Bend It Like A Baby

Yoga has been around for thousands of years and amidst all its health benefits it also brings the women an extra boost for their fertility.

Yoga. The word brings to mind lithe people bending into impossible positions. If you’re on Instagram, those positions are usually accompanied by dazzling sunsets, unusual rock formations and sandy beaches. It is associated with the perennially supple and the skinny. However, it is so much more than the beauty of its positions and the trendy people that promote them, it is the gateway to long term health and vitality and is suitable for anyone of any size, level of ability or age. It is a form of exercise that will not only help you manage your weight but will support you in your journey towards falling pregnant and boosting your fertility.

“Yoga is an exercise that can really help women on their fertility journey, I have seen it first-hand for more than 10 years!” says Fiona Kacz-Boulton founder Awakening Fertility. “Yoga means ‘union’ or is directly translated to mean ‘yolk’. It is the binding together of body, mind and spirit, and, as fertility needs the union of body, mind and spirit, it makes sense that yoga would be one of the better exercises for fertility.”

Yoga is superb at helping women to ease their stress, giving them a space within which to release the tensions which surround the fertility journey. One of the main reasons for this is the focus on breath. Practitioners are asked to focus on their breathing – steady and measured, allowing for the flow of oxygen through the body. For women who are told that they need to de-stress to help them on their fertility journey, this is a superb tool they can use at any time, not just in their yoga class.

A study undertaken by Domar in 2000 showed a correlation between yoga and fertility as women battling with infertility fell pregnant after using yoga and meditation. Another study, this time conducted by fertility centres in the US, found that yoga significantly reduced anxiety in fertility patients. In short, yoga works.

There is a common complaint from many women trying to fall pregnant. People are telling them to ‘just relax’ or ‘stop being so stressed’ – as if it is a tap they can turn on and off at will. Not only does this repeated mantra make people feel even more stressed, but it can make them more than a little bit annoyed. People are quick to tell you how you’re doing the fertility journey wrong, but rarely have advice on how to fix it.

More than one woman has felt as if she’s a failure because she can’t lessen the stress in her life. Don’t. You can’t change the challenges life throws at you, but you can use yoga to manage the way you feel about them.

“Yoga will help women to alleviate stress,” says Chris James, Mind Body Health & Lifestyle. “The link between stress and difficulty in conception has been well documented. Cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, can interfere with ovulation. The practice of yoga delivers a gentle workout for both the body and the mind, while other forms of exercise are not necessarily conducive to this and can increase stress.”

So, next time you feel your stress levels rising, just haul out your yoga mat and do some of the basic breathing and poses to help you manage your tension. Child’s pose is an excellent one to sneak into breaks at work or at home as it doesn’t need you to warm up or even have a yoga mat, just a bit of privacy and five minutes to yourself. Concentrate on breathing in and out through your nose slowly, counting the seconds as you inhale and release, letting go of whatever made you feel so anxious in the first place and allowing your body to relax.

“Yogic breathing – pranayama breathing – and meditation help you relax,” says Cheryl MacDonald who specialists in yoga for women. “When the mind relaxes, the body relaxes, and trying for a baby can be a stressful experience. Women who are struggling with infertility and having hormone treatments can feel a lot of pressure and stress, and yoga can help. With hormones going crazy it’s easy to become distressed and this can reduce your chances of conceiving. Yoga can minimise these side effects and increase chances of becoming pregnant.”

Yoga

Form up

In addition to helping you reduce your stress levels, yoga helps women get into the best possible physical shape for fertility. Weight and diet play a significant role in pregnancy roulette so a regular exercise routine that encourages blood flow, increased heart rate (the healthy kind) and lowers body fat is going to play an important role.

“Yoga helps women to eat more healthily as it improves the mind/body relationship and encourages sensitivity to the needs of the body, and a healthy respect for the body,” says James.

Yoga also emphasises that every person has a different journey, a different level of ability, and that there should be no competition or comparison. One person’s bendy is another person’s impossible dream, but that doesn’t mean they don’t both reap the rewards of the practice. By constantly remembering that they are on their own journey through both yoga and fertility, women can sidestep the draining victim mentality and not get caught up in comparing their fertility journey with others.

However, not all yoga is ideally suited to women seeking out a solution to infertility. Some forms are considered too strenuous or active to allow for the restorative benefits that women undergoing fertility treatment need.

“Gentle and restorative yoga is helpful when trying to get pregnant as this helps to release stress,” says Tara Lee, founder of Tara Lee Yoga. “I would recommend avoiding strenuous or hot yoga. Forms of yoga that emphasise breath, relaxation and opening the muscles around the hips and pelvis are the most helpful.”

Fiona Kacz-Boulton developed her own style of yoga which was globally accredited in 2006. It was inspired by the healing benefits she saw in her work and is an adaptation of Hatha yoga blended with Qi Gong.

“Yoga is very Yin, feminine, elongating the muscles and grounding, while Qi Gong is very Yang, masculine, and light,” she says. “It encourages life force energy to flow through the body and nourishes organs and systems. It heals and balances the nervous system, digestive system and the reproductive system. QiYoga has helped hundreds of women worldwide to fall pregnant and hold their pregnancies to full term.”

Yoga which embraces and encourages fertility is, obviously, ideal for women trying to conceive. Hatha yoga is one of the most often recommended as it involves slower, flowing movements with deep, slow breathing to help clear the mind and allow for focus and concentration.

“Yin Yoga is also good for fertility,” adds Chris James. “I would avoid forms that are too dynamic like Bikram. Women with fertility problems will benefit from a nurturing yoga class with a nurturing teacher.”

It’s a good idea to invest in a yoga course or DVD which has been designed specifically for boosting fertility. These will include exercises which support breathing, lengthening, toning, blood flow and relaxation, and will have the added benefits of supporting fitness and more awareness of body and diet. Avoid yoga which has more dynamic posts such as Bikram, Hot Yoga, Vinyassa, Flow, Power Yoga or Ashtanga as they are either too hot or too powerful.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to perform, just use each class as a slice of time where you can set aside your stresses and fears and focus on yourself. A perfect moment of solitude where the only things you concentrate on are your breathing and the instructor’s voice.

“One of my closest friends couldn’t get pregnant and eventually conceived after six years using IVF,” concludes Lee. “Then three years later she had another using IVF. Then, eight years later, she took up yoga and conceived naturally without trying. The only thing she had changed in her life was yoga.”

At any time

You don’t need to race to the studio every time you feel a surge of stress or want to unwind. Busy schedules, delayed transport and unexpected deadlines can affect the best of us at the worse times. Here are some of the best poses to boost fertility as recommended by the experts:

1. “One of the best positions to try is shoulder stand or lying with the legs up the wall as this is calming and brings energy to the pelvis. It also helps to stimulate the thyroid gland and keep the body’s reproductive hormones balanced. Stay here 5 – 10 minutes breathing deeply.” – Tara Lee, founder of Tara Lee Yoga.

2. “Bridge Pose (Sethu Bandha sarvangasana): This is a tough yogic pose. This asana requires you to lift your pelvic region up while keeping your buttock muscles firm. When the pelvic area is thrust upwards, both the energy and blood flow get circulated to the uterus and ovaries. Try and stay in the pose for at least 30 seconds before coming back into normal state.” – Cheryl MacDonald, founder of Yoga Bellies.

3. “Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose) is excellent, a restorative hip opener, as well as Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) and Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), both of which are relaxing.” – Chris James, Mind Body.

4. “Child Pose – Cat Pose – Dog Pose sequence – This is another easy to do sequence that activates and opens your chakras (your energy centres) as well as nourishes the whole body and spinal column.” – Fiona Kacz-Boulton, Awakening Fertility Founder, Harley Street Fertility Clinic.