Yoga for happy hormones
Are your hormones happy? Do you get up in the morning boosting with energy and vitality or feeling somewhat “meh”? Discover how yoga can balance your hormonal system.
The link between our highly sophisticated hormonal system, levels of energy we operate from, stress we experience, how strong our immunity is and our overall health and lifestyle is undeniable.
This article explores the endocrine system, its main glands and their connection to chakras, along with introducing a meditation and a yoga practice sequence to help balance your hormones and enhance your vitality.
The endocrine system
Tightly orchestrated, your endocrine or hormonal system consists of a network of glands (organs) located all over your body, which produce, monitor and secrete hormones, the chemicals that control your body’s main processes, including reproduction, development, growth, repair, mood, metabolism, homeostasis and sleep, among others.
The endocrine system operates alongside the nervous and immune systems to assist them in the functioning of the body and its ability to manage stress.
There are two types of glands: exocrine and endocrine. While the endocrine glands make hormones (chemical messengers) and secrete them directly into the bloodstream, the exocrine glands release electrolytes, enzymes and proteins, and include your salivary, sebaceous and sweat glands along with the pancreas (which is both an exocrine and endocrine organ).
We will focus on the main endocrine glands, each of which produces different hormones, performing their own specific tasks in the body.
- The hypothalamus sits inside the brain and links your nervous system and the hormonal system. Nerve cells in the hypothalamus control the pituitary gland communicating with it when to begin and when to suppress the production of hormones.
- Hardly the size of a pea, the pituitary gland is located at the base of the brain and is considered the master gland, overseeing other glands in your body and regulating the hormones produced by them.
- The pineal gland lies in the middle of the brain and produces melatonin, a chemical necessary for healthy sleep, and regulates your sleep/wake cycle.
- Located in the front part of the neck, the thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that secretes the hormones that control your metabolic rate.
- Parathyroid glands are four tiny glands that are attached to the thyroid and are responsible for regulating certain minerals necessary for bone health and the healthy functioning of the heart, kidneys and nervous system (such as the brain and muscle contraction).
- The thymus gland is linked to your immune system. It is located between the lungs and produces T-lymphocytes (white blood cells) which fight viruses and infections.
- The pancreas is one of the largest glands and is located inside the abdomen. It produces insulin and glucagon, which control the blood sugar levels.
- The adrenal glands are two triangular organs sitting on top of each kidney. They are responsible for the production of the hormones called adrenaline and corticosteroids, which control your blood flow and pressure, heart rate and metabolism and how you respond to stress.
- Gonads are the reproductive glands which produce sex hormones. In women, they are called ovaries, the producers of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone necessary for regulation of the menstrual cycle and reproductive system. Male reproductive glands are the testes; they produce sperm and secrete testosterone.
Glands and their connection with the chakras Donna Farhi, a celebrated international yoga author and sought-after senior teacher, explains in Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit: A Return to Wholeness, “Just as the chakras appear to be spinning vortices of energy that lie in a vertical line along our torsos, with each specialising in a different aspect of our physical, emotional and mental experience, the glands appear to exert both physiological and psychic effects.”
While the body’s endocrine glands cannot be equated with the chakras, their locations in the body certainly overlap, as do the correlating physiological and energetic qualities, which cannot be left unnoticed.
Hormone imbalances are widely spoken of and arise when glands overproduce hormones or do not generate enough of them. This can be caused by stress, ageing, genetic predispositions, chronic conditions, environment (such as chemicals and toxins), diet and lifestyle and can result in fatigue, insomnia, weakened immunity, weight gain, irregular menstrual cycles, low libido, adenomas, blood sugar imbalances and thyroid and parathyroid disorders among others.
Yoga sequence for hormonal balance
Balance your hormonal system with a yoga sequence designed to stimulate and revitalise your endocrine glands along with enhancing the flow of nutrition, circulation and energy. Gary Kraftsow, a leading expert in yoga therapy and the founder of the American Viniyoga Institute, says in his book Yoga for Wellness: Healing with the Timeless Teachings of Viniyoga, “The endocrine system is very complex, requiring balance for proper functioning. Accordingly, the goal of any yoga practice in relation to the endocrine system is that of restoring and maintaining balance. In this sense, our yoga practice functions as a kind of homeostatic equaliser.”
Begin your practice by sitting comfortably, with your spine erect and your hands placed into ushas mudra, which is assumed by interlacing your fingers (the palms will face towards you) in front or your chest or the abdomen: female practitioners clasp the fingers so that the right thumb is positioned between the left thumb and the index finger, with the left thumb pressing gently onto the right; for male practitioners, this mudra is done by interlacing your fingers and resting the right thumb above your left.
Allow your awareness to be placed at and move through the location of your glands and chakras, moving first from your lowest chakra upward, and then from the glands located in the brain downward to the gonads. After 10–15 minutes of doing that, begin to deepen your breath. Move slowly into your asana practice.
Asana practice – Cakravakasana (Ruddy Goose pose) moving to Balasana (Child’s pose)
Start on all fours with your hands comfortably apart, placed slightly in front of your shoulders, and your hips above your knees.
Inhale and, lifting your chest, bring it forward as you draw your shoulder blades in towards each other, lengthening the spine and trying not to overarch your lower back.
On the outbreath, contacting your abdomen, round your back and gently pull back. Lower your hips towards your heels and your forehead onto your mat into Child’s pose.
Repeat seven more times, moving from Ruddy Goose into Child pose, allowing your breath to guide your movements. After the eighth round, rest in Child’s pose for five breaths.
Bhujangasana (Cobra pose)
Lie on your belly with your hands by your chest, your palms facing down and your head turned to one side. Take your feet as wide as feels comfortable for your lower back. Exhale there.
As you inhale, bringing your head to the centre as you lift your chest into Cobra pose and lengthen the spine.
On the exhalation, lower your chest and shoulders back onto the floor, turning your head to the other side.
Repeat five more times, alternating the sides your turn your head to, when lowering back onto the floor with every exhalation. After the sixth round, rest on your belly or in Child’s pose.
If your time allows, add three to eight rounds of Sun Salutations to your practice.
Malasana (Garland pose)
Note: You may need to have a rolled or folded yoga mat or blanket and a block prepared for this pose.
Begin in a comfortable standing position, with your feet slightly wider than your hips. On your exhale, bend your knees and lower your hips deep into a squat. Adjust the direction of your feet, as required.
If possible, keep your hips off the floor. Optionally the rolled blanket can be placed under your heels and a yoga block can be used to lower the hips onto.
Bring your palms together at the heart and allow your elbows to press into your inner knees and thighs.
Remain in the pose for five to eight breaths. And, after resting in a simple Standing Forward Fold, repeat the yogic squat two more times.
Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Forward Bend pose) leading to Ardha Ustrasana variation (Half Camel pose variation)
Enter the pose by sitting on your yoga mat with both legs extended. Then, bending your right knee, fold your right foot in to touch the left inner thigh, while keeping your left leg active and extended.
If possible, keep your right foot in by the perineum. If this poses a problem, lower it midway between the groin and the left inner thigh.
As you lift from the sides of your torso, turn your upper body to face the straight leg and, as you exhale extending your torso forward, fold towards the left leg. Reach your right hand to hold onto the left outer shin, ankle or foot. Take a few deep breaths there.
On the inhale, come out of the forward fold and prepare for your next mini-flow by placing your right hand behind you, with your palm down and fingers turned to the back away from you. Exhale.
On your next inhalation, keeping the right hand behind you as you lean into it, extend your left arm forward and up as you lift your hips off the floor. Keep your neck relaxed. On exhalation, lower your hips down and half-circle towards your straight leg, bringing your torso over it and reaching with the right hand to the outside of your left leg. Continue five times.
After your last repetition on this side, stay in Janu Sirsasana for five to eight breaths, holding the left foot with both hands, and bending your left knee, if needed.
Repeat the sequence on the other side.
Viparita Karani (modification) leading to Apanasana (Knees-to-Chest), Setu Bandasana (Bridge pose) and Apanasana
Lie down on your back. Taking a deep inhale, bring your legs up, pointing or flexing your toes, and extend your arms above your head. As you exhale, bring your arms back and hug your knees towards the chest, optionally bringing your head towards your knees as you curl your body into a ball.
On your next inhalation, lower you head, shoulders and feet down onto the floor as you lift your hips, lower and mid-back into Bridge pose. You can either keep your arms by the sides of the body with your palms down or hold onto the sides of your yoga mat for leverage assisting the lift of your hips. On the exhalation, lower your hips back onto the yoga mat, as you draw your knees to your chest.
This completes one mini-flow cycle. Repeat it five times, moving with breath.
Upon completion, hold Bridge pose for five breaths before hugging your knees back to your chest and repeating the pose twice.
Conclude your practice by lying down on your back and taking a Simple Supine Twist, by lowering your knees to one side and shifting your hips slightly away from the direction of your knees.
Hold the pose for eight breaths, focusing on your breath. Change sides.
Enjoy at least five minutes of Savasana to finish.