Yoga for Fertility. ~ Insiya Rasiwala-Finn.

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Are fertility rates declining?

We live in an age where legions of women have finally earned the freedom to focus on our careers, dreams and aspirations and place them before almost everything else.  A world where only the insistent ticking of our biological clocks serves as a reminder of that primary function embedded deep in our DNA—our ability to gestate a baby.

Yet when we find ourselves—like Sex and the City’s persistently baby-mad Charlotte—unable to conceive, where do we turn?

Infertility, a problem that many experts believe is under-reported in most first world nations, is big business these days.  In the USA alone, fertility treatments gross about $2 billion dollars annually, while governments in the first world consistently worry about low birth rates.

Why are fertility rates declining?

Sue Dumais, a registered Yoga Therapist and founder of Family Passages, a holistic fertility centre in Vancouver, Canada, says that the issue is complex: “There are many factors affecting fertility—more couples are waiting later in life to start a family, there are a lot more stressors in people’s lives today—studies show stress negatively impacts fertility—and of course there are more environmental factors including higher levels of toxins in our foods and environment.”

Yoga teacher Judith Lasater, who has written extensively on the subject notes that it is not just a woman’s problem alone, “while historically infertility was considered to be the “woman’s problem,” one study has shown that sperm counts in the United States and Europe have dropped enormously in the last 60 years.”

Whatever the causes might be, when you consider the pace of our lifestyles, especially in dual income households, where women experience a significant lack of time in their personal lives, you realize that infertility can become a stressful bump in an otherwise neatly-mapped, high-achieving, professional woman’s road map.

In fact statistics evince that what seemed to be such a natural act, may not be so natural for us after all.

The good news

Even though medical treatments such as in-vitro fertilization are still de-rigeur in most fertility centers, there is a rising interest amidst couples hoping to have a baby to turn to alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage and yoga to regain some hope.

Alice Domar, a researcher at Harvard Medical School and the author of “Conquering Infertility: A Mind/Body Guide to Enhancing Fertility and Coping with Infertility” (Viking Books, 2002); is a well-cited expert who has helped popularize the use of alternative and holistic treatments in the treatment of fertility issues.

In a groundbreaking study, Dr. Domar took a group of infertile women (those who had been trying to get pregnant for at least a year) and enrolled them in a 10-session-long mind/body program that included yoga, meditation, nutrition, exercise and visualization. Fifty-five percent of the participants in the program became pregnant within the next year, versus only 20 percent of women in a control group.

Dr. Domar found yoga to be invaluable asset in her program.

How exactly does Yoga help?

With its focus on connecting the mind and body at a deep, intuitive level, while healing, strengthening and relaxing the body, Yoga may offer relief for infertile women who have lost hope in the very nature of their bodies.

Says Dumais, “Many women believe their body has let them down or that they are being punished. They often blame themselves for all that is happening. We work on using dialogue during each yoga posture to help women shift their perspective and thoughts to more supportive language.”

Restorative and gentle yoga, the type of yoga taught in most “fertility yoga” classes is calming and relaxing.

Dumais who offers “Yoga for Fertility” classes, believes that it’s about more than just the physical practice.  The yoga sessions offer both a safe space as well as the time for women to explore how their fertility is affecting their lives and their relationships.

“We focus on what is working and how the body is responding in each posture so that they begin to focus on appreciating their body versus being angry with it.”

She continues, “Specific yoga postures can help release unnecessary tension in the pelvis, increase blood flow to the reproductive organs and reduce stress by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.”

Holistic practitioners agree that the de-stressing benefits of yoga are a powerful tool in aiding conception.

Joanna Mackenzie-Enga, a doula and body-mind psychotherapist on BC’s Sunshine Coast, who has worked with women with various fertility challenges, says, “When you decrease stress, you increase fertility.”

However, the benefits of Yoga are multifaceted.  Mackenzie-Enga also points out, “When you increase companionship and understanding through community, that may also increase the chances of women getting pregnant.  They realize that they are not alone in this process, which can be quite isolating in our society.  They feel empowered as they learn to make choices that resonate for their own bodies and minds.”

Yoga Instructor and Blissologist, Eoin Finn, who currently lives and teaches in Bali, Indonesia, has observed the calming benefits of yoga on women who are trying to conceive, as well as during a pregnancy.  “Women who find that they cannot have a baby can get really depressed, everything feels out of control for them” he says. “Yoga teaches you that you are not in control of most things in life, in fact your attitude and perspective are amongst the only things that you can control.”

Ultimately, however, Dumais concludes that a woman’s personal experience is powerful and may contain the key to her healing.

“I remind them to reflect back on why they began this journey in the first place and help them focus on their desire to be a Mother. I believe that every woman can be a Mother one way or another. I encourage them to remain in a place of hope and trust even when the effort increases. One moment at a time, one way or another they will get there.”

Some simple Yoga poses courtesy of Family Passages:

(Use a bolster or cushion if needed and a yoga mat or rug)

Child’s Pose, Balasana
Allow knees to be wider than the hips and forehead to bow towards the earth.  Create space for the lower abdomen to expand with each inhale and softly return with each exhale. It is a very calming posture and a great time to explore your relationship with self by finding kind words and gratitude about your self and your body.

Legs-Up-the-Wall pose

A great posture to increase blood flow to the pelvis and reproductive organs and relieve tired legs.  Focus on softening unnecessary tension and imagining a beautiful nourishing space in your uterus and in your life for a baby.

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anonymous Dec 16, 2009 2:01pm

I am a little disturbed by the continuation of the social/cultural emphasis that tends to imply/assume infertility problems are due to the woman. I don't know if this was an oversight in so little focus on the men, or that men don't come to these classes? Even if the latter, it might have been worth a mention that if we lifted the taboo on these topics for men, fertility rates could be improved even more… In other words, how high would the 55% success rate have been if the male partners had been in the yoga classes too?

anonymous Aug 4, 2009 1:46am

I'm a yoga teacher and my friend Genessa referred me here. Great article. I'm not a mother yet, but I've spoken to many women about these issues. I think in our society so much power is taken away from women by doctors and hospitals in the conceiving and birthing process. It's unfortunate, but women often don't trust their bodies and hand over control to others. I hope one day we can come to a middle ground where we can blend modern medicine with the timeless wisdom of our bodies. I think yoga is a great tool on this path!

anonymous Aug 4, 2009 1:08am

Heck ya fertility and yoga. I am glad to know it is part of the pre-natal teaching intensive I am doing soon. Gentle moves to honor your body, prep for visualization, and well as some twisting compressions for women on our girly parts.