Struggling to feel well may always be a challenge for those of us with lifelong hypothyroidism -- or any chronic disease for that matter -- but there's one thing that no pill or endocrinologist or herb can change, and that's how we choose to live our lives, and whether our health controls us, or vice versa.For some of us, finding the right balance -- mentally, emotionally and spiritually -- comes from practice of various mind-body techniques, and from a regular practice of stress reduction and mindfulness. But where do you start? First, it's important to understand that everyonen does not respond the same way to mindfulness approaches. So one of the challenges is determining which approach -- or combination of approaches -- works best for you.
Some people find that mindfulness and meditation-based approaches are most effective at generating the physiologic relaxation response. Some of these approaches include:
- Meditation -- Meditation can be done individually, or in group settings. Some people find it helpful to follow guided meditations. My favorites are the thyroid-specific meditation from One Light One Spirit's Demo DiMartile, as well as the various audio meditations and guided visualizations from Belleruth Naparstek and the self-hypnosis program from Dr. Steven Gurgevich. (For additional information, listen to this radio interview with Demo DiMartile, focusing on stress management, guided meditation, and relaxation approaches.)
- Prayer and Religious Services- Some people find that they get into a meditative, calm, focused state when praying, or when attending religious services.
- Breathwork: Breathwork -- the practice of using specific breathing patterns for relaxation, is effective for some people. Approaches can include pranayama breathing from the yoga tradition and breathing exercises (Dr. Andrew Weil has good advice on breathing techniques). My particular favorites are specialized breathing techniques called Transformational Breathing and Integrative Breathing, that help clear physical, emotional, mental and physical blockages.
- Biodfeedback -- For the more technological among us, one of my favorite tools is a computer program called Healing Rhythms. These programs teach meditation, breathing and other relaxation techniques, accompanied by beautiful music and visuals, and a variety of physiologic inputs, including heart rate.
For some people, the idea of meditation or breathing actually creates more stress, and they prefer to be moving in some way. This category of people tend to respond better to relaxation and mindfulness activities that include gentle, focused and deliberate movement.
- Tai Chi -- the ancient Chinese practice of Tai Chi is also called "moving meditation." Tai chi involves slow, graceful movements, and is designed as an exercise that can reduce stress and induce relaxation.
- Yoga -- Gentle yoga practice, including stretching and breathing -- no twisted yourself into a pretzel unless you're a yoga master -- can help induce a relaxed, meditative state in some people. I'm a fan of basic hatha yoga, and some simple inverted poses -- even something as basic as propping legs up against a wall while laying on a yoga mat -- are also thought to help the thyroid.
- Walking -- For some people, slow, contemplative walking -- usually in nature -- can help achieve relaxation and a meditative state. One particular technique is particular helpful - walking a labyrinth -- and it's my favorite form of walking for relaxation.
A third category of relaxation-inducing activities involve repetitive hand motions. These include needlepoint, embroidery, crocheting, knitting, gardening, breadmaking, beading, jewelrymaking, and fingering of prayer beads. Other crafts, including carving and whittling, painting, and drawing, also serve this purpose for some people.
In my own case, in times of stress, I have turned to crocheting as a way to help maintain calm, and find it especially effective, as you can do it while on an airport or airplane, or in hospital waiting rooms, or in other situations where you may want to be practicing relaxation.
What Works for You?
The key thing is to find what works for you, and to practice it regularly, ideally every day. So what relaxation approaches work for you? Share your story now, and see what works for others.