The thyroid glands of hypothyroid patients produce insufficient levels of thyroid hormone, which the body uses to regulate metabolic processes. Symptoms of low thyroid hormone include sluggishness, weight gain, poor skin tone, brittle nails, depression and constipation. Limited evidence suggests that yoga practice can help hypothyroid patients manage their symptoms. Although researchers have not studied hot or Bikram yoga specifically, certain aspects of the practice might prove beneficial. Check with your doctor before trying hot yoga to help treat hypothyroidism.
All hot yoga derives from Bikram yoga, a 26-posture series performed in a room heated to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit with 30 percent to 40 percent humidity. The heat is intended to facilitate deeper stretching and cleanse the body of toxins. Founder Bikram Choudhury introduced his yoga to the U.S. in the 1970s and succeeded in obtaining a copyright for the series in 2002. Bikram teachers must be certified through a nine-week training program and studios must be licensed in order to use the Bikram name. Unlicensed studios that offer "hot yoga" typically include many of Bikram's postures but mix in others, such as Downward Dog, that are not included in the official series. Copycat Bikram classes may also feature less heat.
Yoga and Hypothyroidism
Female hypothyroid patients who practiced one hour of yoga daily for 30 days reported improved well-being and perceived quality of life, according to a study published in the August 2011 issue of "Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice." Similarly, Indian researchers found that female participants who practiced 45 minutes of pranayama, or yogic deep breathing, daily for six months experienced improvements in breathing capacity and pulmonary function. The Bikram hot yoga series includes five to 10 minutes of pranayama breathing at the beginning of class, as well as several minutes of kapalabhati, or "breath of fire," at the end.
According to Bikram yoga theory, poses that require you to press your chin down toward your chest -- compression poses -- stimulate and tone the thyroid and parathyroid glands, which are situated in the front of your throat. The Bikram series includes six of these postures: Standing Head-to-Knee, Standing Separate Leg Head-to-Knee Pose, Wind-removing Pose, Fixed-firm Pose, Rabbit Pose and Seated Head-to-Knee Pose. Bikram practitioners who work these poses with special attention to the chin tuck can boost metabolism and facilitate weight loss, according to Choudhury.
The heat of a Bikram studio elevates your heart rate as your body increases blood circulation to cool itself, an effect you can intensify by holding poses as long as possible and taking care to fully engage the relevant muscles. Consistent practice might help elevate your metabolic rate over time. For hypothyroid patients, hot yoga practice might offset the weight gain that can accompany low thyroid levels.