Adrenal Glands 101: Mindful Restoration
The effects of adrenal dysfunction can be devastating and aggravating: fatigue and weakness; lowered immune system, susceptibility to colds, and other ailments that healthy individuals aren’t as likely to get like; muscle soreness, moodiness or hormonal imbalance are all signs that your body is not in a balanced state of equilibrium. In today’s hyper active society, the hustle and bustle of our routine and over stimulated lifestyle, can lead to many compensations; both physical and mental. One way our body compensates is by increasing levels of cortisol, suppress the immune system and create adrenal dysfunction.
The good news is that adrenal fatigue can usually be relieved; Yoga and meditation can be instrumental in re setting the body’s physical and hormonal balance by establishing an environment where the body and mind can recover, as well as offering the opportunity to work on mindful strategies to deal with circumstances when negative stress arises. Outside of the postures and “asanas,” Yoga can offer the time and space to work on new behavior patterns if the stressors that trigger your stress are within your control.
Let’s look at the relationships between stress, high cortisol levels, and adrenal fatigue; and then we’ll look at how you can give your adrenals more support.
The adrenal gland has two parts. The first is the adrenal medulla; which secretes epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline). These are the hormones that make your heart pound, raise your blood pressure, help ensure your muscles contract, and put your brain on high alert. The adrenal cortex secretes cortisol and other hormones. Cortisol is a natural steriod that raises your blood sugar level (so the muscles have plenty of fuel) and suppresses inflammation, but it also suppresses the immune system; which in times of high stress tricks the body into thinking this is a good thing.
Adrenal Glands 101:
To understand how adrenal fatigue develops, it is important to understand the original and historical function of the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands original role was to save your life The basic task of the adrenal glands is known as the “fight or flight” mode; with the fundamental role of increasing production of adrenaline and other hormones.
When healthy, your adrenals can instantly increase your heart rate and blood pressure, release your energy stores for immediate use, slow your digestion and other secondary functions, and sharpen your senses, but when these basic functions are altered, it changes your hormonal balance.
This response by your adrenals takes priority over all other metabolic functions, but it wasn’t designed to be a process that lasted continually. Thus, in today’s society of high stress, hyper activity and go, go ,go mentality, a large percentage of our population is nearing adrenal fatigue.
What is cortisol? In its normal function, cortisol helps us meet these challenges by converting proteins into energy, releasing glycogen, and counteracting inflammation. For a short time, that’s okay. But at sustained high levels, cortisol gradually tears down your body. Cortisol is destructive to the body. Sustained high cortisol levels destroy healthy muscle and bone; slows down healing and normal cell regeneration; co-opts bio chemicals needed to make other vital hormones; impairs digestion, metabolism and mental function; interferes with healthy endocrine function; and weakens your immune system.
Modern Day Challenges:
Every challenge to the mind and body creates a demand on the adrenal glands. The list of challenges is endless: lack of sleep, a demanding boss, the threat of losing your job or expectations, financial pressures, personality conflicts, yo-yo dieting, relationship turmoil, death or illness of a loved one, skipping meals, digestive problems, over-exercise, illness or infection, unresolved emotional issues from our past or present, and on and on. The result is adrenal glands that are constantly on high alert. The list of life’s unpredictability is endless, and as the age ole statement goes; “life is 10% what happens to us, and 90% how we react to it.”
Here is where the Yoga comes in. To recover from this exhaustion, you need to do things that turn off the adrenal hormones and promote secretion of anabolic hormones, such as growth hormone. Growth hormone is secreted by the pituitary gland almost exclusively during the deepest stages of sleep (slow wave sleep).
To help turn off the adrenal glands and calm the mind, practice restorative yoga postures daily in a warm, dark, quiet environment.
Outside of Yoga, here are some easy ways to start the recovery of process:
- Listen to your body. Not every case of adrenal fatigue presents the same symptoms or has the same exact preconditions. The adrenal glands are overtaxed, but that can come about from a number of causes. Modern life is so full of stress that the adrenal glands end up producing more stress hormones than the body was designed to handle.
- Remove Stressors. Take a look at your current lifestyle, and make whatever changes you need to promote the things that make you happy and reduce the parts of your life that do more harm than good.
- Reduce overall stress levels. Some stressors in life are unavoidable, but we can begin to address them in new ways that reduce their drag on our life and reduce the causes of adrenal fatigue.
- Relax – Simply set aside some time each day for yourself and your overall well-being. Actually take a break during your work breaks.
- Dietary changes to enrich your nutrition – The cortisol produced by the adrenal glands has a significant effect on blood sugar levels, and so eating habits play a major role in moderating the condition. Stay away from highly
- processed foods, refined sugars, caffeine, alcohol.
- Exercise – including moderate exercise and taking more time can be helpful to reducing your stressors, especially those that are constant. No matter what is going on in your life, it will become easier to handle if you set at least 30 minutes a day for exercise.
- Breathe – Follow the optimal breathing technique to help reset your body’s adrenal function and stress receptors.