A little-known benefit of yoga is that it regulates our hormones. Hormones can become imbalanced in the face of mental and physical stresses such as fatigue, anxiety and insomnia. The physiology is simple: We have an autonomic nervous system with two main branches – one which alerts the fight-or-flight response (sympathetic) and one which is calming (parasympathetic).
Yoga poses and Pranayama stimulate the autonomic nervous system, sending messages to the brain. The brain then alerts the endocrine system (responsible for communication with the glands and organs) to release hormones into our blood to bring about equilibrium.
Some poses can actually directly help organ function. As we stretch the fascia, muscles and soft tissue around the targeted area, these can be lengthened or shortened. This can create a mild form of compression and expansion on some organs and stimulate their function. And through the deep, internal concentration of yoga (directing the awareness to the body) and correct breathing, we draw a flow of energy into these areas.
You could almost call your yoga practice a reset button, but this doesn't happen in just one class. A regular practice is needed to achieve the desired effect. Over time, the practice is an aid to regain balance in the body and hormones, and to steady the mind.
The following two poses are beneficial:
Paschimottanasa l Seated Forward Bend
Helps to stimulate the thymus, thyroid, kidneys and pancreas.
- Sitting on the floor, extend your legs keeping the ankles and knees together, roll your buttocks out of the way and spread the sit bones. Sit on a blanket if necessary, to maintain the natural curve in the lumbar spine.
- Draw the inner thighs towards each other and ground them by pushing the back of the thighs (hamstrings) into the mat. With an inhalation, lengthen the spine and fold slowly from the hips. Be sure to keep a natural spinal shape. If this is lost, stop or bend the knees slightly to release the hamstrings and maintain the natural shape of the lower back.
- Keep the front of the body lengthened as much as the back as you lengthen forward and downwards. The inhalation has a slight lift and lengthening effect in the body and the exhalation deepens the bend. Stay for 2–3 minutes, relaxing into the pose.
- To come up: inhale and lift from the chest, keeping the back long.
Salamba Sarvangasana l Supported Shoulder Stand
Stimulates the vagus nerve. Helps to slow the heart rate, calm the mind, stimulate the thyroid and improve digestion.
- Fold two blankets into rectangles and place one on top of the other on your mat. Lie supine, positioning your shoulders on the blankets, while your neck and head are on the mat. Bend at the knees, placing your feet close to your sit bones.
- On an inhale, lift your hips off the ground using the hands to support the lower back, keeping the upper arms on the mat. Now press the heels towards the ceiling and gently squeeze the thighs toward each other. Lift through the balls of the big toes and lengthen the inner legs, keeping strength in the legs. Finally, lift the sternum towards the chin and spread the shoulder blades. Remain in position for 2–3 minutes.
- To come down, draw the knees into the chest and slowly roll down one vertebra at a time, until the tailbone touches the mat. Extend the legs. You are now lying supine. To release the neck, come to Fish Pose: bend the arms at the elbow and press the forearms and elbows into the mat, lifting the chest off the ground, but not the hips. Draw your head back. Stay for 1 minute.
Please note: All yoga poses should be done under supervision until you become proficient. There are contraindications for all poses. Please ask your teacher for guidance and advice.
Yoga Teacher Training
Don is running a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training course in February 2017. To find out more, visit elixr.com.au/schoolofyoga