The emotional pain of infertility often causes disconnect between your head and heart. There are days when your mind is flooded with despair, but your heart wants to preserve a flicker of hope. One of the purposes of yoga is to cultivate a perfect union with your true self—to practice aligning your mind with the inner, quiet desires of your heart. The tools you learn through yoga practice, stretching, breathing, and meditation, become your foundation for soothing your body’s response to daily stressors.
New research shows that yoga has a physiological effect on your nervous system and reproductive organs. Yoga calms your mind so that you can harness your inner reserve in the face infertility. You may think of yoga as just physical exercise, a combination of gymnastics and dance. However, in reality, yoga alters brain chemistry, decreases your innate fight or flight response and attunes you to your body mentally and emotionally. Many women are finding yoga to be a powerful tool during fertility treatments.
Yoga reduces stress
No one waltzes through fertility treatments unscathed by stress. Infertility is one of the most stressful experiences and compares to life threatening illnesses such as cancer. I recall being so stressed and fearful before my first IVF cycle that I had a panic attack as I was going under anesthesia. Yoga will help you to pinpoint areas of your body where you hold stress—tension in your neck, jaw or back, or shallow breathing. You will become aware of what prompts stress and how your body stores these feelings. Yoga can teach you how to heal the muscle memory of stressful events.
You’ve probably experienced short, rapid breathing before an ultrasound, a blood test or in anticipation of a phone call. In yoga, and Traditional Chinese medicine, breath (also called prana or qi) is your life force and the primary tool for reducing your stress response. When you practice breath techniques you fill your body with life nourishing energy, you calm your central nervous system and normalize hormone function. A 2003 study in Fertility and Sterility showed that yoga is a beneficial compliment to fertility treatments. In fact, yoga can be a highly effective for reducing anxiety and depression caused by infertility because it increases amounts of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in your brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that causes a calming effect in your central nervous system.
Physiological benefits of fertility yoga
Fertility yoga is a series of particular poses known to energize, nourish, and strengthen the reproductive system, pelvic floor and supporting ligaments. Yoga, as with acupuncture, can increase blood flow to the pelvis by stretching soft tissue and redirecting blood flow from your skeletal muscles to your reproductive organs. It elevates your mood, and increases oxygen to your muscles, and decreases your heart rate. The chakras, “energy centers,” are metaphors for explaining your psychological, spiritual and physical interaction with the world. Each chakra is also associated with an endocrine organ. We know that physiologically yoga helps to normalize hormone function by having an effect on your endocrine system and the area of your brain responsible for hormone release.
Infertility stirs up intense emotions —anger, guilt, feeling broken, vulnerable, and isolated. It’s not an issue you openly discuss with family or colleagues because it’s so deeply personal. Yoga builds community by gathering you to a shared space for the common goal of quietly acknowledging your struggle. There is power in holding space for unity of purpose and the healing that comes through simultaneously moving and breathing together. You may even come to find a friend or two to walk this journey with you.
Coming in September!
Integrity Women’s Health is excited to offer Fertility Yoga in September at Serenity Yoga. Stay tuned for more information on our six week series this fall!