Chakras and Endocrine Glands

CHAKRAS AND ENDOCRINE GLANDS

So, it’s time for another blog post.
It’s been too long.
This one is a little bit of a cheat, as it is mostly an old piece written during my teacher training but I’ve changed it a little bit and wanted to post it here as it coincides with what we are talking about in our wednesday night class.
So I hope you find it interesting – it’s a little bit long so I suggest you make yourself a cup of tea & get comfy! 🙂


YOGA & THE ENDOCRINE SYSTEM

In the Yogic belief system (as in modern science and almost every other philosophical system), everything consists of energy. Energy within a certain range of vibration results in what we know as matter and can be perceived by our physical senses. Just like on an optical scale, higher or lower vibrations cannot be perceived with our senses but are nevertheless there.

The more subtle forms of our physical bodies have been explored by many yogis (or other spiritual masters) throughout time, with interesting results that not only compare to each other but also, as it becomes more and more clear, with modern science.

As we know from the system of the koshas, the energy vibration of our physical bodies extends into higher subtler vibrations of a vital energy body, an emotional energy body, a mental energy body, a spiritual energy body, etc. This concept also relates to each of the body organs, cells and glands of the body – everything in nature is expressed on many levels.

Chakras (chakra = wheel in sanskrit), as described in the yogic texts, are a concentration of energy, each at a point where the nadis (energy channels) cross each other, resulting in a charged reaction which produces a strong vortex of energy. There are thousands of chakras and their energies are all intertwined and communicate with each other, causing a reaction in other chakras and in the physical body as well as in the subtler energy bodies. However we are mainly focusing on seven main chakras, resulting from the crossing or interaction of three main Nadis (Ida, Pingala and Shushumna Nadi).

The physiological system that seems to correspond most directly with the chakras is the endocrine system.

The endocrine system is a system of internal glands that are releasing messenger molecules into the blood stream (as opposed to an exocrine gland which releases a substance to the outside, eg. sweat glands). Those molecules communicate with other glands and the nervous system and are known as hormones.  There are many glands, as there are many chakras, but in biology, just like in yoga, the focus is on seven main glands, or groups of glands.

Just like the nervous system, the endocrine system is a messenger system of communication, but while the nervous system sends out messages fast and directly towards the receiver, resulting in a quick, but short lived response (eg telling my muscles to contract), the endocrine system sends messages all over the body through the blood stream, until receptors on cells pick them up, making communication slower, but longer lasting. (“e-mail vs facebook”).

THE GLANDS

1. The home central of this messaging service is the Hypothalamus.

The HYPOTHALAMUS is an almond sized portion of the brain, situated above the brain stem. It’s function is to connect the nervous system to the endocrine system.

It does so with the help of the PITUITARY GLAND, a downward extension of the hypothalamus.

For example:

When a lactating mother hears her baby cry, the auditory nerve impulses send messages to the hypothalamus, which in turn tells the pituitary gland to release some hormones to tell the mammary glands to start milk production.

The same is true for most hormonal responses and for this reason, the PITUITARY GLAND is referred to as the master gland – it takes orders from the hypothalamus and makes hormones that tell other glands what to do.

It really consists of two separate glands fused together, like two sacks hanging from the hypothalamus: The posterior (= behind) and the anterior (= in front) pituitary.

The POSTERIOR PITUITARY excretes 2 hormones that were made in the hypothalamus:

Oxytocin stimulates the contraction of the uterus, lactation, bonding between humans, feelings of trust, love and orgasm, and that’s why it is basically referred to as the love molecule. It is released every time you hug or touch someone, look into someones eyes or even think fondly about someone.

It also helps to heal wounds and to relieve pain. It is an antidepressant, makes us more trusting and generous. It even protects us from obesity by regulating hunger. When large amounts of oxytocin are released, our appetite decreases – like when we are newly in love  or breastfeeding our baby. 🙂

The other hormone released by the posterior pituitary is Antidiuretic hormone, telling the kidney to retain water, so we stay hydrated.

The ANTERIOR PITUITARY produces and secretes many hormones. One of them is Growth Hormone (GH). The tallest man in history was over 8 foot at the time of his death. He was found out to have a tumor pressing on the pituitary gland, causing it to release excess amounts of GH. GH is also considered a very potent anti aging hormone. It’s production slows down after the age of 40.
In other words, the pituitary gland is the gland that receives messages from above, and sends them down into our other glands. It’s communications mainly have to do with love, growth, healing, birth and trust, which, on a more subtle level, are the functions and messages of Sahasrara Chakra – the crown chakra, or 1000 petaled lotus.
(the number of petals on the symbolic lotus images for each chakra, refers to the number of nadis extending out from that Chakra).
Sahasrara Chakra is all about our connection to the Cosmos – it teaches us that we are all one, coming from the same source that is reached through universal, unconditional love.

Because it is the master gland, an improper function of the pituitary gland can have an effect on all other systems of the body.

Great yoga asanas to stimulate the pituitary gland are vigorous flows like sun salutations, that stimulate circulation, and inversions like wide legged forward bend, shoulder stand, headstand, etc (except for people with pituitary tumors..) and fish pose.

Alternate nostril breathing and particularly the humming bee breath (in a higher tone) have a positive effect on the pituitary glands.

Sound vibration (chanting mantras) are “massaging” the gland and are balancing it. Meditation also stimulates the release of anti aging hormone GH.

The PINEAL GLAND, also situated in the brain (very near the centre, right in between the two hemispheres) is a pinecone shaped gland about the size of a grape when fully enlarged, but more commonly the size of a pea. It has the highest amount of blood flow among all the glands, although it calcifies and deteriorates with age, mostly due to environmental influences (for example added flouride..). It releases melatonin (a derivative of the happy hormone serotonin), triggered by sensory nerve messages from the eyes – the less light enters the eye, the more melatonin is released, which causes the brain to switch to a state of relaxation, sleep and dream. Recent discoveries show that it plays a crucial role in protecting the brain from oxidative stress and neurodegeneration. Relaxation techniques and especially meditation increase melatonin production. It is really interesting to note that the pineal gland really has a similar structure to the eye and even contains rods and cones which is why it is referred to as the third eye. It produces images from your mind – your dreams and imaginations. An interesting hormone involved in visually creating these dreams and imaginations is only recently being studied. It’s name is DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) and is released mostly during REM sleep (the phases of sleep where most dreams occur), at birth and death or near death experiences. Shamans of South America often work with plants containing potent amounts of DMT (the most well known brew is probably Ayahuasca) to create visions and communicate with otherworldly beings.
The pineal gland is fully formed and becomes visible on the 49th day after conception.
This is also the day where the sex is determined. Coincidentally it is on the 49th day (according to the Tibetan book of the Dead) that the soul enters the body and according to some forms of buddhism, the soul takes 49 days to be reincarnated.

To sum it all up, the pineal gland has to do with our visions, our conscious and subconscious mind, dreams, intuitions, spiritual (or otherworldly) communications and it protects our brain (our mind space).

The corresponding Chakra, Ajna Chakra (pronounced “Agya”, meaning “command”), is the chakra of our mind, our intuition, wisdom, our divine inspiration.
It is our third eye, seeing images from other dimensions, dreams, visions, etc.

To clear calcifications out of the pineal gland, avoid flouride, food additives (processed food) and too much sugar.

All inverted asanas (including forward bends) are great for stimulating and the pineal gland.

Any imaginative visualisation, Yoga Nidra and meditation also stimulates the pineal gland. Sound vibration that “massage’ the pineal gland work very well, especially if they are in a higher note.

The THYROID GLAND releases thyroid hormone which regulates metabolism, muscle function, blood pressure. It regulates protein production, calcification processes (also calcification of other glands, like the pituitary) and sensitivity of the body towards the effects of other hormones. It is one of the largest glands and is shaped like a butterfly, with it’s wings spread across our throat, just below your larynx. The larynx (voice box) makes up it’s cartilage and the levels of thyroid hormones also have an effect on the voice. An underproduction of thyroid hormone can lead to a deepening of the voice. The opposite is also the case – and the vibration of the voice can influence the thyroid hormone production. For example, the production of thyroxine (the hormone that regulates metabolism) can be increased by mechanically stimulating the thyroid gland. This stimulation can be achieved through the vibration of the larynx while using your voice (speaking, singing or chanting). Even Hyperthyroidism (a hyperactive thyroid, speeding up cell metabolism to an unhealthy rate) or hypothyroidism (an under active thyroid, lowering cell metabolism to an unhealthy rate), could be balanced by chanting or singing (for lasting effects however, the cause of the imbalance has to be rooted out). Or maybe simply using your voice more, finding your voice. Studies that looked at emotional abnormalities and thyroid disorders found correlations between hyperthyroidism and stress, anxiety, anger, overactivity and tension and between hypothyroidism and loss of memory, depression, loss of motivation, slowing of mental processes, intellectual deterioration and psychosis.  Vocally expressing those emotions showed to have a balancing influence on the thyroid.
All of the Thyroids functions have to do with the processes of digestion, metabolism (detoxification and processing), voice, vocal expression and communication.

Speaking, Singing and chanting massages the thyroid with vibration and have a strengthening effect.

Shoulder stand (Sarvangasana) is a particularly good asana as well as plough pose (Halasana) and fish pose (Matsyasana).

The Chakra of communication and expression (of truth and the true self) is Vishuddi Chakra (Purification Chakra). It is seated at the throat centre and influences our ability to express our own self, especially through our voice. Vibrations from voice influence the whole being, filtered through this chakra.

The THYMUS GLAND is closely related to the immune system. It is all about protecting the body. It’s hormone thymosin plays an important role in the production and development of white blood cells. It basically matures and trains t-cells to attack and kill intruding pathogens. Extracts are also derived from the thymus gland with the aim to increase immunity. In humans however, after puberty, the thymus gland (as the pineal gland) begins to deteriorate and is believed to be slowly replaced by fat cells. However newer findings show that the gland has the ability to shrink or enlarge itself within a few hours, mostly due to stress and emotional causes so there is reason to believe that the shrinking of the gland in a human adult after death (the shrinkage had been discovered during dissections of a human body) is a result of the stress of death rather than proof for a deactivation in all adults.  During those studies it has become clear that emotions have a big impact on the function and size of the thymus gland. Negative emotions and feelings like fear, envy, hate, anger, depression and jealousy seem to influence the shrinking of the thymus gland, while happy feelings of love, trust, faith, etc seem to enlarge it. The thymus gland also is in part responsible for growth in embryos. Studies have shown that administering thymus extracts to rats has increased their growth rate significantly. Studies are also being carried out to find ways to reactivate the thymus gland in order to treat HIV patients.
So the Thymus gland is all about growth and protection and is most active in children. An active thymus gland in adults can prevent us from diseases, intruders and degenerations, keeping our systems healthy, uncorrupted and in balance. Direct physical stimulation can have a positive effect, which techniques like EFT (emotional freedom technique) and singing or chanting, causing a vibrational “massage” to the thyroid gland, try to utilize. And of course it is already known how deeply emotions can effect our immune system. We all have had the experience of being run down and coming down with a flu just after a time of emotional stress.
Chest opening asanas like camel pose (Ustrasana), wheel pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana), wild thing (Camatkarasana) and pranayama techniques like kapalabhati and Bhramari have a stimulating effect on the thymus gland.

Situated in the centre of the chest is Anahata (= “Unstruck”) Chakra.
It all about unconditional love, protection, non violence and harmony with our surroundings.

The PANCREAS is a gland located behind the stomach and connected to the Duodenum (small intestine). It regulates the balance of glucose (sugar) in the blood. When blood glucose levels rise, beta cells in the pancreas secret a hormone called insulin which then stimulates all sorts of body cells to absorb more glucose for storage. Liver & muscle cells store glucose (after it’s been converted into a storable form) as glycogen, and fat cells store it as fat. When needed, glucose is converted into the bodies source of energy (ATP) to power our cells. When glucose levels fall or more energy is needed than usually (like during a strenuous yoga session), alpha cells in the pancreas release glucagon, which causes the liver to convert stored glycogen back into glucose to release it back into the blood stream. It’s a bit like preserving apples for storage, only that our body has the ability to convert the Jam back into fresh apples when needed. 🙂
In case of constant high glucose levels, insulin is secreted so much that the receiving body cells become insensitive to it and don’t react sufficiently any more, causing diabetes. Insulin also has another function – it binds itself to transcription factor proteins, which in  turn bind themselves to  DNA sequences to help this particular sequence to express itself successfully (for example in the expression of a genetic code to determine hair color). The pancreas also releases enzymes that are needed for digestion through exocrine glands, making this gland both endocrine and exocrine.
So altogether this gland deals with our supplies of energy (power), it’s storage and use, digestion & metabolism  (processing) and the expression of our genes (personality/self expression). Asanas that work the abdominal area strengthen and stimulate the pancreas, like  boat pose (Navasana), High and low plank pose (Chaturanga Dandasana), Camel (Ustrasana), plough pose (Halasana) and spinal twist or abdominal stretch. Kapalabhati pranayama or bhastrika breath are great ways to stimulate the pancreas.

Chants in a slightly lower tone can affect the pancreas through vibration.
The subtle counterpart of this gland is Manipura (= City of Jewels) Chakra, which, when fully functioning, enables us to process emotions, express our personality with self confidence and access our own sources of power and energy.

The GONADS or sex glands (ovaries & testes), containing gametes (ovum and sperm), which are haploid cells, meaning that they have just one set of chromosomes instead of two, like any other nuclear cell. This is why they seek each other out, in order to combine to make a new and complete diploid cell, which can grow into a new body, containing a complete set of DNA. The male gametes are mobile and active, while the female ones (ovaries) are passive. This is the case in most species, even in plants, where the male pollen travel to get to the female parts of the plants. Because sperm cells are also more plentiful than egg cells, and out of millions of sperm cells, usually only one gets inside the egg. Latest studies have shown that it is by no means at random which sperm enters the egg, but that there is a mechanism inside the egg cell that allows it to choose the sperm it wants to let in, which it then “swallows”.
This is also the reason why, in nature, males usually have to make the bigger effort to impress a female, as she is the one who chooses the right kind of male… Whether the offspring will be male or female is only determined about 50 days after fertilization.
French embryologist Alfred Jost had done some experimenting in the 1940s. He performed surgery on bunny embryos and removed all developing gonads. The bunnies who had this surgery all turned out female. This means that the “default setting” for gender in mammals seems to be female. Just a thought… 😉
Apart from Gametes, the Gonads also produce hormones. The Testes and ovaries release estrogen, progesterone and testosterone in different proportions (Testes release mainly testosterone and ovaries mainly estrogen and progesterone, however they are all released in both men and women) Estrogen promotes the development of female characteristic and regulates the menstrual cycle, and progesterone is involved in the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and the development of the embryo.

Testosterone is a male sex hormone and is involved in the development of some secondary male characteristics (like muscles & body hair, etc.). Estrogen is also needed for the production of Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that causes us feelings of happiness, and well being, making us carefree and playful – all attributes necessary to get us to want to mate with a partner. During menstruation estrogen levels drop quickly, therefor also serotonin drops.  In short, the gonads have to do with sex and with feelings of happiness and playfulness, male and female attributes, their attraction to each other, and how life is created (ultimate creativity).
Balancing Asanas as well as gentle flows (moon salutation), khandarasana (bridge pose), shoulder stand (sarvangasana) and cat pose are great postures for the gonads.
Practicing Bhastrika and Nadi shodhana and chanting in a lower vibration help too.

The ADRENAL GLANDS sit on top of the kidneys. An adrenal gland is a roughly triangular shape (adrenal cortex) with a core (medulla) in the centre. Cued by messaging hormones from the hypothalamus & pituitary gland as a response to stress and strong emotions, it releases different hormones: Aldosterone (for water retention in the kidneys, to prevent dehydration), Cortisol (to release more glucose into the blood for a quick energy fix), an extra supply of sex hormones (to increase sex drive & therefore chances of reproduction) and epinephrine (formerly known as adrenaline, enabling us for a fight or flight response – increasing blood flow, raising heart rate, decreasing digestion, sense of pain, etc..). Stress comes in all forms – emotional, mental and physical and physiological stress (ie too much sugar or alcohol, etc.), all have the same effect on the adrenal glands. The adrenal gland reacts to all of it as if our life is potentially endangered
 A constant amount of stress can cause the adrenal glands to become fatigued. Adrenal fatigue is a very common illness of our days, with symptoms of tiredness, low energy, low immunity, mental illness, etc.. According to some studies, one of the biggest stress factor having an effect on adrenal health is loneliness. The security of a community/family is vital for our survival so the body responds by activating survival mechanisms of fear and releasing cortisol into the blood stream. It has been found that cortisol levels are very high in infants with a particularly traumatic birth.
Those levels often tend to stay high until the early teens or longer, setting the child up to “expect” difficulties. Also babies who are reared with low levels of touch and interaction have significantly higher levels of cortisol than babies that are carried around much, are talked to, are breastfed and receive a lot of interaction and assurance. Babies that are not comforted when crying or not fed when hungry also develop high levels of cortisol. As an adult, these levels often remain high, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
But newer studies even point to a connection between ancestral stress stored and passed on in our DNA, for example in children and grandchildren of Concentration Camp survivors.
A connection to the hypothalamus and pituitary gland (called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis) creates a reaction to high levels of cortisol by reducing amounts of oxitocin released. This leads to less trust and bonding ability, often a long lasting result. Depression also is a direct result of low levels of oxytocin.

The function of the adrenals can be summed up to be that of pure survival including reproduction and community, especially the community we need for survival – our family at the time of birth and infancy. While the pituitary gland supports birth, love, trust and bonding, the adrenal glands are there to prevent death by raising strong emotions like  fear to motivate us to move away from threat and danger.
To balance the adrenal glands, avoid strenuous postures and instead, practice postures like sukkhasana, (easy pose) shavasana (corpse pose) and other relaxing postures,
Yoga Nidra, meditation and chanting in low, calming tones. Steady rhythms, drumming, walking barefoot, routine and comforting familiarity creates a safe feeling, which calms the adrenal glands. Avoid sugar and heavy foods.
Muladhara (= root support) chakra is the chakra associated most strongly with the adrenals. It connects us to the physical plane, our physical body and our ancestral blood line. A fully functioning muladhara chakra makes us feel safe in our family/community, rooted on this earth and gives us a stable base.

That’s all for today… there is so much more to say about Chakras .. maybe another post for another day.
But if you are interested to find out more, these are 2 of the books I personally enjoyed most about Chakras:
Caroline Myss “Anatomy of the Spirit”
Stephen Sturgess “The Book of Chakras & Subtle Bodies”
Also please keep in mind that the connection between chakras and glands is a more modern one, it does not appear in any of the ancient texts and can vary a little bit, especially the adrenal connection, as there is not actually a gland at the same location of Muladhara.
The vibration level of Chakras is usually depicted through their colors.
This also comes in variations.
The old version of Chakra colors are different from the newer, more commonly used rainbow colors (I believe it was taken from a similar south american system and popularised as it seemed to make more sense to most western people). However, keeping in mind that these are all abstract concepts trying to explain a very subtle anatomy, I believe the best way is to actually sit and meditate and develop a feeling for your own subtle energies.

So feel free to ask questions, comment or correct me if you think I got something wrong…
Thanks for taking the time to read this rather long post! 🙂

 

About sunshineyogawexford

Yoga classes and workshops in Wexford/Ireland. Ashtanga Yoga, Yin Yoga, Yoga for Kids, Yoga philosophy and Meditation.
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4 Responses to Chakras and Endocrine Glands

  1. Q says:

    Such a beautiful description! Thank you. Soooo useful!

    Like

  2. Allyson Wuenschel says:

    So comprehensive! I am studying the endocrine system for a presentation for my YTT-200 program. I will be using this as a reference and will be sure to credit your work!

    Like

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