The thyroid gland is a body organ situated in the neck and weighing some 15 to 25 grams. It consists of many small cavities which contain hormones and other substances necessary for our survival such as thyroxin. Iodine is a vital and necessary component of the gland's activity and is taken into the body from our diet. The thyroid acts as an iodine sponge, sucking up as much of this substance as it can.
The thyroid gland is responsible for or plays a prominent role in the following bodily functions: body metabolism, oxygen consumption, heat production, maintaining normal activity of the central nervous system as well as development of the nervous system in the foetus, growth and development of most body tissues, healthy skin, red blood cell level, heart rate, blood pressure, appetite, strength of muscles, gonadal function, lactation, and many other known . and unknown activities. Therefore it plays a vital role in our lives and deserves the utmost care and respect. This small gland can help us gain the energy to do all those things we want to do in life if we look after it properly.
The thyroid gland is only one part of the endocrine system, which consists of eight interlinked, interrelated and interdependent glands. Thus the efficient functioning of the thyroid gland is also indirectly necessary for the efficient functioning of every body process. The complexity and subtlety in maintaining perfect health of the endocrine system is the subject of yoga. Very few people today have perfect endocrine balance. Most of us have some imbalance due to tension, disharmony and unhappiness. These aspects of our personality act upon the brain's emotional centre, the limbic system, and are relayed through the neighbouring hypothalamus, markedly influencing the pituitary gland, the master control gland of the whole endocrine orchestra. In this way the thyroid gland function is disturbed and similar changes are also produced in the reproductive and adrenal glands.
Imbalance in the thyroid function may be felt as lack of energy, rapid pulse rate, anxiety, constipation, and so on. No matter how slight the imbalance, it is still present and can lead on to a negative disease situation unless corrected through techniques such as yoga offers. The extreme of the 'normal' situation is found in the disease states of under active (hypo) and overactive (hyper) thyroid function. These conditions manifest as follows:
Normal individuals ride between these two extremes. Actually there is no particular way for the thyroid gland to function which is good, better or best. Perhaps we can define a healthy thyroid gland as one which interacts harmoniously with the rest of the body, working selflessly for the good of all the other parts. This involves a great deal of flexibility and the ability to react appropriately in any given situation. This harmony of function within the microcosm of the body reflects the harmony of man within the macrocosm.
Diseases occur through disharmony, inflexibility and inappropriate behaviour. We see this in the extremes of hyper and hypothyroidism, but do not realize that it also extends into every aspect of our lives. We are out of tune with our environment and unable to send enough energy into our systems when we need it, and to relax when we want to. Of course, most of us are within the normal ranges of thyroid hormone level and do not suffer excessively, but still we are fixed within a narrow, unnatural range of function.
What can we do about this? Yoga provides us with a means to stimulate the thyroid gland, to bring it into balance, to reintegrate it with the rest of the endocrine system and the nervous system. It acts directly on the chakras and energy system of the body, realigning the endocrine/chakra system so that the energy potential of the body is maximized. We then feel full of energy and able to act in the best possible way, with maximum fulfilment. This is a process of divination - coming in contact with the higher energies.
There are seven major chakras in the pranic body which have physical correlates in the spinal area, spaced out through the body in roughly the same positions as the endocrine glands. At these points there are also nerve plexuses which are major areas of nerve aggregation. Thus, there exists a link between the nerves, glands and chakras. The chakras are energy vortices and can be thought of as the point at which energy from the higher levels of our being enters into our body. It is as though the various levels of energy within our body are drawn together with a needle and thread and tied at the chakra point.
The endocrine glands are directly linked to the chakras as a part of the body control mechanism. The thyroid gland corresponds to vishuddhi chakra, which is concerned with purification and the harmonizing of all opposites. Vishuddhi is known as the 'nectar and poison' centre because here the nectar which falls down from bindu (at the top back of the head) is said to be distilled into the pure form and the poison discarded. The pure nectar then energizes the body, ensuring excellent health, vitality and longevity.
According to William A. Tiller, Ph.D. and professor of Materials Science at Stanford University (USA), the energy of the body, can be infinitely increased once we understand the importance of the endocrine/chakra relationship. The endocrine/chakra pair are seen to be transducers tapping the energy of the cosmos and allowing it to enter into the body. When there is balance in the body systems, energy is harnessed, made coherent and synchronized.
Most people function at low levels of energy and thus their chakras are spinning at low speeds. Some chakras are on while others are off, and this erratic pattern of functioning is combined with an imbalance of the actual chakra. You can think of it in terms of a car wheel spinning with its axle off-centre. When the wheel spins at low speed there is a slight bumping experienced, but this energy is absorbed by the rest of the car body. If, however, the spin starts to speed up, then the imbalance produces an unmanageable vibration causing damage. In man this situation causes disease.
Disease is seen in the mind and personality as well as in the body. For example in hyperthyroidism the patient becomes anxious, tense and irritable, while in hypothyroidism the patient becomes lethargic and no longer cares about anything. The mental component of thyroid disease is clearly apparent because of the link at the chakras between mind and body. To remedy thyroid problems we require a method that solves the root cause at the pranic and mental levels. Yogic techniques such as sarvangasana, ujjayi and bhramari pranayamas, khechari mudra, and jalandhara bandha all exert a balancing and stimulating influence on the thyroid/vishuddhi complex. This is because they help us to rebalance not just the thyroid gland but the whole psychophysical body.
This is the ideal asana for most thyroid gland problems. If you are overactive it tends to reduce secretion, and if you are under active it tends to release more thyroid hormones. This is achieved by improving the general health and function of the gland. It does this in the following way:
It only requires a minute amount of any hormone to have a definite effect on the human body and personality. For example, a few molecules of adrenaline can produce a 'fight or flight' reaction in the body. The same applies to thyroid hormones, a little imbalance one way or the other can totally unbalance the metabolism affecting the function of the entire body. It is therefore well worth our while to utilize yogic techniques such as sarvangasana to maintain the health and balanced function of the thyroid and thereby maintain the health of the whole endocrine/nervous system and the body.
Please note, however, that all thyroid therapy should be managed under the surveillance of yogic and medical experts, so that mishaps are avoided and drugs are systematically reduced.