fertility-yoga

“Just relax and it will happen.” If you’re dealing with infertility, this is the least helpful advice that you hear time and time again. If it were only that easy, right?

That said, yoga is a relaxing activity. And there are some researched benefits regarding yoga, infertility, and the exercise’s ability to help couples release mental stress and physical tension.

Here’s how you can reap the rewards of a regular yoga practice while trying to conceive (TTC).

Benefits of yoga for fertility

In the United States, 1 in 8 couples experiences infertility. Generally speaking about one-third of cases are due to a women’s fertility issue, another one-third are caused by a male issue, and the rest is a combo of the two or occur for unknown reasons.

Yoga shows some promise as a lifestyle change that may help promote healthy reproduction in both men and women.

Strengthens the body

Having extra weight is a factor for infertility in both men and women. Along with healthy eating, exercise is an important part of any weight loss program.

If you’re just starting out with workouts, yoga is a gentle way to ease your body into more regular movement. And while the poses don’t necessarily tax the joints, you’ll certainly feel a burn in your muscles and increased flexibility.

Eases stress, depression, and anxiety

Studies have shown that up to 40 per cent of women undergoing infertility treatment deal with some level of anxiety, depression, or both. (One 2016 study puts that percentage even higher, among both women and men.) Simply being told to “relax” can have a negative effect and lead to a vicious cycle of self-blame.

Incorporating yoga and mindfulness exercises (deep breathing, for example) into your routine may help lower your body’s serum markers of stress and, in turn, improve immune system function.

In one small 2015 study, 55 people undergoing infertility treatments performed yoga and attended a discussion group weekly for 6 weeks. Their self-described anxiety decreased by 20 per cent.

Balances hormones

A 2012 article explores the idea that when stress is controlled, hormone levels follow. The body and mind, breath and balance — it’s all connected. Regular yoga practice may help improve the interaction between the brain and hormones (neuroendocrine axes), meaning that hormones are better balanced overall.

Again, this goes for both women and men. And with better hormone balance often comes increased sexual desire and reproductive function.

Supports sperm production

Low sperm counts in men across the globe is an increasingly common issue. In many cases, low counts can be attributed to lifestyle or environmental factors, such as having obesity, smoking, or exposure to chemicals. A 2013 study showed that incorporating yoga into daily life may help lower stress and anxiety, regulate body function, and support sperm production.

While more focus in this area is needed, the researchers ultimately concluded that yoga can improve male reproductive health and may help prevent infertility.

Increases ART success rates

If you’re currently undergoing IVF or trying other assisted reproductive technology (ART), yoga may increase the chances that you’ll get pregnant. A 2018 study explains that yoga helps to boost both men’s and women’s physiological and psychological states.

Researchers examined 87 previous studies of couples engaging in ART and yoga practice. They determined that the breathing, meditation, and poses (asanas) may ease stress, depression, and anxiety and reduce pain levels — all things that seem to make achieving pregnancy more likely.

 

Safety of fertility yoga

Yoga for fertility can be completely safe, even if you’re new to the practice. The key is to start slow and resist going too far into poses. Focus instead on your breathing and what feels comfortable. Going too deep into a pose without proper alignment can put you at risk for injury.

Beyond that, you may want to ask your doctor if there are any reasons you should steer clear of yoga. For example, ask your doctor what guidelines you should follow if you’re doing ovarian stimulation as part of IVF. With vigorous exercise, you may be at an increased risk of a medical emergency called ovarian torsion.

Many yoga poses are gentle and can be completed at your own pace, but your doctor can clarify any major do’s and don’ts for you.

And you may want to skip hot yoga — at least until after your pregnancy. While there aren’t many studies regarding TTC, research does show that yoga in artificially heated environments may be dangerous during pregnancy.

Best types of yoga for fertility

Yoga is a broad term to describe a multitude of specific types. Each different type of yoga comes with either a specific sequence, environment or focus. Some types are more appropriate than others if you’re trying to conceive or if you’re a beginner.

The following types of yoga tend to be more gentle:

  • Hatha
  • Iyengar
  • restorative

The following types of yoga tend to be more vigorous:

  • Bikram (or hot yoga, in general)
  • Ashtanga
  • Vinyasa

You may want to begin with more gentle types while trying to conceive. If you’ve been doing a more vigorous type of yoga for years, check in with your instructor and your doctor for specific guidance on continuing your practice.

Poses to try

Boston-based yoga instructor Kristen Feig shares that the following yoga poses are appropriate and safe for couples to practise while they’re trying to conceive.

Reclining Bound Angle

This pose is also known as Supta Baddha Konasana. According to Feig, it “helps release tension and stress in the hips/groin where women often hold trauma and stress.”

How to:

  1. Start this position on your back with your legs extended in front of you and your arms at your side, palms up.
  2. Bend both knees outward and bring the soles of your feet together.
  3. Relax into the pose and if you cannot bring your knees to touch the ground consider supporting your outer thighs with blocks or rolled towels/blankets.
  4. Stay in this pose for 1 minute if it’s your first time — and don’t forget to keep breathing. Work up to relaxing this way for 5 to 10 minutes.

Shoulderstand

The Shoulderstand is an inversion pose that “increases blood flow to the hips and heart,” says Feig. It also “helps regulate the thyroid and decreases stress and anxiety.” And you don’t need to do this pose unsupported — try it with your legs up a wall.

How to:

  1. Begin with the short side of your mat against the wall. Your buttocks should rest against the wall with your feet pointing into the air. Your upper body should rest firmly on the mat. (You may opt to place a folded blanket under your shoulders to take the pressure off your neck.)
  2. Bend your knees and bring your forearms to your side so your elbows form a 90-degree angle.
  3. Walk your feet up the wall as you use your upper body to lift your core, ultimately finding a shoulder stand position with your arms supporting your middle back.
  4. You may keep your legs bent, extend them out, or eventually allow them to hang freely above your body.
  5. Remain in this pose for 1 minute, working up to between 5 and 20 minutes.

Warrior II

This powerful position “builds strength in the hips/thighs/abdominals,” says Feig. And more importantly, it helps to “release negative energy through the hips.”

How to:

  1. Stand with your feet 3 to 4 feet apart and extend your arms out to either side — palms facing down — parallel with the floor.
  2. Turn your left foot out to the left 90 degrees while turning your right foot slightly inward, making sure to keep your heels in alignment.
  3. Bend your left knee so your shin is perpendicular to the ground (resist letting it travel beyond your ankle) and keep your torso neutral with your arms strong.
  4. Stay in this position for 30 seconds to a full minute. Then repeat on the other side.

Goddess Pose

Feig explains that “similar to Warrior II, this position releases tension in the hips and opens the heart centre.”

  1. Stand with your feet about as far apart as you did for Warrior II. Turn both feet slightly toward the direction in which you’re facing.
  2. Bend your knees into a squat position with your knees in a 90-degree angle.
  3. Raise your arms to either side of your body parallel with the ground and then bend your elbows — also at 90 degrees — so that your hands point toward the sky. Alternatively, you can rest your hands gently on the nape of your neck.
  4. Stay in this position for 30 seconds to a full minute.

Puppy Pose

“Most people hold tension in their shoulders,” says Feig. Puppy Pose is a mix between Child’s Pose and Downward Facing Dog. This position helps “open the shoulders and releases stress. It also relaxes hips and gets the hips over the heart for increased blood flow throughout the body.”

  1. Begin on all fours, making sure your hips are straight above your knees and your shoulders are straight above your wrists for proper alignment.
  2. Curl your toes under as you bring your hands a few inches in front of you.
  3. Then press your hands into the ground while moving your buttocks slightly back toward your ankles.
  4. Rest your forehead on the ground or on a blanket/towel for comfort.
  5. Stay in this position for between 30 seconds and a full minute.

Bridge Pose

It may feel funny at first, but bridge pose “opens heart and hips,” says Feig. It also “releases tension in the lower abdomen and strengthens glutes to support hip health.” Can’t do a full bridge? Try a supported bridge.

  1. Lie on your back with your legs extended out and your arms at your side.
  2. Then bend your knees upward, bringing your heels close to your buttocks.
  3. Raise your hips to the sky, pressing into your feet and arms. Your thighs and feet should be parallel and your thighs should also be parallel with the ground.
  4. If you’d like support, place a block, rolled blanket/towel, or small bolster pillow under your sacrum.
  5. Gently bring your shoulder blades closer together by lifting your sternum up toward your chin.
  6. Stay in this position for between 30 seconds to a full minute.

Savasana

And don’t skip the final meditation in your practice. Feig shares that Savasana “helps reduce anxiety and control stress.” Beyond that, it also “calms the body and mind and increases overall mental health.”

  1. Lie flat on your back with your legs extended out and your arms to your side, palms up. You may add rolled blankets for support under your knees or wherever else feels comfortable.
  2. Relax into this position and focus on your breathing. Try your best to not let your mind wander to worries or obligations. And try to release tension if you notice you’re tight in any particular area.
  3. Stay in this position for 5 minutes. Work up to 30 minutes with a time.
  4. Alternatively, you may do a seated meditation to close your practice.

The takeaway

If you’re new to yoga or would like guidance on specific positioning, seek out a local instructor, consider searching YouTube for beginning yoga videos, or find a class online.

Whatever you choose, remember to breathe. While “just relaxing” may not automatically result in a baby, the lessons you take away from yoga can foster wellness in many areas of your life.

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REFERENCES:

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