By Katie Brown
Trying for a baby can be exciting, yet also daunting and nerve-wracking. It’s the first step on to the path of parenthood – and as some prospective mums and dads discover, the potholes and obstacles can occur before you’ve even fallen pregnant.
Fertility issues affect a staggering one in six couples in Australia and now five per cent of all babies born in Australia are born via IVF*.
Yet fertility is still a taboo subject – something women (and men) can find hard to talk about or accept.And that’s where yoga can come in – as both an emotional and physical aid.Fundamental to both becoming a parent and understanding the practice of yoga is Santosha. Its meaning originates from the Sanskrit words Sam and Tosha, where Sam is entirely and Tosha is contentment or acceptance. That is, to be accepting and content with where you are at this time – being open to whatever unfolds and where the path takes you, and letting go of what we expect or the desire to control that path.
If we struggle with that acceptance, we can suffer stress. And for people unable to conceive, this stress can be twofold – psychological due to the disappointment and worry of not falling pregnant, and sometimes also a physiological barrier to fertility.
Dr Natasha Andreadis is a fertility and hormone specialist and gynaecologist based RPAH Medical Centre in Sydney. She says: ‘I recommend yoga to a lot of my patients. Most of my patients are stressed and patients who are stressed are more likely to be infertile.’
She explains that when you are stressed, the Sympathetic Nervous System is activated which is responsible for activating noradrenaline and adrenaline and can interfere with the production of the reproductive hormones and the menstrual cycle. ‘Stress doesn’t have to be extreme to impede fertility’, she adds.
But she says yoga helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which means you won’t be releasing as many stress hormones, which can have flow on effects to the entire body and hormonal system.
Andreadis says: ‘Yoga has a myriad of benefits, from encouraging relaxed, diaphragmatic breathing to awareness of the pelvic floor.’ She adds that yoga, when combined with other workouts, can also aid weight loss.
This is backed up by a study run in 2000 by Harvard psychologist Alice Domar, who created a fertility program. Domar found that 55 per cent of infertility patients became pregnant (and had a baby) within one year of participating in her 10-session program in which they were introduced to relaxation techniques and practices including yoga and meditation. In the control group, just 20 per cent had babies.
Many yogis also believe that certain poses can bringing chi/prana or life energy to the reproductive system and boost circulation – even stimulating the ovaries and raising the sperm count for men.
Pre-natal yoga teacher and midwife Valerie Hamilton, is a lecturer on the IYTA’s Diploma of Pre and Post Natal Yoga teaching. She has taught yoga to women trying to conceive through IVF and feedback showed some women believed that practicing yoga and meditation/relaxation assisted in the process of them becoming pregnant.
She says: ‘The benefits for practicing yoga for infertility are the same as the general benefits for anyone practicing yoga, such as building muscle and bone strength, improving flexibility, posture and balance and supporting all the systems of the body. Though in yoga we focus on poses and practices which will assist in boosting fertility by supporting the immune system, the endocrine system and the reproductive system.’
Hamilton recommends practices such as a centering belly breath, Pelvic tilts gently moving into bridge pose, spinal twists, cat-cow pose, childs pose, down dog, lunges, mountain pose, tree pose, pelvic floor contractions and corpse pose.
Three Poses for promoting fertility
Supta Bhaddha Konasana (reclining bound angle pose) this posture can help to stimulate the relaxation response, stretch inner thighs, eases menstrual cramps and opening the svadisthana chakra, bringing energy and boosting circulation to the pelvic and reproductive organs.
Upavistha Konasana (seated wide angle pose) is believed to stimulate and massage the reproductive organs, relax the mind, detoxify the kidneys and is a great pose to boost flexibility in the shoulders, inner thighs, back and hamstrings.
Viparita Karani (legs up the wall)
This is a deeply calming, gentle inversion, which helps to switch on the parasympathetic nervous system. It is also believed to improve blood flow to the pelvic region and ease menstrual cramps.
* Figures come from ANZARD – The Australian and New Zealand Assisted Reproduction Database. https://npesu.unsw.edu.au/data-collection/australian-new-zealand-assisted-reproduction-database-anzard
Katie Brown is a mum-of-three, a doula, Certified Infant massage Educator and Senior yoga teacher with IYTA (International yoga Teachers’ Association), Katie also lectures on the IYTA’s Diploma of Pre and Post Natal Yoga Teaching. Fertility Yoga is a key component of this comprehensive course covering yoga for fertility, pregnancy, birth and post-natal. For more information visit: http://iyta.org.au/
Related: Yoga and Anxiety