Today, there are plenty of yoga options. From restorative and Yin yoga to Bikram and power flow classes, there seems to be something for everyone—and every mood.
Fern Olivia discovered an essential and missing link through personal trials: At 22, the now LA-based yogi was diagnosed with Hashimoto Hypothyroidism. Working in finance for seven years probably didn’t help. But when she fainted in the NY subway, she was called to make a change after years of unhealthy habits.
Her creation, Thyroid Yoga, emerged as the eventual result, and Fern teaches the approach in LA and all over the world, leading retreats and trainings. Read on to hear more about her discoveries about yoga and thyroid health.
SBS: What was your path to your current life as a yogi?
Fern Olivia: As a little girl, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would proudly declare that I would be teacher, a writer, a health practitioner, a CEO, and an inspirational speaker. Today, I am all of these women. It just took graduating with honors with a degree in biomedical engineering, working in finance for over seven years, and getting sick with an autoimmune thyroid condition (due to chronic stress, fatigue, binge drinking and emotional eating) to come back to my original intention.
SBS: What were the symptoms you suffered due to your thyroid issue?
FO: I was completely disconnected from my body and the knowledge it was trying so desperately to communicate through symptoms of jabbing stomach pain, perpetual brain fog, all-over body fatigue and a bloated belly that wouldn’t de-puff (no matter how many times I visited my incredibly talented colon hydro-therapist). My period played hide-and-seek and disappeared into the abyss for two years.
SBS: When did you decide to change your life?
FO: After fainting in the crowded NYC subway one summer afternoon, I finally woke up and realized (after trying every herb in the book) that my body wasn’t looking for another superfood or detox therapy. It was screaming at me to love myself.
Women began to come to me for guidance they needed beyond a practitioner who would simply read their test results and prescribe another pill; for connection with an expert who has been there, who has the knowledge, compassion and resources to light the way. I noticed that women were looking for something beyond nutritional protocol that hasn’t yet existed, and I knew it was my dharma to create that.
SBS: What is Thyroid Yoga, and why is it so helpful?
FO: Thyroid Yoga was birthed from my healing journey. My mission is to create a ripple effect that inspires future generations for years to come.
I created it to fill the gap that existed between the symptoms people are experiencing, the energetic and environmental root causes of their thyroid imbalance, and the knowledge around how lifestyle changes can play a significant role in the support of their total health. Through interactive video courses, as well as live and virtual teacher trainings, I’ve empowered thousands of individuals to thrive rather than to fall at the mercy of debilitating thyroid symptoms.
My passion is to create tools that are approachable to all, incorporating ritual and lifestyle practices in combination with yoga sequences and tools for radical self-expression to offer support in a unique and fun way.
SBS: What was key in your own healing journey?
FO: What was instrumental in my journey was listening to my body and treating it as a temple, rather than as a patient who needed fixing. So instead of masking symptoms, I aim to empower you to understand why you are having them (everyone is different) and heal your body through targeted yoga, meditation, breathing, nutrition and self-care rituals for your unique body.
SBS: What is the thyroid’s role in the body? How can people support thyroid health best?
FO: The thyroid is the butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck. It regulates many of your body’s major functions such as metabolism, hormones and energy levels. It is also responsible for your hair, skin, nails and sex drive. It produces hormones that influence every cell, tissue and organ in your body.
Your thyroid regulates your metabolism, the rate at which your body produces energy from nutrients and oxygen, and in turn stimulates and synchronizes all metabolic cellular functions, such as your energy levels and heart rate, as well as your fertility and reproductive health. Since your thyroid gland is connected to your gastrointestinal function (also known as your digestion), adrenal hormone metabolism, blood-sugar levels, stomach acid production, brain chemistry changes and liver detoxification, its dysfunction can contribute to many clinical manifestations in your body.
In most cases, thyroid conditions result from the immune system attacking the thyroid because the immune system is imbalanced. Even when the thyroid is taken out surgically, is ‘ dead,’ or treated with radioactive iodine, the autoimmunity still persists in most cases. Many people will have their thyroids removed, and will develop new autoimmune disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or celiac disease. The immune system just finds a different target. We need to re-balance the immune system and support the glandular system to prevent this, and in many of my clients, I have seen the autoimmunity reversed, as well. The health of the digestive and glandular system determines your immune system. This is why I place so much focus on balancing the immune and lymphatic system.
SBS: Do prescription thyroid hormones help?
FO: While prescription thyroid hormones may bring levels in the blood into a normal range, the hormone replacement doesn’t address what caused the thyroid to slow down in the first place. The symptoms creating the hypothyroid symptoms more likely call for sustained lifestyle changes that support hormonal balance. If the check-engine light on your car flares, which would be smarter: to investigate the engine or remove the light? If you are having awful, uncomfortable symptoms, your body is shouting at you that something is wrong and is asking you to please, please pay attention and give it some love.
SBS: What is confusing in the media about thyroid info?
FO: Nearly 10 years ago, at the beginning of my thyroid healing journey, I would seek the top endocrinologists in NYC and would leave each visit hopeless by their protocol: ‘Take this pill, it will mask some of your symptoms. Come back to me in six weeks for another blood test.’ I’d present research to them on gluten and the gut-brain connection, instead of the other way around. Why was I paying them? I graduated with a degree in biomedical engineering, and though I was very proud to be my own researcher and advocate, I was so desperately seeking a trusted expert to guide me. There was little known information about how to overcome thyroid symptoms holistically, or even how thyroid disease was caused, or the relation to the microbiome and adrenal health. Today, these topics are widely discussed and integrative doctors are looking at the entire body, combining Eastern modalities in a powerful synergy to create sustained healing. The media has made huge strides thanks to groups including the Functional Forum and resources including mindbodygreen. I’m proud and grateful to be among a tribe of crusaders and colleagues including Elissa Goodman, Dana James, Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, Dr. Will Cole, and Dr. Elizabeth Trattner.
SBS: How are your retreats unique?
FO: I love creating a safe environment for exploration, curiosity, and play. I’ve guided over 20 yoga and wellness retreats in Puerto Rico, California, New Mexico, New York, and I’ve learned that the most powerful experiences occur in an intimate setting where the group is encouraged to enjoy un-scheduled time for reflection, discovery in nature, and time to unwind from the exhaustion of busy life. The group is everything. The amazing souls who find my retreats are always super cool people: creatives, healers, and dreamers. I’ve been amazed at the relationships that have manifested from the trips that I’ve held space for!
Fern’s California Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: Erewhon Market
Splurge Restaurants: Wabi-Sabi, Gjelina and Scopa
Fitness Studio: F45
Yoga Studio: Love Yoga in Venice
Self-Care Spot: Infrared sauna at Pause Float Studio or Sweatheory
Yoga Apparel: Sweat NSK and Lululemon
Fun Activity: Hiking and surfing: I learned how to surf in Nosara last month, and I’m stoked to find my favorite swell in LA!
Nightlife Spot: My bed. I love lighting candles and writing poetry. If you are up for the challenge of enticing me to come out with you at night, you’ll be successful with a soundbath, Kirtan, or cacao ceremony.
Online resources: Mindbodygreen. You can find my Thyroid Yoga® intro course here, too. I also love Conscious City Guide and Well+Good to stay on top of events and happenings around town, Thoughtfully for conscious lifestyle inspiration, and of course, The Chalkboard Mag!
Book: Female Energy Awakening by Miranda Gray
Fern’s SBS Mantra: ‘Be Radiant’! That’s my favorite… for obvious reasons!
The best, zaniest part of being Fern: I lost my need for approval and validation long ago. This morning at 10am, on a bright clear day, I stripped and went swimming naked in Nosara. I was the only soul out there. I do things like this on the regular because I love the thrill of liberation! I also am known to frequently turn on my airdrop in the airport or other crowded, stressful places and ‘accidentally’ drop an unflattering (completely appropriate) selfie to an unsuspecting recipient to brighten their day. Then, I anxiously wait as they approach me with a huge smile and gratitude. Acts of kindness can be so simple!