Sarvangasana has a profound and characteristic influence on the thyroid gland. Because of the importance of this small gland, it is worthwhile giving a brief description of its anatomy, functions and relationship with various types of disease.
The thyroid gland is an important part of the endocrinal system. It is a small butterfly-shaped organ located just below the voice-box (larynx) in the front part of the neck. It has two lobes, each of which is about 4 cms long and weighing 10 grams. These lie on either side of the windpipe and are j oined by a narrow band or bridge of tissue which crosses in front of the windpipe.
The thyroid gland produces thyroxin (as well as tri-iodothyronin), a powerful hormone that affects practically every cell in the body. Its main function is to regulate the rate at which food and oxygen are utilized by the various cells of the body. This is known as metabolism.
This gland has a profound influence on physical, emotional and mental development. In a healthy person, the correct amount of thyroxin hormone is produced and secreted to meet his or her particular needs. This is clearly shown by abundant energy and the ability to work and play without undue fatigue.
If the thyroid is out of balance then it can secrete too little thyroxin hormone. This condition is known as hypothyroidism. It tends to make the individual sluggish and sleepy. All the bodily functions slowdown. The intellectual faculties are dulled The individual tends to become fat, constipated, apathetic, and indolent. If this malfunction occurs in children, it can lead to dwarfism, deformity and a generally retarded mental development.
On the other hand, a malfunctioning thyroid can also produce too much thyroxin. This is called hyperthyroidism. This leads to a speeding up of all the bodily functions. A person with this ailment tends to be continually overactive, both physically and mentally, and is unable to relax. There is a general loss of weight, diarrhoea, increased blood circulation and respiration, extreme nervousness and excitability and often psychotic symptoms. If this malfunction occurs in children, then it can lead to excessive physical growth, so that the child becomes abnormally large. This has led to persons growing to heights of two and a half meters.
We have indicated only the basic symptoms of a faulty thyroid gland. There are a multitude of specific diseases that can occur, too numerous to mention in this brief summary. The important thing that we have tried to indicate is that disease can result if the thyroid produces either too much or too little thyroxin. For perfect health there has to be perfect balance.
Why does the thyroid cease to function correctly? There are various reasons. Some people say that lack of iodine in one's diet can lead to enlargement and faulty operation of the thyroid. An essential constituent of thyrox-in is iodine. If this is not sufficiently abundant in the food that one eats, then the thyroid is unable to manufacture suitable amounts of thyroxin to meet the needs of the body. There seems to be a lot of truth in this idea, for in areas of the world where the iodine content of the soil is low, there are higher incidences of thyroid problems. There are various iodine tablet supplements on the market which overcome this problem.
Another cause of malfunctioning of the thyroid is bad or sluggish blood circulation.
This can be caused by a sedentary life and general lack of exercise. If the blood in the thyroid gland (as well as any other part of the body) is devitalized or insufficient, then it cannot receive proper nourishment and it cannot flush out impurities. It becomes ineffective and consequently the health of the body suffers. It is here that sarvangasana contributes directly to improve the efficiency of the thyroid and in turn the entire body. The inverted position of the body directs a good blood flow to the thyroid gland under the action of gravity. Furthermore, the curvature of the neck in the final pose tends to restrict the normal flow of blood to the brain through the external carotid arteries. This flow is redirected into the thyroid gland. Thus for the duration of the asana, the thyroid is flushed and nourished with an extra supply of blood, which helps to improve its functioning.
A third important factor in faulty functioning of the thyroid is emotional stress. Many people start to develop thyroid problems after they have suffered emotional shock or when their stress level in life becomes too great. The social pressures of exams, business, worrying about what the neighbours think and so many other factors of modern life tend to upset the balance of the body. The thyroid is directly controlled by the pituitary gland, the master controller of the endocrinai system. The pituitary gland, in turn, is controlled by the brain and the mind. Thus mental stress and dissatisfaction lead to imbalance of the pituitary gland, which leads to general disruption of the entire hormonal system, including the thyroid gland. It is here that yoga can again help to normalize the system and bring the thyroid into balance. Through all yoga practices one can attain deeper states of relaxation, whether temporarily or permanently, which helps to harmonize the hormonal system, including the thyroid gland. The body has an innate tendency to repair itself and establish equilibrium if, and only if, it is given a chance. It receives this chance during periods of yoga practices. It is also worth pointing out that sarvangasana is a simple and yet effective asana for inducing quick relaxation. It is for this reason that sarvangasana helps to integrate and normalize the operation of the thyroid gland.
Thus we can summarize by saying that the thyroid is a vital organ of the body. If it starts to function incorrectly, then the whole body will also suffer. Sarvangasana brings about health of the thyroid in two ways: firstly, it directly improves the physical condition and functioning, and secondly, it helps to reduce excessive emotional and mental stress, which tend to interfere with its operation. It is not without reason that sarvangasana is regarded as one of the best of the yoga asanas, for its benefits are many.
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