another, while possibly not even knowing it. All this confusion essentially manifests in our body, and according to the eastern culture, in the imbalance of our third chakra. Believe it or not, our bodies are actually listening, to all everything we say or think, to all the negative self-talk or virtual bullying we are reading. This is when I discovered that Yogis’ knew a long time before modern scientist and the western doctors that endocrine system (which thyroid is a part of) affects emotions of the mind and vice versa. (Vishnudervananda, Swami.
The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. Three Rivers Press (CA), 1995.). Variety of mental emotions such as anger, sorrow, hatred, love may bring heart rate and blood pressure up, while yoga trough exercise will allow us to bring all of those emotions under control, reduce stress and inflammation, increase immunity and bring an inner peace. Thus, the difference between yoga therapy and our western therapy is that yoga gives us a multi-dimensional approach, while western and modern medicine address issue as they relate only to certain part of the body. Hence is why I am on the “mission” to share my experiences and knowledge trough yoga with those who are interested in getting well, and I will concentrate on yoga for those with thyroid disorders (please visit my website at www.mahadyoga.com). Yoga will allow me to create an individualized asana practice for my students that will help them to develop self-awareness and stress relief, which in return will support the emotional part of the thyroid disorder.Part Three- “Yoga, because some questions cannot be answered by Google “- Anonymous So how does it work? Most often then not we see a variety of yoga studios and even yoga classes in the variety of gym’s and its being looked at as a supplementation for the already existing fitness program. However, the main objective of yoga is not necessarily fitness or even weight loss but is to produce tranquility in the body and mind. This is profoundly important for anyone with thyroid disorders. Since thyroid patients have a “broken gate” between their thought and voice, not only they need to be able to open communication channels (their 3rd chakra) but address their thought control in the first place. Cognitive and emotional parts from this perspective are two key factors in the stress and thyroid disorders. The emotional brain sets our emotions off, which send adrenaline and cortisol trough out the body. The cognitive brain at the same time is trying to get things under control and restrain emotional response. Yoga is able to address this in the variety of ways. For example, every time we are holding a posture for a certain period of time, our cognitive brain gets activated and trying to keep balance and concentration.
Then, when we are bending forward during our Sun Salutations, relaxation signals are being sent to the brain trough the neck movement. So simply bending forward will trigger cognitive brain and relaxation response at the same time. Keeping a better connection between the two would certainly help to control emotions and will assist with the cultivation of better stress response. This is, of course, a shorter version of what is happening in the body through the brain when we are practicing yoga. However, for practitioners with thyroid disorders, this can be life-changing experience, as stress can release thyroid -stimulating hormones from the pituitary gland, and also can decrease conversion of the thyroid hormone. Thus, any amount of chronic stress may disrupt thyroid function and lead to the thyroid disorders or worsening of the symptoms.
With that, it is safe to say that yoga may not be an instantaneous cure for thyroid conditions, but rather helps us to address how we react to stress and be able to balance and release our emotions on the regular basis with asanas and other yogic practices like meditation and pranayama. At the end of the day, continues yoga practice will help us to recognize our emotions and apply our knowledge and movement to release physical tension build up. In return, we will be able to lower impact of the stress on our body, which will reduce thyroid symptoms in the long run. So while I am talking about physical movements and the circle of brain-body-emotion affects, I would like to mention that there are multiple asanas that directly can affect thyroid and should be practiced with caution for anyone with hyperthyroidism. For example, Matsyasana (Fish Pose): while the neck and throat are stretched, blood circulation to the thyroid is increased. At the same time thyroid is being stimulated. While anyone could benefit from the tension release from the neck area in the fish pose, practitioners with hyperthyroid (or overactive thyroid) do not need to stimulate their thyroid, as it is already on the overdrive. So, anyone with the hyperthyroidism (Graves Deceases, or what we call GD) should avoid holding this pose for a long time or avoid this pose altogether. On the other side increased blood flow during Fish Pose would help practitioners with under reactive thyroid (hypothyroidism, or Hashimoto). It is clear that variety of Asanas are addressing thyroid health directly, to name the few for hyperthyroidism: bridge pose, corpse pose, cat stretch and for hypothyroidism: fish pose, plow pose and a cat stretch. Cat stretch is good for both as long as the practitioner can keep an awareness on the throat area while moving trough cat-cow.
Of course, there are more asanas that are great for thyroid disorders, I am just scratching the surface and describing just a couple. In addition to postures, yogic practice of pranayamas that is significantly overlooked in the modern yoga practice can be used to dramatically improve symptoms of any thyroid disorder. However, as with any physical exercise, some breathing techniques are not suitable for practitioners with over reactive thyroid (or GD). It is believed that patients with overactive thyroid do have excessive heat (“hot “emotions like anger) in the body and it is suggested to use cooling breathing techniques to bring a balance to the body and calm the mind. For example, the Ujjayi (Ocean Breath) breathing technique (feeling lungs with air while contracting throat and breathing through the nose). This technique will help to clear out nasal and throat passages and restore your communication channels (voice specifically), and that helps to address the “broken gate” issue, the same connection between voice and thought I talked about earlier.Last but not least, the yogic practice of meditation could be a missing “link” on the recovery journey for those who suffer from thyroid disorders and imbalances.
While meditating we are so to speak putting our mind on neutral, focus inward and cultivate stillness. It is not as complicated as it is believed and can be practiced anywhere at any time. It is probably the best way to transform stress into the state of well-being and help thyroid to rebalance or give it a significant break. As we enter a state of deep relaxation while meditating, we release serotonin (which neutralizes anxiety and depression), and melatonin (which improves quality of sleeping – the key problem for sufferers of thyroid disorders). All of the practices that I have mentioned in my essay, of course, have a deeper effect, and each is vast and multi-dimensional.
It is fair to say that it could take a lifetime to study and master even one of those, so yoga will surprise anyone with the thyroid disorders: with more practice and more study, practitioner will discover more and more tools that yoga provides to bring us back to our natural state of well being and balance, and to address our body’s natural ability to selfheal. But just like any treatment and any battle, it will require correct strategy (asanas) and routine (daily consistent practice). This is where hope with the help of this course, to be able to help other to get on the right track.Part Four – “Constant practice alone is the secret to success” – Hatha Yoga PradipikaAs I am writing this, it has been 5 years since my Graves journey started. Most of the symptoms of graves are gone and even western medicine doctor says graves is incurable, I consider myself being an exception to the rule. Of course, I still have a good and bad days and I am still imperfect. But, I believe that yoga helped me to move on with my life and helped me to be able to do all the things I want to do. And with taking this study I want to challenge all people that are suffering from thyroid imbalances to listen to the body, practice yoga, take this course, read, and see if the life will take you to the places you never dream off. Namaste
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