Yoga for Fertility
When i was first going through infertility, I'd read that yoga was one of the few alternative treatments (along with acupuncture) that scientific studies had actually proven to help pregnancy rates. (And by the way, it's not that other alternative treatments DON'T work, it's that mainstream science has not devoted the time and money to study them.) So, I started taking yoga classes. But not all yoga is created equal when trying to get pregnant. I had a doctor who didn't want me to elevate my heart rate above 120bpm, so some of the more aerobic yoga was out (as was Bikram for being too hot).
I found a yoga guru who understood which positions were most effective for fertility. See her article
below, plus some other recent media coverage on yoga's effect on fertility.
- Here is a great video on how Yoga can benefit fertility.
Click here to read a fantastic article from the NY Times on Yoga's aid in stress reduction and positive impact on fertility.
Yoga for Fertility
Stress directly affects a woman’s ability to conceive. A study of 185 women, all of whom had been trying to conceive for two or more years, evaluated the correlation between stress and infertility. This study used two groups: one was taught yoga and relaxation methods, the other did not participate in relaxation techniques -- 55% of the first group was pregnant within a year, whereas in the other control group, those who did not participate in relaxation methods, only 20% of the woman because pregnant within a year. ( Domar, A., Clapp, D., Slawsby, E., Dusek, J., Kessel, B., Freizinger, M (2000) Impact of group psychological interventions on pregnancy rates in infertile women. Fertility and Sterility Vol. 73, no.4 April).
To begin a daily yoga practice that you truly can commit to, here is what I recommend. Set a realistic intention around the amount of time you feel you can commit to practicing yoga each day, perhaps starting with 30 minutes. Creating discipline around this can be very challenging for some people, and for my clients who struggle with this, I suggest they set a timer the first few days and vow not to get off the mat until it rings. Soon it will become routine, but a great deal of discipline is needed to get the rhythm. Ultimately you will increase the amount of time you spend practicing, but 30 minutes is a smart place to start. I recommend practicing in the morning, before the activities of your day start pulling you in many directions, but if that is not possible, practicing any time of day is fine.
Pick your yoga space carefully. Find a soothing room in your home or a clutter-free nook free of distractions and create a sacred space to practice yoga. All you need is an area big enough to lay down a yoga mat (a beach towel or a blanket will work just as well for this practice). If you can, turn off the ringer on your phone during your practice.
Sit yourself down in a cross-legged position either up on a pillow (if your hips are tight) or directly on the floor. If your back is very sensitive, you can start sitting in a chair. Rest your hands on your lap, palms facing upwards, lengthen your spine and have a sense of proper posture. Close your eyes or gaze softly at one point.
First, we start with the breath. Be curious about your breath and your breathing patterns in general. Is your breath slow, fast, shallow, sporadic or full? Please don’t judge it, just notice what your breath is up to. After awhile of “noticing,” simply invite your breath to slow down and take a few rounds of breaths with that awareness and consciously deepen your breath. Most yogic breathing is done through the nose. This slows and cleanses the breath but if this is challenging (if you have a cold or a deviated septum), then breathe through the mouth. Spend a few minutes connecting to this new rhythm of breathing, knowing that slow, harmonic, deep yogic breath lowers the amount of the stress hormones that are released in your system.
Worth noting, the average person takes about 15 breaths per minute moving throughout an average day. Spend a little time monitoring the speed of your breath and work, over time, in the direction of taking fewer breathes per minute. Something closer to 8 or 10 breaths in one minute is common for those with a regular yoga practice. Slowing the rhythm of your breath down can take time. Breathwork is an art, just as if you were learning the piano and great patience is needed.
Next, create a little motion in your body by simply inhaling, arms out by your side and up to the sky, palms facing upwards, with fingers nice and bright, and exhaling, arms down, palms facing down, with a slow conscious exhale. The action of the arms should truly be guided by the rhythm of your breaths. You want the breath to move the arms. Also, imagine you are moving your arms through something viscous, as if you were standing in the ocean. You are looking to create a gentle resistance. Take this simple motion 5-10 times. This action releases tension in the shoulders, slows down the breath, expands the lungs, strengthens the spine and encourages awareness of the diaphragm, the primary muscle of respiration.
Baddha Konassana (bound angle pose) Still maintaining your connection to breath, position the feet to press into one another and let the knees fall out to the side, in the direction of the floor. You might want to sit on a blanket. Some practitioners sit up straight in this pose, others lean forward a bit. It all depends on the tightness of your hip flexors. Take a few minutes in this pose...10-20 slow breaths. This pose increases blood flow to the lower body, lengthens the muscles of the inner thighs and abdomen, and creates a nice flow of healing energy to the pelvic region. This is a wonderful pose to take while you are trying to conceive and during pregnancy, as are all of the poses mentioned below.
Janu Sirsasana (Crooked leg stretch) Keeping the right knee bent, straighten the left leg out wide to the left, inhale, arms up, and fold as you exhale over extended left leg, right hand holding the knee, shin or foot, and the left arm out to the side over the left leg. This pose creates length in the lower back and the back of the extended leg, opens the joints of the right ankle , knee and hip, and massages all the vital organs from the forward fold by using full deep breaths. Take this pose on each side for 10-20 breaths.
Table top - Cat / Cow Move to a position of having your hands under shoulders, hips over knees, with a flat back. On the inhale, soften the belly and let it drop in the direction of the floor, gazing upwards. On the slow exhale, round spine like a cat and bring chin to chest, scooping tail bone towards chin. Move through 10 rounds, guided by the breath. This action opens the spinal column, soothes and tones the nerves, opens lower back and mid back and increases blood flow throughout your body.
Bakasana (childs pose -puppy stretch) Bring big toes together and open knees, sit back on heels and rest belly in the direction of the floor. If your knees feel sensitive, pad them, or if sitting back is challenging, put a pillow on your calves to rest back on. Reach arms out long and comfortable. This is a beautiful restorative pose that creates length in the entire column, helps deepen the breath, expand the lungs and creates a sense of calm and well being. This is an excellent pose to take through all stages of pregnancy.
Bridge pose (setu bandhasana) Recline on the back, knees bent, heels under the knees. Reach to touch the back of your heels for proper alignment. Keep chin pointing to the sky, lift the hips and move the heart in the direction of the chin. Clasp the hands behind your back and reach the knuckles towards the heels. Hold for 5-10 breaths. This pose creates strength in the legs and lower back. The gentle inversion of having the hips higher than your heart has a soothing effect for the nerves and toning effect for the muscles of the lower body and stimulates the vital organs of the pelvic region. This creates a cleansing energy for the abdomen, and opens the shoulders, chest and heart.
Savasana (corpse pose) Lie flat on your back, legs hip-width apart. If the lower back feels sensitive, place a bolster, such as a rolled blanket, under the knees. Have your arms 8-12 inches out to the side, palms facing upwards. Close your eyes and breathe slowly. Your breath during Savasana may return to a gentle rhythm, still maintaining awareness of the breath the entire time. What is the temperature of the inhale, does it change on the exhale, is the breath dry on the inhale, moist on the exhale, does it have a gentle sound? These questions and curiosities help keep you in the present moment. You will find your mind wanders less when your attention is one pointed on the breath. Try to stay in this pose for 5 to 10 minutes, relaxing, absorbing your practice and connecting to your body.
Slowly bring yourself back up to a simple cross-legged position, staying connected to your breath as you move. Sit up tall and take a moment to appreciate yourself for taking the time to practice yoga. Set an intention to return to your mat the very next day so that you may continue to move in the direction of optimal health, wellness and joy. This concludes a 30 minutes practice.
The poses that I have mentioned here are just a handful of the hundreds of poses that exist. Should you feel inspired to add more poses into your daily practice, wonderful, there are endless resources to support you in deepening your practice. Whatever you do, set the intentions to move though any new poses you may add and all of the actions in your day to day life in a way that is conscious, loving, and gentle, always guided by slow deep breaths. You are creating an environment in your beloved body for a new life to be conceived. Yoga is an empowering tool to help create balance and a beautiful overall well being. I wish you great good fortune on your path.
Bethany Cantin has been teaching and practicing yoga fulltime for 10 years in Boston. She has taught over 10,000 hours of private yoga sessions and has worked extensively with women trying to conceive, as well as prenatal and postnatal women. Her yoga programs have been featured on Boston News stations ABC, NBC and in the Improper Bostonian. She can be seen privately in Boston or you can have private yoga sessions with her via telecast through her website TheYogaFoundation.org. Bethany also has a not-for-profit component of her business which creates free yoga programs for women in crisis, using the art of yoga as a way to increase self reliance, self-love and empowerment. Bethany is committed to helping others deepen their connection to life.