Our lives are jammed full of work, responsibilities, and to-do lists. All of which come with some major side effects: stress, inactivity, and not enough time to do the things we enjoy.
Even though creating space in your day seems like a big task, getting moving can help you feel better. Here’s why yoga is the perfect activity for hypothyroidism—just remember to go slow and respect how your body responds along the way.
Stretching is great for the body. Hypothyroidism can cause stiffness and joint pain, and it’s important to counteract that. Plus, most of us sit for hours a day, leading to low back issues, tense hips and glutes, forward-hunching shoulders, and a tight chest.
Asanas, or yoga poses, can help. Simple stretches go a long way toward easing and alleviating aches. Child’s pose, pictured above, releases the inner and outer hips, supports and soothes the spine, and lightly stretches the underside of the arms. Some postures even stimulate the thyroid, which is in the low- to mid-throat area. Look for poses that tilt the chin toward the chest or the sky. Examples are bridge (setu bandha sarvangasana), fish (matsyasana), plow (halasana), cobra (bhujangasana), and up dog (urdhva mukha savasana).
Some days it’s hard to summon the energy to be active or stretch. But the payoff is huge: when done regularly, yoga helps fatigue, stimulates blood flow, and circulates joint fluid. Some studies even show levels of thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, climb post-exercise.
Pain and fatigue are plenty to deal with. But hypothyroidism also brings the digestive system to a crawl. That equals a greater chance of heartburn and constipation. And, yes, bloating. (Yet another reason to put on yoga pants, if you ask me.)
So how do you “wake up” the organs in your abdomen? Try a twist like lord of the fishes (matsyendrasana), shown above. Or, go for a reclined spinal twist; it’s one of the most restorative postures for the body. Lay on your back, and bring both knees into the chest. Spread your arms out like airplane wings, palms down. Keeping the legs stacked, let your knees fall over to the right while gazing over the left shoulder. Repeat on the other side.
Twists are effective because they change the position of the abdomen and place subtle weight on our organs. This encourages blood flow to our digestive tract, which can help get things moving again.
Even though there’s an official ring to it, centering is just the yogic way of taking a minute (or five). Remember: stress raises cortisol and tells the body thyroid hormone production is not a priority. Having a time out reduces anxiety, and your body can dial back the stress hormones.
Centering is ideal before and after yoga, but it’s a dreamy addition to your bedtime routine, too. Why? Hypothyroidism causes fatigue because it reduces metabolism, or how efficiently we use oxygen and nutrients for energy. But here’s what’s especially unfair: even though you’re exhausted, hypothyroidism and high cortisol can keep you up at night. Centering helps your body understand that it’s time to slow down and rest.
Ready to give it a go? Choose a quiet room with minimal light. Sit or lay in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Focus on softening any muscle tension in the body. Let your mind follow your breath, until outside thoughts grow quiet and eventually silence.
Asanas may be the modern face of yoga, but the heart of any practice is breath. During your practice, focus on breathing in and out through the nose while constricting the back of the throat. Let the inhales and exhales lengthen and create space in the abdomen. Draw the air into the belly and ribs and up to the sternum.
Why is focused breath helpful for hypothyroidism? For one, the condition affects lung function, and we need to mitigate that. But a 2017 study, The role of deep breathing on stress, found it also lowered saliva cortisol levels. Another interesting find? People reported feeling better immediately. (What’s better than that?)
Ever read up on yogic philosophy? You may have heard of samskaras, or the ruts we fall into with our thoughts and actions. Our brains are always re-assimilating our behaviors and experiences in the world around us. Based on its learnings, neural pathways are created and become our go-to way of categorizing new information.
While neural pathways are necessary, we can get stuck in negative ones. This leads us to leap to the worst-case scenario in any situation or hold tight to unhealthy choices and habits.
Practicing yoga consistently can help rework and retrain your pathways. Along with reducing stress and calming the nervous system, its power lives in the ripple effect. When we discover how good we can feel, we look at life differently. And that change in perspective spills over, making us more optimistic and ready to make decisions from a healthy, happier place.
You don’t have turn upside down or balance on one hand to get stronger. Yoga carries a big advantage for strength training: it uses body weight and has isotonic and isometric postures. Which is really just a fancy way of saying it’s well rounded. Isotonic poses are great for functional fitness because they mobilize joints and lengthen muscles. Isometric asanas create force without changing the length of muscles and enhance endurance.
Building lean tissue is important to hypothyroidism because muscle mass helps combat weight gain, which can seem inevitable with a slowed metabolism. But the mental benefits of growing stronger shouldn’t be underestimated, either. It can contribute to overall energy, confidence, and outlook.
Begin with isometric asanas like plank, chair, and warrior pose. Once you know how your body handles the exercises, try isotonic exercises like yogic squats or vinyasas, flows between postures.