Most of us know that our body metabolizes the food we consume. We eat something, and then the body’s various processes convert that food into energy. This leads to each of our many cells receiving oxygen, thus sustaining our life. This whole process is regulated by a gland known as the thyroid gland, which is a butterfly-shaped gland in the lower half of the neck. This gland secretes thyroxin, a hormone that is responsible for regulating the balance necessary for ensuring our health.
Sometimes, however, the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroxin to ensure proper metabolization of the food that is consumed.
This leads to a variety of different symptoms that include fatigue, weight gain, muscle weakness, a slowed heart rate, and many other conditions indicative of a body whose furnace is slowing down.
Western medical practitioners often consider the cause of hypothyroidism to be Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is assigned as an autoimmune disorder and leads to inflammation of the thyroid gland. Some Western medical practitioners will struggle to properly manage the symptoms associated with hypothyroidism, as the condition is difficult to distinguish from other maladies that likewise cause some of these symptoms. When tests show this imbalance, the patient may be treated with a synthetic thyroid hormone medication.
When we consider imbalances of the body in the context of Ayurveda as a whole, we also consider the correlation between a person’s digestive strength and their health. It is therefore an unlikely surprise that a condition related to a deficient metabolism – hypothyroidism – is greatly defined by the patient’s digestive strength as well.
And issues of metabolism and circulation are usually neatly housed within the conditions related to the Pitta dosha, the deep-seated nature of thyroid imbalance throughout the body’s tissues has the potential to complicate the matter of assigning a diagnosis to one type of doshic imbalance over another. That said, the sluggishness associated with hypothyroidism will often be a result of imbalance of either the Pitta dosha, the Kapha dosha, or both.
The deep-seated nature of a thyroid imbalance requires an Ayurvedic practitioner to assign a highly individualized regimen to any given patient.
What will typically happen, however, is that a patient will receive a combination of herbal therapies and food recommendations that are meant to build digestive strength without sending the body into the extreme other direction of an overactive thyroid gland and digestive capacity in general. Patients may receive other traditional therapies that are meant to balance the body’s doshas as a whole.
When we neglect to establish the root cause of one illness, it can turn into another, stronger illness in the future. The first step in resolving a specific ailment or disease in the body is to assess the nature of our lifestyle and make general modifications. Living our day-to-day life with a deliberate intention to improve our health will help us to both resolve the disease we are suffering from and prevent further incidence of it and other diseases in the future. The following changes can be implemented to regulate the function of the thyroid in response to hypothyroidism.
Ayurveda teaches us that disease and sickness is derived from poor digestion and inappropriate food choices, so we make deliberate and conscious choices as to what foods we do and do not put in our body. When we suffer from a specific ailment, we then have an opportunity to make even more specific food choices to increase the chance of resolving the body’s imbalance.
Food needs to be in season, in moderate combinations of one or two food groups, not too hot or cold, in a modest enough quantity to allow for room left over in the stomach, consumed without too much liquid which hinders digestive power, and fresh and not left over from more than a few hours before. The following foods can help regulate the imbalances indicative of hypothyroidism, often because of the natural occurrence of iodine.
While some foods can help to balance an aggravated dosha, other foods can cause further imbalance. Dry and cold foods as well as pungent, bitter and astringent tastes will dry out the body and aggravate the Vata dosha; sour, salty and pungent tastes as well as spicy foods will add more heat to the body and aggravate the Pitta dosha; sweet, sour and salty tasting foods will add heaviness to the body and aggravate the Kapha dosha. The following foods can lead to further sluggishness and other imbalances associated with hypothyroidism.
Heavy foods like meats, dairy products, and dense desserts
Generally, Ayurveda discourages the consumption of too many cold beverages, as doing so hinders the strength of the body’s digestive fire. Instead, favor room temperature or hot beverages to encourage the strength of the digestive fire.
Hot water, especially during meals, first thing in the morning, and a few cups during the day.
Herbal tea of ginger
Avoid cold and frozen drinks
Avoid sugary or fizzy drinks that blend with the digestive juice and make it weak.
Avoid alcohol, coffee, and black tea.
Herbs are used in the Ayurvedic system much like Western medicine utilizes medicines and vitamins and can be taken like a tea 2 to 3 times a day. Herbs aid in the digestion of food, the breakdown and elimination of toxins, and strengthen the cellular structure of our system for greater vitality. Herbs become more potent once mixed with other herbs of similar properties. Mix 2 to 4 different herbs from the below list together by adding a quarter to a half teaspoon full of each, for a total of 1 teaspoon of herbs total. Drink these in a half a cup of hot water. The following herbs may help resolve the imbalances associated with hypothyroidism, depending on the specific vitiation of any given patient’s condition.
When applied therapeutically to specific ailments, yoga postures provide an opportunity to strengthen the body, rid it of toxic matter, and restore balance. The postures included in this section can be practiced as part of a more general sequence or can be focused on in short sessions. When first exploring yoga postures, it is best to only practice them for twenty minutes or so per day and buildup from there once the body becomes more flexible.
Reclining thunderbolt (Supta vajrasana)
Aromatherapy utilizes the fragrances of essential oils when applied to the skin. Essential oils can burn the skin and therefore must be diluted with a base oil such as sesame, coconut, sunflower, canola, or mustard oil. Mix 1 fluid ounce of base oil with about 12 drops of essential oil before applying to skin. You can also just mix 5 drops of base oil to one drop of essential oil if using on one spot.
Ayurvedic tradition suggests that repeating certain words or sounds can help a person suffering from an ailment restore subtle balance to nerve tissue and enhance one’s mental clarity. Different sounds are prescribed to either repeat mentally or chant outwardly. These sounds are also used and repeated in the mind for the purpose of spiritual growth.
Controlling the breath is a central practice toward developing peace and stillness in the mind and body. When the breath is under our control, we are no longer at the mercy of the senses that are stimulated by everything and lead to greater fluctuations of the mind. When applied to the context of resolving specific ailments, the breath is used as a tool for developing lung capacity, heating the body, cooling the body, and resolving mental afflictions like anxiety and stress.
Alternate Nostril Breathing
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