As you are guided in balancing your chakras and neuroendocrine system you are also guided to be aware of cultural and global issues at play, moving and healing on both the micro and macro levels.
There are many common health syndromes that relate to glandular imbalances, such as: adrenal exhaustion, sluggish thyroid, sleep irregularities and immune weakness. These may be especially common in the Global North due to the lifestyle stresses that have been created by “westernization,” including disconnection from the body, movement and rituals. These health conditions demonstrate a need for balance, and we can learn from rich cultures where holism has managed to stay strong despite colonization by the North.
The rituals of care from the Global South include lifestyle choices from different continents, like being encouraged to take a siesta, squatting, balancing a basket of food on the head, sleeping on harder surfaces, or engaging in regular movement practices.
These activities integrate various elements that are powerful for glandular balancing–keeping the spine strong, good rest, and movement with intention. Dynamic Embodiment and Body-Mind Centering work with the glands with these in mind, and so has yoga for thousands of years.
Common Issues that can be addressed by practicing the Sun Salutation with glandular awareness, especially when under stress include:
• Adrenal Issues (core gland first and third chakras): exhaustion and chronic fatigue or Epstein–Barr. Focus on rest and recuperation, which also relates to the pineal gland and sleep patterns.
• Pineal Issues (head gland sixth chakra): sleep patterns, difficulty sleeping or having to adjust to different time zones. Focus on circadian rhythm.
• Thyroid Issues (throat gland fifth chakra): energy confusion, too much or too little work, and the need for expression and play. Focus on metabolism and energy protection.
• Thymus Issues (chest gland fourth chakra): strengthening the immune system, dealing with immunity challenges. Focus on keeping healthy.
How does an imbalance present itself? Some personal stories help you notice that a particular gland is “out of whack.” What can you do to restore balance? Explore ways of self-care that are typical of most forms of yoga and some that are specific to Dynamic Embodiment, as well as how they can be woven into your practice of the Sun Salutation. Compounding our individual and community stressors, humanity is also contending with a huge climate crisis, living on a planet that is out of balance. This is part of the stress that all people are suffering from.
The following exercises assist in embodying and strengthening the typical physiological response to stress – the constant reaction of the adrenal glands. To relieve this stress, to calm and to re-energize in a centered way, Dynamic Embodiment also suggests considering other supports beyond movement, such as the use of integrative medicine, including herbs and entheogens.
The first of the four syndromes is adrenal exhaustion. Common causes of adrenal stress and related irritability are sleep and energy issues, weaker immunity, fast-paced life, technology addiction, lack of connection to community or spirit, and over-consumption of coffee and sugar. What is needed are rest and recuperation, becoming calmer and focused.
In this world where people even drive themselves intensely in a yoga class, it is important to learn new skills of recuperation and focus.
The adrenal glands are a storehouse for that extra spurt of energy needed in times of stress. As is common knowledge today, life and death stimuli are rarer (although cars, gun violence and chronic abuse are indeed out there) than the fears of these and a multitude of other stressful concerns that can run rampant in the mind.
When the mind is feeling under attack or when the body is under attack, the adrenals release up to three different hormones: epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. These are called the stress hormones. They direct our blood to reduce its flow to the organs of digestion (thus deactivating the parasympathetic nervous system) and outward to the muscles (activating the sympathetic nervous system beyond alertness into vigilance).
The reason for this is that shunting of the blood is required to provide the oxygen needed to run away or self-defend—activities that require muscular action of the limbs and core. During this shunting process, the shift from a parasympathetic or balanced sympathetic–parasympathetic state to a sympathetic state known as the fight–flight–freeze condition, the ability to heal taxed cells and take in nutrition is greatly reduced.
Yoga Remedies for the Adrenals
• Make yourself comfortable: sit on a meditation cushion, a yoga block, a folded towel or a book.
Locating Your Adrenals
• You’ll see the adrenals sitting right on top of the kidneys, like two little caps or hats (See Figure 2). Let’s locate the two kidneys in your body. Find the bottom rib of your ribcage, then trace it around to your back. Then make two fists with your hands, then place them with about half above the bottom rib and one half below (See Figure 3).
This is roughly where your kidneys are, on either side of your spine, next to (in line with) your spine. One kidney is probably a little higher than the other. Some people have just one kidney, some have three. Now relax your fists and rest your arms and hands comfortably in your lap. Sense into this area, and picture, sense or feel the adrenal glands sitting on top of the kidneys.
Breathing Into Your Adrenals
• Body Mind Centering and Dynamic Embodiment guide you to make a ssssst sound into or from the glands, like a bike tire being pumped up with air. You can imagine your adrenals being fortified, empowered and strengthened as you make this sound.
This experience can help you to locate the glands kinesthetically within your body. Try it: on your next three out breaths, send this slow ssssttt sound into your glands. After your third exhalation, take a few normal, relaxed breaths and just notice any shifts or changes in your state of being.
Next, come onto your back, with your legs curled into you, knees bent. Hug your knees into you, then sense your kidneys and adrenals being pressed into the ground. This is an “adrenal hug.” Many people experience this as calming, grounding and comforting.
Adrenal Hug: With a Partner
• With a partner: locate their bottom ribs in the back. (See Figure 4) Receiver, close your eyes and relax into the touch. Giver, bring your hands to the location of the kidneys, and intend warm, supportive energy for the adrenal glands. Rest here for two to three minutes.
Rule of Three: Connecting the Adrenals to the Rest of the Endocrine System
• Now let’s take a few moments to connect below and above, to practice our rule of three. Tune into your adrenals and trace a line or cord down to your ovaries. We’re grounding the adrenals a bit, by connecting them to the glands below. You can place your fingers on your belly at the level of your navel; go down a few inches, and a few inches out to both sides.
This is the rough location of your ovaries; let your fingers go intuitively to where they are. You may be one of many people in a female body who feel the ovaries each month and know which is ovulating. If this is new to you, trust your fingers to find the right location.
• If you have a male reproductive system, you can use the same energetic point. Bring your fingers to the navel; move two inches down and two inches out. Press gently here: this is the energetic point for your gonads. It is the top of the vas deferens, the duct that conveys sperm from the testicle to the ejaculatory ducts, and to the prostate gland and urethra.
In bodies with female reproductive systems, the ovaries, like our kidneys, are likely placed one a little higher than the other. Sense in here for a minute. Often the ovary energy feels bright, a little zingy. You might feel it like this, or it could feel different for you.
• Now, let’s trace the energy from the ovaries (or from the energy center where the ovaries were if they are no longer there) up to your adrenals, and then further up sense the energy internally, along your spine and sushumna, your energetic spine, up to the level of your heart. You can also place your fingers or hands on the outside of your body to trace these places physically.
Put both hands on your heart for a minute. Sense into the reality that your heart has endocrine function. In Dynamic Embodiment, the heart bodies are the emitter of endocrine function here, within the heart.
• Take a few moments to rest here. See and sense the connection between these three places: your heart, adrenals and ovaries. Visualize this as lines or perhaps a streaming of energy. The three being consciously connected by you will help them to be balanced, not over- or undercharged.
Kidney and Adrenal Wrapping
• In Japan, people sell a commercial item for warming the adrenals. As with India, this culture seems to have endocrine health more intact in its mainstream culture. This item is placed on the back while you go about your day.
Here’s a version that you can make at home: simply take a scarf, sarong, or pashmina and wrap it around your torso to cover the kidney and adrenals. Try it! Wrap like this for at least five minutes and notice how it makes you feel. This is a fine home remedy for supporting, calming and nourishing the adrenals. It counters fight or flight, and balances anxiety. (See Figure 5)
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About the Authors
Shakti Andrea Smith, LMT, RSME, DEP, RYT is a social worker in training, graduate of Ben Benjamin’s Muscular Therapy Institute where she also taught, and former adjunct faculty at The Swedish Institute College of Health Sciences. Shakti is the founder of Prema Soma Healing Arts in Brooklyn, New York, where her approach is trauma- informed and embodiment-centered.
Martha Eddy, CMA, RSMT/E, DEP is Founder of Dynamic Embodiment Somatic Movement Therapy and certified teacher of Body-Mind Centering since 1984. She co-founded Moving For Life Dance-Exercise for Health and Moving On Center, bridging somatics with social change. Her doctorate focused on curriculum development using evidence-based movement and culturally sensitive conflict resolution.
This article was adapted from Dynamic Embodiment of the Sun Salutation℠: Pathways to Balancing the Chakras and the Neuroendocrine System. Copyright © Handspring Publishing 2021; reproduced with permission.