Yoga and Fertility - Using yoga practices when trying to conceive
When you’re trying to get pregnant and it’s not happening, you start to examine aspects of your life that might be a factor blocking conception such as the amount of alcohol you drink or the number of hours you work in a stressed-out office environment. You might scrutinise how you exercise as studies have shown too much or too little can affect hormonal balance and the regularity of a woman’s cycle.
Zita West is one of many fertility experts that recommends yoga to her patients who are having difficulty conceiving. ‘Any exercise that involves mindfulness, breathing techniques and meditative visualisation has many physical, emotional and mental benefits,’ she said, adding that yoga is a calming antidote to any woman consumed by an overwhelming desire for a baby, the resulting stress of which becomes an impediment to conception itself.
There are many aspects to yoga that can help you at this especially difficult time. From postures to meditation to mantra to visualisation. Yoga can help you connect with, better know and understand my body – and this can be a crucial factor in a womans fertility.
Uma Dinsmore-Tuli, a yoga teacher and writer says women should get to get to know their cycles intimately by charting all aspects of their cycle. It’s not only about being aware of what phase you are in, but also how you feel when you’re in it – you might feel powerful and strong in the follicular phase, your digestion might be poor in the ovulation phase and you might feel angry and sweat a lot in the luteal phase. ‘Women who are in tune with how they feel on any given point in their menstrual cycle will naturally choose a practice that supports and nourishes them on that day,’ said Dinsmore-Tuli. ‘Ultimately you want a practice that honours your menstrual cycle. Your menstrual health is your fertility. If your menstrual health is compromised, then you don’t stand a chance of getting pregnant.’
There has been no research done linking yoga to fertility. Dinsmore-Tuli believes this is because there is no funding for research that does not involve drugs sold by big pharmaceutical companies. But look at any yoga teacher training program for anecdotal proof practicing yoga helps fertility. The proportion of women falling pregnant while on these extended courses is high. When I did my pregnancy yoga teacher training nearly 25 percent of women were or got pregnant on the 3 month course! This doesn’t even take into account those who weren’t trying, or past menopause.
What type of yoga?
If you are going to use yoga as a fertility aid, there are still precautions to take when practicing, and finding the right class is very important. A restorative yoga practice can be beneficial in general to aid relaxation and tuning into the body and mind, and especially in the time after ovulation so that the body – emotionally and physically – expresses receptivity, which helps create a positive environment for a sperm and an egg to join. Restorative yoga is characterised by passive, long-held postures supported by props like bolsters and blankets so that the body and mind completely surrender and ultimately sink into an alert relaxation.
In contrast Hot yoga, for instance, won’t do many favours for a woman seeking to get pregnant, most yoga teachers and fertility experts say. The hot yoga trend is exploding now, with yoga studios cranking up the heat to 38 degrees to promote muscle flexibility and cardiovascular endurance. Any external heat source is going to warm the body both on the inside and the outside, which despite the lack of concrete evidence most fertility experts and yoga teachers caution against – especially in the two weeks after ovulation in order to optimise conditions for the egg to implant in the uterus. The theory — again, unsupported by study but widely agreed in yoga circles — is that when you exercise in heat the blood flow moves toward the organs that need it (the cardiovascular system) and away from the ones that don’t (the reproductive ones.) Hot yoga, more than any other school of yoga, aids weight loss. But this isn’t necessarily a good thing when it comes to getting pregnant. Fertility experts Boston IVF say normal menstrual function requires at least 22 percent body fat. A seed grows in fertile soil – it’s better to be well-rested with a good muscle-fat ratio.
Then there are the ‘bandhas’. These are muscular contractions you make in different parts of the body that seal energy into it. There are three bandhas commonly taught in a yoga class, but only two pertain to a woman seeking to have a baby: Uddiyana Bandha (the drawing in of the abdominal wall diagonally up and back toward the spine) and Mula Bandha (the drawing inwards and upwards of the vaginal walls toward the cervix.) The bandhas support breathing, create room for movement, and introduce a sense of lightness to one’s practice. But fertility experts advise employing them with caution if you’re trying to conceive, especially if one is having difficulty doing so. Keep the belly soft, especially in the two weeks after ovulation.
‘Practice yoga as if you are pregnant,’ said Anna Wise, a pregnancy yoga teacher and co-author of a forthcoming book on Ashtanga Yoga and pregnancy. ‘If you are in doubt about what you are doing, why take the risk? If what you are doing is safe to support a pregnancy, then it would also be safe to support a pregnancy to come about. Soften your practice. Don’t create heat or contract (the abdominal region). Just back off a bit.’
So in answer to the question, can yoga help you get pregnant? In the absence of any scientific research into yoga and fertility, there is no stock answer. And no, it certainly cannot guarentee it. But listening to your body, nurturing and nourishing yourself, slowing down and really investing in relaxation can be something that fertility experts all hold as important in your journey to motherhood. Finding the right yoga class is also very important, with a teacher who understands your specific needs.