Using Yoga to Support the Adrenal System

The adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system. The adrenals are located at the level of the 12th thoracic vertebra directly above the kidneys.  Adrenal in latin means near the kidneys.  The function of the adrenal glands is to supply hormones responsible for regulating energy, stress, blood sugar, body fluid balance and blood pressure.  The two primary hormones are cortisol also known as the “stress’ hormone and adrenaline, or the energy hormone also used for the “flight or fight” response.

The interior adrenal gland is the adrenal cortex and produces corticosteroids (cortisol), catecholamines (epinephrine) and androgens (sex hormones).  They are directly and indirectly responsible for balancing salt and water in the body, metabolism, immunity, sexual development and our stress response.

The exterior adrenal gland is the adrenal medulla and it produces adrenaline and noradrenaline and other hormones utilized in our “fight or flight” response.  The adrenal medulla receives information directly from the sympathetic nervous system in the thoracic spine area between T-5 and T11.

When the adrenal glands are overstimulated, such as during high stress or sickness, stored energy is used to maintain normal body functions.  After long periods of physical and emotional stress the adrenal function is depressed and can impair the immune system, causing hypoglycemia and low blood pressure.

Yoga can be helpful in balancing and restoring function to the adrenal glands caused by  both under-stimulation and overstimulation.  Following a sattvic diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables can help restore depleted nutrients needed by the body. It is also important to remove stimulants, such as caffeine and processed sugar, from the diet since they are especially draining to unbalanced adrenals.

If the problem is under-active adrenal glands stimulating yoga asanas and kapalabhati can be helpful.  Kapalabhati is a breathing exercise performed while contracting the abdominal muscles which cleanses and stimulates the respiratory system, the stomach, the liver, and the pancreas.  Asanas influencing the sympathetic nervous system and T5-T12 of the thoracic spine such as backbends and twists are stimulating.  Examples of these are naukasana, chakrasana (wheel pose), sethu bandhasana (bridge pose), marichasana C and D and parivrita janu sirsasana.

Overstimulation of the adrenal glands requires using pranayama and more gentle versions of back bending and twisting asanas. A pranayama helpful in balancing is nadi shodana, full alternate nostril breathing.  Since vibration as well as heat and energy from the hands are healing, Ujjayi breath combined with focusing on and holding T5 to T12 of the thoracic spine is also useful.  Because the adrenal glands are depleted it is important to use restorative versions of twisting and back bending poses.  Bhujangasana (cobra), urdhva mukha svanasana and ardha chakrasana can be gently performed.  Supported setu bandha using a block is another back bend.  Vakrasana and ardha mastyendransana are gentler twisting poses. Poses that stretch the upper shoulders help to release tension from the area just above the adrenal glands. Supported shoulder and chest opening poses are calming as well.  Some forward bends useful in opening the thoracic area are pashimottanasana and janu sirsasana A and C.  Janu sirsasana B opens the back and stimulates the perineum area which is the first chakra, muladhara.   The adrenal gland is the corresponding gland of this chakra.

Inverted, balancing and restorative poses such as halasana, matsyasana and sarvangasana help to balance the body in addition to allowing the blood to flow to the area around the adrenal glands. Supported savasana and viparita karani are also restorative for the glands.

Finally yoga nidra and meditation focusing on the adrenal glands and the muladhara chakra are useful for both over and under stimulation of the glands, as well as balancing and de-stressing the entire system.