I’m taking a small break from the flow of my Yoga thesis today to go into a topic which has recently come to my attention. A close acquaintance is trying to start a family. Like many women in our time, it has not been especially easy. For numerous reasons, infertility is on the rise. Human beings are among the least fertile of any species on earth, perhaps for a good reason. Over-population of the human race is catastrophic to the rest of this planet and is suicidal in the long-run. However, it often seems that those who are among the most highly educated and well-suited for parenthood are often the ones who have the most difficulty conceiving. Why?
Well, for starters, these individuals often wait longer than their unwed teenage counterparts to have children. Responsible yes, but biology works against them. The chances of conception during any month of unprotected intercourse is just about 20% when a woman is 30 years old and decrease to 5% by the age of 40 according to American Medical Journal. Other factors play into infertility rates as well…poor diet, cigarette smoking, alcohol, high caffeine intake, lack of exercise, hormonal imbalances due to birth control pills and other methods, but one of the greatest culprits of all is stress. Stress can come from just about anything that you feel is threatening or harmful. Acute stress, caused by a single event (or fear of it), makes the heart beat faster and blood pressure go up. Individuals breathe harder, their hands get sweaty, and the skin feels cool and clammy. Chronic stress, can cause depression and changes in sleep habits. It can also decrease chances of fighting off common illnesses. Unbalanced schedules and work related stress is one of the leading causes in all manner of diseases and illnesses from cancer to heart disease. And stress has been proven to make many body organs work harder than normal, increasing and/or decreasing the production of important chemicals in your body, including hormones. Now take this evidence and hold it up to the chaotic pace of our current American society and the parallels between heart attacks, chronic ailments AND infertility become clear. It may not be the sole contributor but is probably a BIG one.
The goal oriented nature of “trying” to become pregnant in and of itself is stressful. What was once a loving sharing moment between you and your partner has become regimented and a means to an end, increasing stress in both partners and males are just as prone to stress-related infertility as females although typically on a much smaller scale. Western, Newtonian oriented medicine is interested in anatomy. The how’s and the why’s of parts and pieces. And yet, it is often the inclusive whole that must be examined to aid in reproductive health and all health for that matter. Once again, I find that turning to the wisdom of the mind/body/spirit practices of the East is often a better option than relying on modern medicine alone.
The inclusive, restorative and regenerative nature of Yoga is a good place to start. Women are turning to Yoga to increase their chances of conceiving. In New York, Yoga instructor Tracy Toon Spencer at Fertile Life, Inc. has designed Yoga vinyasas specifically oriented to aid in conception. Relaxation may be just what the doctor ordered. NYU fertility specialist, Dr. Frederick Licciardi, said he believes that adding Yoga’s timeworn wisdom to the modern medicine he prescribes is invaluable for patients. Relieving stress is yoga’s key, making a difficult physical process, easier on the soul. Mind-body programs designed to reduce stress have reported fertility increases up to 35 percent, regardless of the patients’ histories or age. Taking inventory of the body, connecting with it, and putting positive intention into it seems to relieve the stress-induced resistance of the body. Horrible thoughts of self-doubt and menacing self- criticism can further impede the process of conception when women are told that their body has “failed” to be fruitful. The phone call from the doctor relating such news is often putting yet another nail in the coffin of future children. For women to conceive, they must not be shackled by such thoughts.
Obviously, when the body is a negative place filled with despair and anxiety, it is not an especially fertile place for anything to grow. Calming the mind and body helps women connect to themselves, their partners and infuses them with positive radiance. Specific poses, such a hip-openers, are good for the female anatomy, relaxing the pelvic muscles which often hold a great deal of our stress. It is amazing how often going into the Yoga lifestyle leads people out of other negative habits such as smoking and alcohol, and encourages eating healthier.
Yoga expert, Jaki Nett, says, “The type of yoga class that I recommend to aid fertility and conception is a Restorative class—a class where the body, mind, and spirit learn the art of relaxation. A woman’s desire to conceive can be overpowering and can drive her to the point of obsession. If this happens, sometimes logic is overlooked and stress becomes the foundation for coitus. Since it is the woman’s body and mind that has to be healthy and free of stress, it is her responsibility–with the unwavering support of her partner–to create the most favorable conditions for conception.”
Geeta S. Iyengar, author of Yoga a Gem for Women, writes extensively on women’s issues. She stresses the importance of practicing several asanas to aid in conception. Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand), Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand) , and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose) are recommended because of their effects on hormonal balance.
She also recommends the following poses:
Forward bends—To make the poses more restorative, place a chair in front of you and rest your head and arms on the seat for support, or use a bolster for support.
• Dandasana (Staff Pose)
• Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
• Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Forward Bend)
• Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
• Upavistha Konasana (Wide Angle Pose)
• Malasana (Garland Pose)
As a lover of Yoga, I too often run the risk of using it as a cure-all, but there are many other alternative approaches as well: traditional Chinese medicine, such as Acupuncture has been proven to be beneficial, Ayurveda, alternative medicine through the aid of homeopaths. The key here is alleviating the stress and making the body a healthy, fertile place while actively engaging in both Western aids and mind/body/spirit connectedness.
Seeking out Yoga practitioners who can help women with Restorative asanas is recommended. There are also online resources specifically for fertility:
And here’s a video from http://www.yoga4fertility.com/
Hope this is helpful for all those women who long to be mothers. And don’t forget the amazing benefits of pre-natal and post-natal Yoga for the pregnancy, birthing and post-birthing process. I will have to post about these topics in the near future. To be continued…