Sunday, October 9, 2011

Restorative Yoga Practice for Increased Fertility

Yoga for increased fertility

Groups who practice yoga for increased fertility are growing in number around the world. While no yoga practice can guarantee conception, the popularity of these classes and their increased affiliation with fertility treatment centers and clinics are testimony to their effectiveness.

How would yoga increase fertility?

Smoking, alcohol, caffeine and some medications can hurt fertility, as can being overweight or underweight. These risk factors are fairly easy to measure and treat. Another contributing factor to infertility- one which is more difficult to measure and to treat- is stress.

Stress has been shown to reduce the probability of conception. When you are under stress, the hypothalamus in your brain releases a chemical neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine inhibits the body’s production of prolactin, which is a crucial hormone needed for fertility. Essentially, dopamine sends a message to the ovary to not release any eggs. Some women have been living with stress for so long, that they don’t realize they are stressed. But your brain is hard to fool. You may be undereating, overworking, overexercising, or just dealing with stressful working or domestic environments- and the hypothalamus is, in essence, keeping a running tally of what you're doing. Even though you can say to yourself, 'I'm not stressed,' your hypothalamus may come up with a different answer.

Anything that will strengthen that mind-body connection, such as yoga, deep breathing, guided imagery, talk therapy, or acupuncture- helps to balance the functions of the hypothalamus and increases your fertility. There  may be other benefits, and we are just beginning to explore and expand our understanding of the mind.
For example, research is ongoing, but they have done studies where they use a special type of MRI to look at brain activity in patients who are undergoing meditation. They have shown that multiple areas in the brain -- not just one area -- but multiple areas in the brain that are involved in how we process or perceive pain are activated when people undergo meditation. And in some cases, that can have a better effect than the drug morphine on pain perception. We are just beginning to understand some of the complex processes that take place during meditation in the brain.

What Kind of Yoga Increases Fertility?

The type of yoga class recommended by experts (see article by Yoga Journal) to aid fertility and conception is a restorative class—a class where the body, mind, and spirit learn the art of relaxation. 

In addition to a regular restorative yoga practice, several Asanas that aid in conception include Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand), Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand) , and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose)  which are believed to improve hormonal balance by increasing blood flow to the brain and improve circulation. 

Also recommended are the following poses-usually included in a restorative yoga practice: 

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.
Reclining Poses—These poses are helpful because they open and elongate the abdominal area.
According to Yoga Journal: "Some experts also recommend Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose) after coitus (which will theoretically keep the sperm inside the body and close to the opening of the uterus) to encourage the opportunity for sperm penetration. Before coitus set up for Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose). As you move into and out of the pose, keep the abdominal area soft-your partner can assist you to make this possible. The amount of time you spend in Viparita Karani is up to you. 

To set up for Viparita Karani: Fold a sticky mat into quarters and place it two inches from the wall. Place a round bolster or a firm folded blanket on top of the sticky mat with the back edge of the bolster or blanket in line with the back edge of the mat. Place the buttocks on top of the bolster with the sitting bones as close to the wall as possible and the legs up the wall. The tailbone should tilt toward the ceiling so that the vaginal area is pointing upward. The shoulders, arms, and head rest on the floor. Once in the correct pelvic position, allow the legs to soften and bend the knees to allow the abdominal and pelvic floor to relax."

Yoga for fertility can greatly increase your chances of getting pregnant because it increases relaxation, blood flow to the reproductive organs (improving egg and sperm quality) and creates a sense of peace and well being.

Emotional and Psychological Benefits of Yoga for Fertility

A New York Times article, recently written on yoga for fertility, interviewed many women and asked them about their experiences with Yoga for Fertility. According to the article, many women experienced emotional and psychological benefits in addition to increased fertility: 

"Elaine Keating-Brown, 38, an elementary-school teacher in Manhattan who is in her last trimester after in vitro fertilization, found the yoga classes she took with Laura O’Brien, then at N.Y.U., helped her silence a tireless negative voice in her head. Her fertility-related worries felt endless, from “What happens if it doesn’t work?” to “financially, it’s not exactly cheap,” Mrs. Keating-Brown said.

But “once you’re in the yoga room, you haven’t got all that anymore,” she said, “you’re concentrating on you, and put those thoughts aside, put your body in a good place, and come out of class feeling a real feeling of relaxation and it’s going to be O.K. If it isn’t, it isn’t.”

Lori, a 32-year-old management consultant who asked that only her first name be used for privacy, lived with “the chatter in the back of her mind” so constantly after losing twins and suffering two miscarriages that she named that voice Constance in a yoga class she took at Pulling Down the Moon. After learning meditation techniques in class, Lori, the mother of a newborn, said she could observe, but not succumb to her negative thoughts. “I’m aware I feel that way,” she can tell herself when an anxious thought surfaces, “but I’m not going to let it overwhelm me right now.”

Ms. O’Brien summed up the infertility roller coaster this way: “You have to get screened all the time. You have to take certain drugs. You’re at the mercy of everyone telling you what to do and when to do it.” Now teaching $72 four-week fertility and flexibility workshops at Devotion Yoga in Hoboken, N.J., Ms. O’Brien added that loss of control is challenging, “especially for people in this part of the country, if they have a goal and work hard, they get it.”

“This throws that whole mentality out of whack,” she said. But yoga, she contended, helps type-A’s to learn that “you cannot control what’s happening to your body, but you can control how you feel about it.”

In 1998, when Brenda Strong first starting teaching fertility-focused yoga at the Mind Body Institute in Southern California, she said, “people were so ashamed and so isolated because no one else was talking about it.” In her classes, she facilitates conversation among yogis. “In yoga, suffering is caused by attachment to a result or by resistance,” said Ms. Strong, the actress who is the narrator on “Desperate Housewives” and herself has struggled with infertility. “There’s nothing that brings up these two things more: you’re attached to wanting to get pregnant and you’re resistant to the fact that you can’t.”” See New York Times article, 2011

Whether you are looking for an emotionally supportive and physically restorative environment to help you cope with the emotional roller-coaster of fertility treatments or you are looking for a meditative practice to help you learn how to cope with and reduce the effects of stress in your life and to increase your fertility- a Restorative Yoga practice might be just the thing you need. 

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