In my yoga therapy studies, I’ve been reading about yoga for fertility. The authors often write about yoga for “infertility”. In our fast paced, multi-tasking lifestyles, we can accumulate the stress of multiple roles, work and career expectations, commuting requirements, relationship obligations, and time constraints, which may reduce our ability to accomplish our own personal goals. We can fall prey to the anxiety, tension, and worry that lives in our body, our mind, and in our soul. All of this can reduce the ability to conceive a child when the time feels right.
When we are tense, anxious, and stressed, our sympathetic nervous system is engaged. We are in ‘fight or flight’ mode. The hormones of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol are released when we are in this mode, and they prepare our body to fight or flee! Our muscles become tense, blood thickens so it can more easily clot, pupils dilate so our environment and the ‘enemy’ can be seen more easily, our heart rate and breathing quicken, and our skin becomes pale, as blood rushes to fuel muscles. All of this makes sense if we are in danger and need to protect ourselves; but, if it is our constant state of being, our mental, emotional, and physical health is in jeopardy. We need to find healthy ways to ‘rest and digest’.
Trying to conceive a child—when your body and muscles are tense, when you are hyper-aroused, when you have difficulty sleeping, when your digestive system is functioning less than optimally because all your energy is going to your muscles—can be difficult.
So why wait until the time seems right to conceive? Why not be proactive and begin to bring that calm, present moment focus into your life right now? Engaging your ‘rest and digest’, or parasympathetic nervous system, creates a positive physical and mental environment for fertilization to occur. And this is just as important for males, as it is for females.
The yoga therapy perspective on fertility starts with cultivating overall health through a well-balanced yoga practice and lifestyle choices, particularly eating nutritious food, sleeping well, and engaging in life-affirming activities. Developing the ability to relax tight pelvic floor muscles can contribute to ease of fertilization and yoga can most certainly help with this.
Yoga asana practices for women’s fertility focus on a holistic practice. This includes a well-balanced set of poses from every asana family (standing, seated, twisting, balancing, and inversions), to build strength and flexibility, and bring vitality to the body, mind, and spirit. In this blog I’ll start with two breathing practices you can do that will begin to help your body and your mind move towards that ‘rest and digest’ relaxation mode, which you want to cultivate to enhance fertility: one to begin your practice, and one to end it. In upcoming blogs I will, first, offer a warm-up focusing on opening and relaxing pelvic floor muscles; and after that I will provide a more general practice for building strength and flexibility, and opening hips.
Starting a practice with diaphragmatic breathing—deep belly breathing—begins to calm your system. Many of us are “chest breathers”. We breathe shallowly into the chest. Learning to breathe deep into your belly allows oxygen to circulate throughout your body, muscles, and organs.
For this exercise, you’ll want to set up the area first. Fold a blanket and put it lengthwise on your mat. Fold up the bottom of blanket once more so that the blanket only extends to the mid point of your mat, and there is more height at the bottom end of the blanket.
Fold a second blanket, placing it horizontally on top of the first to use as a pillow for your head. For belly breathing, start by laying on your back in Savasana. As you lay down on your back, the bottom blanket should stop just at your low back. Your sit bones will be on your mat and your pelvic area will be lower than your back. Let your thighs feel heavy. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Bring your attention to your breath and as you inhale allow the belly to rise – don’t force it, just let it happen. This may be difficult at first, but with practice it will get easier. As you exhale, notice as the belly falls. Continue to follow your breath. Start with three minutes.
When you feel ready, extend your breathing practice to five minutes. When your mind wanders—and it will—once you realize, bring it back to the breath. That is meditation. Our mind wanders, and thinks, and comes up with all sorts of thoughts and ideas. That’s okay—there is no right or wrong. There is only practice.
Finishing a yoga practice with relaxation is vital. That time allows your practice to ‘sink in’, to weave its way through your muscles, and joints, and all of those spaces that you have opened in your body and your mind, through your practice. We often end a practice in corpse pose, but a really, relaxing way to end can also be in an inversion, like Legs up a Wall or Viparita Karani.
To do Viparita Karani, bring your yoga mat close to the wall with the short end against the wall. Sit down sideways on your mat, with one side of your body
as close to the wall as you can. Lie down and turn your body so your head is away from the wall and your legs are resting on the wall. If the stretch is too deep for your hamstrings, you can either push yourself slightly away from the wall, or bend your knees until you feel comfortable. If your legs are up the wall, you can rest a 5 lb. sand bag or rice bag on the top of your feet (something weighted but safe, in case it slips), place a folded hand towel or eye mask over your eyes, and even cover yourself with a blanket to stay cozy and warm. In this final relaxation pose, focus on your breath. Follow each inhale and each exhale—pay attention to its journey as it travels in through your nostrils, and filters down into the lungs and out into the bloodstream, the body, and the organs. Then follow that journey back out as your body releases, and relaxes and enjoys that fuel it has just received.
Commit to staying still and continue to follow your breath. When you have completed three minutes, five minutes or 10 minutes (there is no limit on how long you stay in relaxation), begin to bring some movement back to you fingers and toes, giving them a wiggle. Make some circles with your ankles and wrists, going in both directions. Turn your head from side to side, moving with your breath. Very slowly bring your legs down from the wall, shifting your body sideways so you can lower your feet down onto the floor. Roll to one side, using the arm on that side as a pillow, and legs remain bent. You are in a fetal position! Stay here for a moment or two, then gradually push yourself up, head coming up last, to sitting. Take a moment to notice how you are feeling, keep a gentle gaze. Take that wonderful calm with you into the rest of your day. Namaste!
Adding pranayama and meditation to your yoga practice brings you into the present moment, supporting the ability to let go of anxiety about the future, and worry about the past.
Next time, I’ll focus on some poses that can enhance fertility.