Fertility and Flexibility – Trying to conceive with Yoga
“I started doing Kundalini yoga classes in January, and then my husband started coming with me, too,” says Barbara of Delano, Minn. “In February, we decided to adopt, and I feel a large part of it was that we were doing yoga together. We were always much more in sync after the classes and much more willing to explore all our options in healthy discussion. We got very excited, picked an agency and started the paperwork. Then, we found out I am pregnant. It’s still very early, but this is our first positive test in two and a half years. Amazing.” And if that weren’t enough good news, Barbara is pregnant with twins.
Yoga is something women can do that will reduce stress without impacting their fertility.
Can yoga really impact fertility? Dr. Alice Domar, researcher at Harvard Medical School, conducted a study that took infertile women (those who had been trying to get pregnant for at least a year) and put some of them into a 10-week mind/body program that included yoga, meditation, nutrition and exercise information and help to change negative thought patterns. Fifty-five percent of participants in this program became pregnant within the next year, compared to 20 percent of women in a control group.
Dr. Domar, who uses this mind/body approach to treat women attending Boston IVF, the biggest infertility treatment center in the country, says that yoga is an invaluable asset in her program and the tool she would least like to lose.
So exactly how does yoga impact fertility?
A Gentler Form of Exercise
Dr. Domar has an interesting theory about one of the ways that some women seem to benefit from yoga. “I believe that vigorous exercise may reduce fertility in some women,” she says. “We can’t predict whose fertility is exercise sensitive. Yoga is something they can do that will reduce stress without impacting their fertility. For really chronic exercisers, my clinical impression is that at least half that stop get pregnant. Yoga is the best tool I have for these women.”
Improved Physical Health
Yoga can also impact the general reproductive health of women trying to conceive. “Yoga tones and strengthens the muscles that support reproductive organs and improves spinal alignment, enabling better circulation and improved capacity and quality of respiration,” says Julie Cade Bon, certified yoga teacher and owner of Partnership for Pregnancy, a company that offers retreats for couples dealing with infertility. She adds that for women who are taking infertility drugs, better breathing can also help the body fight off the toxic effects of those drugs.
Reducing the Physical Effects of Stress
Yoga is perfect for dealing with one of the most pervasive mind/body fertility challenges: stress, often stress caused by the inability to get or stay pregnant. “Women experiencing infertility are often stress- and pain-filled, saddened and angry,” Cade Bon says. “These emotions generate chemicals in the body that weaken immunity and make for a less ‘hospitable’ environment for a new life. Yoga, because of its use of relaxation breathing techniques, combined with the flushing out of physical toxins, provides an antidote to the negative physical impacts of stress, anger and depression.”
Feeling Less “Out of Control”
Yoga can also impact a woman’s fertility journey at a more psychological level. Kim Biggs of Panama City Beach, Fla., is a typical type A overachiever, who remains in a perpetual state of disbelief that something she wants so badly and has worked so hard for is still unattainable. She is using yoga during her “sanity break” while getting ready to move ahead with in vitro fertilization (IVF).
“My infertility has made me feel totally out of control for the first time in my life,” she says. “Yoga calms me and helps me regain a feeling of control that lasts much longer than the actual amount of time I’m spending on the mat.” Biggs really appreciates the tools yoga gives her for controlling her negative thoughts. “Being in control of something at this point in my life is a feeling that is quite addictive,” she says.
It’s important that we don’t forget that trying to get pregnant takes two. Cade Bon suggests that yoga can also benefit couples. “I have found that yoga, practiced with a partner, can be a wonderful way to shift away from the ‘trying to conceive’ stress that clouds these relationships,” she says.
Yoga Is Not the Cure-all
This is not to say that yoga is an instant fertility potion, or that it works for everyone. “I’ve been doing yoga off and on for a few months now and, while I feel better [physically], it has not benefited my infertility struggle,” says Stephanie Barone of Flower Mound, Texas.
As someone struggling with unexplained infertility, Barone believes that most women in her shoes are beyond the simple “quick fixes” like yoga. “Really, it’s assisted reproductive technology that helps most of us,” she says. However, she does appreciate some of yoga’s other benefits. “It gives you an hour or so of quiet time with yourself,” she says. “It helps to keep your inner peace, which can be very hard when struggling with infertility.”
Where to Start
To get started with yoga, try a class or read a book. “Yoga is more available and accessible than ever in this country – classes are being held in gyms, YMCAs, city recreation centers and yoga studios,” Cade Bon says. To get the best initial experience, she recommends finding a class and then using tools such as videos, tapes and books to encourage home practice.