The interest in yoga has grown significantly over the last 20 years, with over 300 million yoga practitioners across the global population promoting their health and wellbeing. So why is yoga good for you? Yoga helps to manage stress, relax the mind and body, as well as making your muscles strong and flexibility, but did you know it’s also good for your fertility?
Like many complementary therapies and practises, yoga helps to bring different body systems into alignment both physical and emotionally. And where fertility is concerned, yoga helps to manage stress, and to improve the endocrine system in the body – responsible for your hormones and yoga also benefits the reproductive system too!
So what is Yoga?
The meaning of the Yoga is to join, derived from the Sanskrit verb: yug ~ to join. Practicing yoga helps make connections between the mind, body and soul, to improve the wellbeing of the yogi by bringing the yoga practitioner into perfect harmony and balance. Yoga can be both a physical and spiritual practice; there are many types of yoga but the most popular style practiced is Hatha Yoga, which consists of elements of yoga postures (asana), breath awareness (pranayama), relaxation and meditation.
Yoga is one of the orthodox systems of Indian philosophy, it was systematised by Patanjali in his classical work, the Yoga Sutras, written in Sanskrit dating from 200 BC. The science of yoga is not only just for health and fitness but for the awakening the vital energies: pranas, chakras and kundalini shatki. A yogic practice gives direct and tangible benefits regardless of any spiritual aims. Physical and mental therapy, are the most important achievements of yoga, as it works on the holistic principles of harmony and unification. With 40% of the adult population using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM, for short) to treat illness, doctors are embracing CAM therapies too, often combining them with mainstream medicine to treat patients.
CAM’s therapies’ include:
• Nutritional therapy
Fertility clinics are embracing CAM’s to treat fertility issues, by integrating western medicine with complementary alternative medicines. The eastern practice of yoga science has succeeded as an alternative form of complementary therapy and can work alongside western medicine to treat infertility. Fertility issues can often be associated with a wider health issues, so by improving your overall health and wellbeing, you can provide the healthiest environment to improve your chances to conceive a healthy baby naturally, or through assisted reproductive treatment. The management of IVF treatment before and during IVF can be stressful, practicing yoga, relaxation and meditation can be very helpful, along with other complementary therapies to help get through the IVF process.
Asana are yoga postures that when practiced regularly they bring a state of being, in which one can remain mentally and physically calm, quiet, steady and comfortable. As the mind and body are not separate entities, the practice of asanas integrates and harmonises the connection of the body and mind. Both the mind and the body can harbour tensions and knots. The aim of yoga asana is to release mental tension by processing them on a physical level acting somato-psychically, through the body to the mind, tension and muscular knots can occur anywhere in the body. Through the regular practice of yoga asana, combined with other yoga practices pranayama, meditation and it is believed the tightness and tension can be effectively eliminated, by tackling them both on a physical and mental level.
Prana – the vital energy
Prana, is the vital energy, corresponds to chi in Chinese medicine, and travels through the whole body, a following network of energy called nadis. The nadis are responsible of maintaining all individual cellular activity, if the prana is blocked toxins can accumulate in the body, so as the prana begins to flow, the toxins are removed from the system ensuring health and wellbeing of the whole mind and body.
Chakra’s and Kundalini Shakti
The chakras are connected to the network of nadis, there are seven major chakras located along the pathway of the sushumna, originating in the perineum and flow through the spinal cord to the crown of the head.
In yogic terms the Chakra are vortices or wheels of pranic energy, located at specific areas of the body, which control the circulation of prana and are associated with the major endocrine glands and nerve plexuses in the body. Specific yoga postures have a particularly beneficial effect on one or more of these glands or plexuses, and promotes the general health of specific areas of the body. Each one of the seven chakra vibrates energy at a different rate. The second charka Svadhisthana is located in the area of the sacrum and relates to female and male reproductive hormones and organs, this chakra is depicted as a symbol of fertility.
The purpose of yoga is to awaken the Kundalini Shakti, by practising asana the charkra’s are stimulated, generating Kundalini energy to travel through the central pathway in the spine, awakening the sushumna nadi. The kundalini shatki rises to the highest charkra sahasara, the centre of bliss, enlightenment of human consciousness.
So why does Yoga benefit fertility?
Lifestyle and nutritional factors affect both male and female fertility, medical history, age, stress levels, alcohol and diet are all recognised factors. Exercise plays a very important role in fertility and according to research by Rich-Edwards “it helps to balance blood sugar levels and regulate hormones and thus ovulation”.
A study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility reported the benefits off reducing stress through gentle exercise such as hatha yoga, helps to improve the chances to conceive, as well as preparing the body for pregnancy. Fertility Yoga is designed program to reduce stress and focuses on therapeutic yoga postures to benefit the reproductive health.
Five benefits of Fertility Yoga
1. Reduces stress, calms the mind of negative thinking
2. Balances hormones
3. Increase blood flow and energy to the pelvic area
4. Stimulates the reproductive system
5. Connection of mind and body awareness
Trying to conceive naturally, or through assisted reproductive treatment (ART) or IVF is stressful and a roller-coaster of a journey both physically and mentally. One of the best ways to de-stress whilst trying to conceive is with a Fertility Yoga program. Fertility Yoga focusing on specific yoga postures that encourage blood flow and energy to the reproductive area. The relaxation techniques are designed to de-stress the mind and body. Fertility yoga gives the inner strength and confidence needed to continue on this roller coaster of journey to becoming a parent.
Studies have suggested that the amount of sleep a women has may affect for fertility, (Morris 2008) Studies show improving your sleep helps to promote regulation of appetite, weight, and ovulation and male sperm count too. So aiming for between 7 to 8 hours regular sleep, can increase the chance of pregnancy rate by 56%, in a study of IVF patients led by DR D Park in Korea. Breathing and relaxations techniques practiced in Hatha yoga therapy can help promote sleep, especially the practice yoga nidra (yoga sleep) deep relaxation techniques.
Stress and anxiety in IVF treatment
Infertility is stressful and the prospect of embarking on assisted reproductive procedures, such as IVF can cause and impact of stress and anxiety for both the first and repeated procedures the patient endures. Any form of stress reduction before or during fertility treatment can only be a positive. Studies conclude that “stress and anxiety levels remain elevated across first and repeated cycles of fertility treatment. Women with lower stress and anxiety levels on the day prior to oocyte retrieval had a higher pregnancy rate.” (Turner et al..2013) Stress during fertility treatment is thought to be multidimensional; in addition to any psychological stress related to the diagnosis of infertility, there are potential stresses related to the medical procedures, the awaiting of a positive outcome, and the physiological effects of gonadotropin stimulation. (Turner et al..2013) Breathing techniques play an important part in relaxation on the autonomic nervous system and the management of stress and are practiced in Fertility Yoga.
Yoga Therapy and Stress
Scientists have studied the positive impact yoga therapy has on various health conditions. “Practicing yoga can improve better cardiovascular health, strengthen the nervous and immune system and has a positive effect on the reproductive system” (Trimarch) Whilst yoga cannot treat medical infertility problems such as blocked tubes, it can help with infertility issues caused by stress and the associated stress with conditions such as cysts and endometriosis. Chronic psychological stress can alter the body’s ability to regulate hormones, this in turn may cause problems with the reproductive system for sperm quality, ovulation, egg fertilisation and possible other complications that may affect the reproductive system.
A study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility stated “that women with high levels of the stress hormone cortisol and alpha-amylase (which circulates an enzyme around a body under stress), in their saliva had more difficulty conceiving than those women of lower level of stress in the study. The results of the study stated their fertility rates was up to 12 per cent lower each cycle” (source Louis). In fact” levels of the stress hormone epinephrine known as adrenaline have found to be higher in women experiencing unexplained infertility, and those with elevated levels of epinephrine may constrict blood flow to the uterus” (Trimarch)
A study found “fertility patients who practice yoga specifically tailored to reduce stress may increase their fertility by as much as 35 per cent” (CBS news).” According to Trimach research in 2000, 55% of participants of a yoga-oriented, mind-body-based fertility program conceived during the first year in the program!
Fertility Yoga Asana
There are series of yoga asana – postures that are used in fertility yoga to strengthen the abdominal region and protect the back creating abdominopelvic energy. Asana working the area of the pelvic bowl creates energy and blood circulation to the reproductive system located in this region. B.K.S Iynegar the man responsible for bring yoga to the west, developed a form of hatha yoga through a systematised study of over 200 classical yoga poses. Through his research he stated that inverted yoga postures stimulate the pituitary gland and in turn the reproductive system, and that forward bend asana’s have a positive effect the pure supplying pure blood to the pelvic organs.
Yoga asanas prove to be beneficial to help with infertility, menstrual disorders and miscarriage (Iynegar 2005) they strengthen the pelvic muscles, improve blood circulation in the pelvic region strengthen the reproductive area and exercise the spine – the channel for the charkas. Research from Dr C Woodyard in 2001 stated “Yoga increases blood flow and levels of haemoglobin and red blood cells which allows for oxygen to reach the body cells, enhancing their function”.
Yoga can aid the healing process, by playing an active role in the journey towards “positive mind state healing”, which is especially important for a rollercoaster fertility journey. Dr Woodyard concluded that “Yoga is recognised as a form of mind-body medicine that integrates an individual’s physical, mental and spiritual components to improve aspects of health, particularly stress related illness” and that “The practice of yoga generates balance energy which is vital to the function of the immune system”.
Male reproductive health and yoga
A regular yoga practice for men is also important, because of the positive effects yoga has on stress reduction and their well-being, “regular yoga practice can improve the quality of sperm if one has an issue with sperm count or motility”. (Sengupta,P et al.. 2013). For men practicing yoga asana they can activate the second chakra in the pelvic area, which can help release energy blockages relating to sensual or sexual issues. “The links between infertility and stress are complex and not fully understood, but cortisol, the so called stress hormone, can interfere with normal reproductive functions (Sengupta). Perhaps the strongest evidence is that reducing stress through yoga can boost fertility.
Fertility Yoga with Lisa Attfield
The DVD “Fertility Yoga with Lisa Attfield” was researched and developed whilst I was training to be a hatha yoga teacher with the British Wheel of Yoga, the governing body for yoga training in the UK and whilst I was on my own fertility journey. Both my husband and I had been advised by the NHS to change our lifestyles to improve our fertility chances. After six years of not conceiving naturally, fertility investigations revealed that both my husband and I had fertility issues, and our only option was IVF with ISCI to conceive. Aged 34 and my husband Stephen, aged 38 at the time started IVF, after 3 cycles we had a daughter, when I was 36 years old. After 2 further cycles of IVF and ISCI we had twins, when I was 39 years old.
During our ten year fertility journey, I developed and researched my fertility yoga program, and in 2013 I released “Fertility Yoga with Lisa Attfield”. To help others to learn to relax and de-stress, and to help them gain the inner strength and confidence to trust their bodies on their own journey to become a parent, see www.fertilityyoga.co.uk for more details.