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Endocrine System, Aging and Spine Health


Kapotasana work-in-progress (Image © Yoga Robin®)

Healing the Total Body: Where Western Anatomy Meets Eastern Spiritual

Healing Series, part 5 

Table of Contents:

Neck injury

Heal yourself

Spine health

Communication chakra

Hormones and health

Headstands heal stress

Stay in balance

(back to the Healing Series




Neck injury

The issues I’ve had in the past with my neck as I learned the intricacies of Iyengar and Ashtanga yoga, remind me that I’m aging. Yoga transcends some of the ailments, but I am proof of why it needs to be practiced mindfully.

Strengthen, protect your neck

With a bulged disc in my neck six years ago which pinched a nerve going all the way down my arm, I was left with a lifeless arm for six weeks. That was scary and, once healed with a chiropractor to adjust the neck vertebrae, relieve the strain, and get my nerves and muscles that atrophied back in a healthy state, was a wake-up call to protect my neck--this includes from stress, harmful yoga poses and mindless sleeping positions. 

Still, the answer was not to lay off my neck and all pressures completely. It was to strengthen it, and to do yoga mindfully—not needing to perform from my ego. This was before I practiced Mysore Ashtanga and trained myself to be more present, face my fears within my body and heal it.


Heal yourself

On the aforementioned neck issue, I also saw a western medicine orthopedic surgeon whose answer was to do an MRI to verify that I had a bulged disc and then inject it with steroid shot. I asked why it can't be injected without the $1300 MRI? Answer: procedure and uncertainty.

Holistic health

I was already certain and becoming skeptical of western medicine protocol. Chiropractic (kinesiology style) was the answer, but first was reducing the inflammation with ibuprofen and ice. This diminished the size of the disc, giving the vertebrae (bone) less reason to be pushed out of alignment. This allowed the chiropractic adjustments over three weeks to relieve pressure from the nerves which took over my arm. Muscles in my tricep still twitched years later until... Mysore Ashtanga yoga.

Listen to your body

The daily Ashtanga yoga utilizes my triceps and arms to the extent they needed in order to regain muscle memory. At this point in my Mysore yoga practice, I don't even need to go to a chiropractor for my neck, as my practice provides that for me, plus a lot more. My injury was my teacher though.


Spine health

Spongy intervertebral discs separate each skeletal vertebrae with softness and flexibility to absorb shocks and permit flexibility. Excessive strain can cause a bulge (herniated disc) as I experienced. Another contributor is age when gel-like substance in these discs starts to diminish and thereby flatten the disc. Over time, this can be a degenerative issue (hence old age shortening in height).

Invertebral discs need hydration

How to keep these discs as hydrated and young as possible? As we age, the amount of water in our bodies decreases. Disc dehydration is a direct result of a dramatic decrease in circulating proteoglycan molecules that hold water in the discs. Causes of this loss are nutritionally-based.

Since the discs are avascular (no blood supply), how do the discs get nutrients? Their source is in the adjacent blood capillary beds, where nutrients diffuse through to the disc. If the blood vessels are damaged or there is a blockage, the nutrient supply gets cut off, resulting in disc dehydration. To me, this points to the culprit being too much pressure on the spine.

Elogate the spine daily

Good spine health includes keeping the spine as elongated as possible, repeatedly, which is less pressure on discs. This is part of my daily yoga effect. Practicing good posture while sitting and standing, not only in yoga, also helps. Strengthening the supporting neck, shoulder and back muscles will help to give the spine extra support. Especially during a Headstand (sirsasana), it’s important to set up the base of the shoulders and upper back to support the body so that all pressure doesn’t go to the neck, and also to continue to elongate the spine by extending the legs upward.

Inversions stimulate Nervous and Lymphatic systems

When set up properly, you gain the benefits of Headstand—from healing, to balance, to the physical and subtle body. Headstands specifically reverse the pull of gravity on the organs, reverse the blood flow to stimulate the Nervous System, rejuvenate the lower body as de-oxygenated blood flows more easily to extremities, stimulating the Lymphatic System to remove toxins and improve cognitive abilities.

Headstand also strengthens neck muscles. Too little pressure will also dehydrate the disc, so it’s important to use your spine!


Communication chakra

Eastern science's chakra system answers the questions about how the neck and spine lie within the subtle body. The Throat Chakra (fifth chakra) resonates with the neck and throat region; the root of this chakra is at back of neck. Continuing to let the breath flow through the back of the throat, circulating Prana up the Sushumna—the subtle body channel reaching from coccyx to top of skull—during a daily yoga practice keeps this subtle energy alive, flowing and working its magic.

Sound healing—making sounds in the throat—is healing too.

Disease appears in etheric body first

“Diseases tend to show up first in the etheric body before they manifest in the tissues. Likewise, healing can be brought about by techniques that primarily treat the subtle body." (Source: Wheels of Life, Anodea Judith).

The Throat Chakra's element is ether, or space. Ether can be equated with the all-encompassing and unifying field of subtle vibrations found throughout the universe, and rhythms have a pulsation and tend to perpetuate themselves. An individual's vibration changes the cellular level of his or her being, affecting thoughts and emotions.

Communication (even internal self-talk) is a connection from the mind to the body. Calm incessant thoughts heals the subtle body. It’s not just an audible sound that matters to this chakra. From Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra,

“All things… are aggregations of atoms that dance and by their movements produce sounds.”

Keep moving for healing of the subtle body!


Hormones and health

Where does the Endocrine System fit in to this theme of aging and healing? Consisting of several glands that secrete hormones into the blood to promote the body’s homeostasis (balance), the Endocrine System is all about hormones that stimulate growth and development, promote water retention, raise or lower blood glucose and promote sodium retention.

What are the endocrine glands and are they affected by my yoga practice? I’ll touch on stress, metabolism, energy, bodily fluids, happiness and strength.

Connects, oxygenates, regulates

Pituitary Gland - lying on base of the brain, it’s the master gland as it controls the release of hormones from other glands. It’s vital to our wellbeing and also connects to the Hypothalamus (not an endocrine gland) which bridges the Nervous System to the Endocrine System, harmonizing together.

Thyroid Gland - in the neck, relates to metabolism (the body’s use of nutrients) for the entire body’s cells, stimulating the enzymes which deal with the oxygen and heat in cells and blood vessels/blood pressure. When out of balance, iodine (essential trace mineral) is low in the diet, and also causes metabolic rate to slow down—causing weight gain, fatigue, weakened immune system, anxiety and depression. Its other function is to increase calcium deposit into the bones. Iodine-rich foods include sea vegetables, cranberries, yogurt, beans, strawberries, potatoes, cheese. (My yoga stabilizes my thyroid as my metabolism is high, immune system is good since I haven’t been sick in years, and it keeps anxiety in check—which I notice most if I don’t go).

Pancreas - lies beneath the stomach in the abdomen and handles digestive functions. Produces insulin, a hormone needed to regulate the amount of sugar in blood. During digestion, glucose moves in the bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin, and then the body has energy. If the blood glucose level is low, the pancreas triggers stored glucose release from the kidneys into the urine, expelling more water, resulting in excessive thirst. Hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar gets too low. (In 2nd series several poses put pressure on this and other organs, making proper digestion a mandatory part of a daily Ashtanga practice. I drink more water as needed as a balancing act.)

Adrenal Gland - lies on kidneys. Complements the sympathetic nervous system (physical performance “fight or flight” response), regulates mineral balance, energy balance and sexual characteristics. Electrolytes are regulated. Metabolism of proteins and fats are handled. Maintains anti-inflammatory properties such as cortisone.

Ovaries - Daily strenuous yoga practice changes the menstrual cycle while challenged day after day. This happened to me in the first few months of practicing Mysore every day. It’s important to pace yourself, and because the practice continues each day to the same level as the day before, it’s best to only add on new poses once you’re feeling really physically competent, pain free and energetic.

Pineal Gland - secretes melatonin, needed for regulated daytime and nighttime (sleep). A good night's sleep is imperative to a healthy Ashtanga yoga practice.



Headstands heal stress

Favorite yoga pose for the Endocrine System: Headstand (sirsasana). Headstands stimulate and provide refreshed blood to the pituitary gland, harmonizing hormones and Nervous System. Headstand provides wonderful natural benefits in dissolving stress, sadness, depression and lethargy.  

I joke with my yoga teacher that my brain is my worst body part, as it complicates everything and triggers my heart, cutting through anger first. Of course, I'm referring to my overthinking mind and incessant thoughts. My thinking brain makes me feel heavy. How do my glands interplay? My overthinking mind directly affects my hypothalamus and pituitary, and therefore regulation of my Nervous System. I feel this as stress.

Science confirms yoga reduces Cortisol

According to the Endocrine Society, yoga helps reduce the levels of blood Cortisol, the stress hormone, and modifies hormone levels in healthy people or those with endocrine disorders. It was proven to show significant results with yoga 7 consecutive days. It is indicated that “Ultimately, further research is needed to elucidate the effects of yoga on endocrine physiology and stress response in humans." (Source:



Stay in balance

I feel dramatic physical changes when I’m psychologically disrupted (starting with my mind's thoughts). When this happens—sometimes brought on by my intensive yoga poses that release trapped energy—my body reacts by changing its release of hormones.

Intuitively, staying in balance is imperative (physiologically, psychologically, spiritually). I feel the innate ability to balance myself out no matter what.

Mysore Ashtanga releases toxins

It’s a trickier task with my Mysore yoga as I go everyday regardless, and do the same sequence each day. This is my practice of subtle balance (no pun intended). If I’m tired, I go slower; if I’m heated, I cool off; if i’m in pain, I don’t go as deep into aggravating inflamed body parts; if I'm emotional, I prepare myself during heart-opening poses (backbends) by noticing what’s happening.

After yoga, I take good care of my state of being (to balance out) with either rest, epsom salt bath, private seclusion, warming/cooling foods/liquids, writing, etc.

Energy redirected to overcome imbalance

Stress can be defined as the Nervous System’s "fight or flight" system recruiting the body’s energy stores to overcome imbalance with hormones. The subtle body has its own way of disrupting the field—one being the loss of the spirit connection.

Yin and Yang are Traditional Chinese Medicine’s interdependency of opposites. There cannot be activity without rest.

Ashtanga yoga cleansing is challenging

Just knowing that my Mysore practice is training my entire system to integrate its teaching and balance out makes me smile. Sometimes sleeping it off is the best way to counter balance stress and fatigue (as toxins) as they cleanse their way out of my system after yoga. Also, learning to balance the right and left sides of the brain. And keep going to yoga.

“Do your yoga, and all is coming." ~Pattahbi Jois