Hashimoto’s- incorporating Ayurveda


“Foolish the doctor who despises the knowledge acquired by the ancients” – Hippocrates

Thank you to those who attended an  informative and enjoyable Hashimoto’s Wellness workshop last  weekend (thanks Bhree from Delve workshops for organising). There has been a plethora  of information these days on this autoimmune underactive thyroid condition and thankfully many useful resources online, books and support groups.

Let’s  consider Hashimoto’s from a different perspective-  an Ayurvedic  one.   This is not an alternative approach per se,  but rather a consideration in conjunction with those  aspects of Hashimoto’s that are well known and  much of what was discussed at the workshop.

Ayurveda is traditional Indian medicine, over 5000 years old (and possibly much older than that,  as it was initially an oral tradition before it started to become documented). The name comes from two Sanskrit words, ayur meaning life and veda meaning knowledge or science. Hence, science or knowledge of life. Rest assured-  It’s not voodoo , it’s not religion and its not alternative (in any case, alternative is a relative term- if someone time travelled  thousands of years ago from India, they would look at today’s mainstream approach  and think “Holy crap”!). There was a time when  India was considered the seat of learning and  students from Greece, Rome, Persia  and China went there to learn it;  more recent  traditions  thus have their  roots in Ayurveda. The importance of gut health was appreciated way back in Ayurveda and is central in this approach – incorporating the concept of “ama” (toxins) arising from the gut – which can then affect other parts of the body.

Ayurveda  is a totally holistic, individualised science (incorporating every aspect of one’s life and  lifestyle you could possibly  imagine– diet, movement, sleep, detoxification, mind, emotions, spirit, relationship with  ourselves, others and Nature). It’s other well known sisters are Yoga and Vastu (the equivalent of Feng Shui).

Ayurveda’s  principles are rooted in the laws of Mother Nature herself. There  are  five elements in Nature   – earth, water, fire, air and space (ether) . As we are part of Nature, we also have these elements in unique  proportions. They are paired up giving rise to  3 main constitutional types (dosha’s) :   Kapha is earth/water (structure), Pitta is water/fire (transformation)  and Vata is air/space (movement).  However, most of us usually have one or two dominating and generally speaking, any imbalance (from our lives and life events)  leads to us away from the path of health.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, Hashimoto’s is likely to be a Pitta and/or Vata imbalance. Of course this is still very individual, but this is just speaking in general terms and from clinical experience.  In Ayurveda, balance is achieved by different aspects of lifestyle.  Even if there are Kapha or Pitta imbalances that would also need to be addressed, the main one to  pacify is the Vata dosha – it is known as the “Queen of the dosha’s”.  It also leads the others, so an improvement here will also help with the other imbalances.  It is both the easiest one to become imbalanced – but also the easiest one to bring back into balance.  It’s a good idea to have an awareness of Vata on a daily basis- not just when things go wrong! We’ll focus just on Vata here, as it is the key one for most people.

Vata as the elements of air and space is about movement.  The qualities associated with Vata are light, cold, dry, movement, erratic and quickness. It’s home in the body is the large intestine,  although every cell has a Vata element too and hence symptoms of imbalances can be wide ranging. The cardinal emotion for Vata types is fear.  Vata predominant types are sensitive flowers!

The symptoms of Vata excess include- dry and rough skin/hair, constipation, weak/irregular heart beat, aches and pains, low immunity (often getting ill), fatigue, depression, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, low exercise endurance and cold intolerance.  As we can see, many of these would be present in someone with Hashimoto’s as well as someone suffering from chronic fatigue, those recuperating from illness/trauma and other emotional stress.  Vata types are also particularly vulnerable in late Autumn and Winter- so extra precautions in all areas discussed below is important – something we don’t always do well in our current modern lives.

Symptoms are messengers!  The body is trying to  tell us  something.  So the answer is not to necessarily suppress these symptoms with drugs such as painkillers and anti-depressants , but to look into the underlying reasons  and rectify them. Let’s look at this from an Ayurvedic perspective that is also practical. Firstly, we’ll consider the things in life that may be causing this imbalance; secondly we’ll look into what we can do practically to reduce or pacify this imbalance.

Lifestyle habits that can cause a Vata imbalance are-

Diet–  cold foods esp. in the winter (salads, cold icey drinks. Ice is a no-no in Ayurveda!), dry foods (crackers, cereals) , stimulants (caffeine, alcohol), light foods with a high air content (raw foods- connection here being that we know cooked cruciferous vegetables are better than raw in Hashi’s as well as recent research implicating raw foods such as tuna as being cross-reactive despite being thought of as an acceptable Paleo food in Hashi’s).

Interestingly, cruciferous (broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower) and  nightshade vegetables (capsicum, tomatoes and eggplant) and grains can all  aggravate Vata.

Environment/Travel – cold weather, travel (air travel especially- if already Vata imbalanced, flying in itself is a Vata activity hence will aggravate it- not common sense at all to be having cold, icey and dry snacks on flights!), air conditioning and drafts.

Technology (mobile phones, Wi-Fi, computers)  in excess can also be vata-aggravating.

Work/Activity– having to rush in any aspect of life,  physical or mental stress.

Emotions/stress– illness and bereavement in family/friends, loss or change in work, lots of life changes all happening together. Life’s challenges can lead to fear and insecurity- aggravated even further in Vata predominant types that are naturally this way anyhow.

Lifestyle habits that help to pacify Vata are-

Diet– regular,  warm meals that are easy to digest ( soups, stews, dahl, blended, creamy foods –esp in winter), avoid cold, dry icey foods and drinks. Be cautious with too much raw foods and juices.  Try not to skip meals.  Sweet, sour and salty foods do really well here (as opposed to pungent, bitter and astringent).  “Heating” herbs such as ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, mustard, cumin, rosemary and sage are great to use. As always, aim to eat whilst sitting down, unrushed and mindfully.

Fasting has its many benefits but in Vata excess this is not a good idea and this constitution doesn’t do well esp for prolonged fasting.  Good herbal teas include chamomile, ginger, cinnamon and clove.

Environment/Travel – get some Sun!  A great thing to do after a flight (which is vata imbalancing)  is massaging with warm sesame seed oil.  It would also help to have warm foods and liquids on flights.  And embrace Mother Nature  – whether that’s walking in the bush, strolling barefoot on the sand or taking a purifying dip in the ocean. Nature is balancing for Vata dosha. Reduce exposure to technology where possible- such as reducing phone and computer use and switching off wi-fi when not needed.

Work/Activity – regular sleep routine,  regular work schedule, allowing for rest periods and time out on a regular basis (daily “me” time- your holy hour, as well as breaks and holidays). Gentle exercise is best for Vata- calming and grounding like yoga, tai chi or qi gong. When working with screens, ensure regular breaks are taken  (at least hourly) – e.g quick walk, warm water/herbal tea, listening to calming music, mini-meditation, mini-massage or stretches!

Emotions/Stress– Stress management is critical for us all and it’s different things for different people. Aromatherapy is very healing – whether in a diffuser or a warm bath-  good essential oils for Vata are sandalwood, rose geranium, orange, cinnamon and clove. As Vata types are sensitive to sound, silence as well as sound therapy or music can be very healing.  Meditation helps to balance all three dosha’s, even if it’s just short meditations focusing on the breath.

As you can see, Regularity and Routine would be the key words for Vata. We can all have busy and challenging lives-  it’s about doing the best we can, otherwise, sooner or later it will bite us!

LOVE!  First and foremost, that means loving yourself.  You are a spark of divinityare you not?

Emotional self-destruction

Hashimoto’s is a condition where the body attacks its own thyroid tissue- It is also important to address self-destruction at the emotional level.  There may be anger, guilt (unexpressed anger),  fear or other negative emotions that need addressing.  This is vital – if there is a significant amount of emotional distress (work, relationships, past childhood trauma), it doesn’t matter how much or how little broccoli you eat!

The thyroid is also located at the 5th chakra (energy centre), also known as vishuddha – this is the bridge between heart and mind and it represent our voice.  It is about communication, expression, creativity  and authenticity.  Consider if there is anything you are having difficulty expressing? Still hurt and  holding to past issues in relationships? Perhaps even events from childhood? Are you always saying Yes when you really mean No? Are you lying to yourself or others? Speak your truth.

Various strategies can help here – from psychological counselling, somatic and gestalt  psychotherapy, energetic healing like Reiki, emotional freedom technique, kinesiology, hypnosis, affirmations,  singing, chanting  and last but definitely not least, yes, you guessed it, meditation!

From a yoga perspective,  various postures can also  help.  Poses such as cobra, fish, camel, cat and cow poses (using their common names) help to activate this energy centre.  A Sun Salutation sequence is great in that all chakra’s are activated so is a nice, balancing one that can be done daily (and also great physically as uses upper and lower body and core muscles).

To conclude, it would be a consideration to see what your Ayurvedic dosha type is as this may help give further insight in where aspects of lifestyle can be improved to achieve optimal health and wellness.  And remember, it’s about balance, knowing your true nature, trusting your intuition and being in harmony with the environment around you. As within, so without…

“As is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm. As is the atom, so is the Universe.

As is the human body, so is the cosmic body. As is the human mind, so is the cosmic mind.”