I am a big fan of Kundalini Yoga. Years ago while studying at the Omkarananda Ashram in Wintertur, Switzerland I was into intense “kriya pranayama.” This is the branch of Laya Yoga (Yoga of absorption) that focuses on purifying the body and balancing all the systems through specific breathing techniques. I was amazed at how after a weekly practice I felt renewed.
Back then I was battling a mild thyroid disorder, as well as some irregularities in the cycle. It was truly miraculous how just a simple breathing routine of 15 minutes rebooted my entire system and brought my body into a mode of self-regulation and vibrant health. I had basic knowledge of the main yogic techniques like extension (pranayama), retention (Kumbaka), Breath of fire (Kappalabhati) and oceanic breathing (Ujjai), but I had no idea that a simple ventilation breathing stimulated the hypothalamus – the navigator of the endocrine system and prompted the secretion of life-enhancing hormones through all the glands.
Most of the issues we all face have to do with hormonal changes, underactive or overactive thyroid and hormonal imbalance. Often, the high-paced life we live causes increased cortisol levels, insulin deficiency or insulin resistance, early menopause, among a dozen other hormonal imbalances. When the hormones go out of whack, they are no longer released into the circulatory system and carried to the targeted cells. I like to visualize how hormones work together as messengers in our body. They tell our physiological systems when to jump and how high. They direct our emotions, tell us when we need rest and sustain us mentally. When these life-saving natural drugs are disrupted our metabolism, growth, sexual development, mental growth, mineral balance, heart rate regulation, setting our sleep cycle, muscular and skeletal growth is compromised. We begin to age and our pituitary and adrenal glands stop secreting the “youth hormones” (GH & DHEA).
These hormones have cardio protective, anti-obesity, and immune enhancing properties. They play a complex role in the growth of tissue and bone density. They are components of the steroid pathways to the sex hormones. Low endocrine function can result in slower metabolic processes, slower healing from injury or illness, worsening body composition changes and overall cognitive decline. How can we reverse this decline?
For me the regular yoga practice did raise the threshold of neuro-glandular activity. In other words, I was able to pacify the autonomic system, which is our stress response. I was able to do that through a set of targeted poses that stimulated all the glands systematically. But the real benefits came from a regular 15 minutes breathing practice, which I would normally do at the end of the session, before the final relaxation.
In Yogic breathing we stretch the breath and directly stimulate the pineal gland, opening space for both mental and physical healing. With each breath we supply more oxygen to the lungs, which in turn is transported to each cell of the body.
The blood and oxygen supply stimulates the pituitary gland and releases life-saving hormones to all organ systems. Once the hypothalamus is in order the balance of the entire endocrine system is restored. Endocrine yogic breathing serves as the pump for the lymphatic system, just as the heart serves the circulatory system. Our cells must have oxygen to survive moment to moment. To thrive, they rely on a complex exchange between the circulatory system and the lymphatic system. Blood flow carries nutrients and ample amounts of oxygen into the capillaries, while a healthy lymphatic system carries away destructive toxins. Yogic breathing is the moderator of this exchange. When practiced daily it leads to a decrease in stress hormones and to an increase in overall vitality.
There are a couple of breathing practices that promote optimal endocrine balance. The vibrating ventilation breathing ignites the pituitary gland and regulates all systems – detoxifying the organs, promoting the neuroplasticity of the brain, and speeding up cognitive reframing. Coupled with deep contractions and pressure points into the navel, the ventilation breathing directly stimulates the testes and ovaries.
When the breath is purifying and involves rapid twisting of the abdomen, the pancreas is stimulated as it releases insulin and glucagon to keep the blood sugar levels needed for the healthy function of the liver, kidneys and spleen.
The extended breathing with occasional breath retention allows the diaphragm to fully descend and pump full breaths throughout the body. This slow breathing practice activates the parasympathetic nervous system and balances the body, easing strain and promoting calmness. Physiologically, it animates the lungs and expands them, dynamically pulling in fresh air (prana) and then expelling stale air and stress (apana). Rhythmic cyclical breathing with slow medium and fast cycles is a way to synch up all the glands by ensuring “proper vision by purifying action”.
All of the above are ancient techniques to balance the endocrine system and nourish our glands in our busy and stressful modern life. And they all come with one tip: Surf the breath. Don’t force it. Ripple with its waves. Let it breathe you. And take you to the wisdom of your cells.
Yogea hormonal balance breathing: Nourished Glands
This Yogea breathing practice blends healing techniques from Kundalini and Mudra yoga to regulate the endocrine system and restore hormonal balance. Assuming KA mudra balances the upward and downward flow and activates the hypothalamus to secrete life-enhancing hormones. Cyclical breathing nourishes the thyroid and parathyroid glands and regulates digestion and metabolism. Ripples of rhythmic breathing undulate through the thymus to benefit the lymphatic and immune system. Plugging KA mudra into the navel accompanied by sharp contractions and twists stimulates the pancreas and nurtures the liver, kidneys and spleen. Arm thrusts above the head with a rhythmic release into the fontanel further catalyze the hypothalamus, flooding the adrenal glands with fresh oxygen. Dynamic ventilation breathing with sharp pelvic bounces reboots the glands and directly stimulates the testes and ovaries. A final oceanic breathing elicits the relaxation response and brings the body, mind and spirit into a space of healing and self-regulation.