If you’re struggling to fall pregnant, you’re not alone. And after months or even years of “trying”, you may have started to think of love-making as baby-making because, when it’s on your to-do list, it’s just not the same. The overwhelming effects of infertility are not only emotionally and physically challenging, they can often be financially draining, too. Each year, billions of dollars are spent by couples longing to fall pregnant.
It’s hardly surprising that some women have extended their search from the infertility clinic to the yoga mat, but it is more than a tinge ironic that ancient yogis originally used yoga practices to decrease their sexual energy. While it’s long been believed that yoga can transform sexual energy into a heightened level of awareness synonymous with enlightenment, today, yoga teachers are using these ancient practices to increase their clients’ chances of falling pregnant.
If you’re anxious to fall pregnant, yoga practices (including poses, breathing techniques, chanting and meditation) may actually help your body become more receptive to conceiving. Alice Domar’s groundbreaking research at Harvard University shows that patients who received instructions on meditation, yoga and breathing techniques were almost three times as successful at falling pregnant than those who didn’t. “It took me three years to get to where I am now,” says Inge Ruigrok, interior designer, aged 34. “I had a miscarriage before and had been trying to fall pregnant for a long time. I’m now 20 weeks pregnant with my first child and I believe yoga has helped me.”
What’s the cause?
There are many causes of infertility, not least of all stress. According to Rahul Sachdev, MD,specialist in reproductive endocrinology and infertility, yoga combined with conventional medical intervention can relieve stress associated with infertility and vastly increase chances of conception. “Women who are infertile,especially in the long term, are extremely stressed out,” explains Dr Sachdev.“One study has shown that the stress levels of an infertile woman are actually similar to those of someone just told they have HIV.” Dr Sachdev says he has no doubt stress can lead to infertility. “What is controversial,” he adds, “is the question of whether or not stress relief creates fertility.”
The answer to that question seems to be a reverberating “yes” for couples who partook in the Harvard University program. The program incorporated yoga, meditation, emotional supportive group discussions and sharing as well as changes in diet and cutting down on caffeine, alcohol, fats and sugar. The results were outstanding: couples had a 50 per cent fertility rate within one year of finishing the program.
According to Roger Cole, PhD, physiologist and yoga teacher, strong emotions such as fear and anger can cause the body to produce more cortisol (stress hormone) and fewer sex hormones. The good news is that a regular practice of yogic techniques can stabilise your emotions, significantly reduce your stress levels and vastly improve your state of mind. Because there’s an innate connection between your body, breath, mind and emotions, whenever you work with your body and breath (as you do in yoga), it has an uplifting effect on your mind.
Does the style of yoga I do matter?
Helen Scard, Hatha yoga teacher, recommends the more feminine, gentle, slower yoga styles, working around the second chakra (the energy centre in the lower abdomen) and using gentle breathing. “If you want to conceive, your energy needs to move towards relaxation and ease.” The second chakra, svadhisthana, is responsible for sexual reproduction, cellular division and the formation of the human body at the physical level. Therefore,many yoga teachers emphasise poses that stimulate the flow of prana (life-force energy) in this region, helping to restore any imbalance that may be blocking the flow of prana and reducing the chances of becoming pregnant.
Katie Manitsas, doula and dynamic vinyasa yoga teacher, says ashtanga yoga includes a lot of postures unsuitable for women trying to conceive.“Instead, I’d suggest a gentle therapeutic approach without strong backbends and twists, one that’s nourishing for the uterus. Twists stimulate the uterus, helping menstrual blood leave the tissue; if you’re trying to conceive, this is counterproductive. It’s also really important not to overheat the body as it significantly increases the chances of miscarriage, so Bikram yoga is out.”
It’s not uncommon for women who do a lot of athletic exercise for their menstrual cycle to cease. Athletic styles of yoga emphasise masculine energy, focusing more on strengthening and stretching muscles, while gentler styles such as restorative hatha are calming and great for quieting an active mind and settling emotions.
“I used to practise dynamic yoga styles, like Bikram, synergy and then ashtanga yoga,”recalls Inge, who then adopted a gentler, slower style in line with her goal to fall pregnant. “I also had a consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner, who told me I’d fall pregnant. It gave me a lot of faith. He gave me a chant called mantra puspam, which concentrated on flowers and water and is used by women trying to fall pregnant. I don’t know if it was the practice, but when my husband got back from Vietnam, I fell pregnant.”
How important is my diet?
Food is not just about nutrients and vitamins. Everything we eat affects our minds. The mind of the chef when preparing food affects the mind of the person who eats it, which is why Helen suggested to one of her yoga students she move away from a takeaway food diet towards eating food that has been prepared lovingly. “The vibration of the food is very important,” she says. “Also, our Western diet’snot very ‘juicy’ and juicy diets are important if you want to fall pregnant.”
To prepare her body for conception, Inge was advised to eat lots of almonds, avoid alcohol and be on a mainly vegetarian diet. Here are a few other food guidelines you may wish to follow to help prepare your body for conception. Eat plenty of:
- Fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.
- Almonds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds.
- Milk, ghee and yoghurt.
- Sweet, juicy fruits such as mangoes, peaches, plums and pears.
- Dried fruits such as dates, figs and raisins.
- Spices such as ajwain powder, cumin, turmeric, fenugreek, garlic, onion and licorice. (Avoid licorice or fenugreek when you fall pregnant or suspect you are.)
High quantities of caffeine can affect fertility, so you may want to cutout caffeine entirely.
While Yolande Hyde, yoga teacher, childbirth educator and birth supporter, recommends a wholefood diet, eating foods in their simplest form and pulling back from processed foods, Katie recommends that women don’t get too neurotic about their diets. “Yes, eat a healthy, balanced diet and get enough supplements and protein, but also continue to enjoy your life.”
Do I need to surrender?
“In our culture,there’s such a strong push to just carry on as normal when you’re trying to conceive or when you’re pregnant. We need to give ourselves permission to slowdown,” says Katie. “The ability to let go seems to be quite significant when it comes to being ready to conceive. But you can’t tell someone to let go; it happens when it happens. Often, women who are trying to conceive reach a stage where they just give up and then fall pregnant!”
Before you begin creating a yoga practice, it’s a good idea for you and your partner to have a comprehensive physical and psychological examination to determine whether you’re both without conditions that could block conception.
Improved blood flow, oxygen and energy in the lower back (sacral plexus), hips, groin and pelvis can aid in healthier gynaecological function so, if you want to conceive, include poses that stimulate these areas, but don’t forget to also attend to your whole body. The body functions as a whole unit, not separate entities.
The more regular your yoga practice (ideally at least 30 minutes daily), the more you’ll experience the benefits yoga has to offer. Be sure to include various yogic aspects in your practice — not just poses. Ideally, combine restorative poses with gentle breathing techniques,followed by chanting, yoga nidra and meditation.
Yoga routine for fertility
Before you begin the asanas (postures),warm up your body. Gently rotate your joints — wrists, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles — and then move your body in whatever way you’d like to. Get the circulation going — dance, jog lightly or sway your body from side to side. Have fun.
Begin by standing with your feet hip distance apart. Breathe in as you raise your arms above your head, interlacing your hands and turning the palms of your hands to face the sky. Then, on your next exhalation, bend gently to your right side without twisting your hips. As you inhale, come back to the centre and as you exhale, bend to the other side. Repeat up to 5 times.
Wide-angle seated forward bend
Forward bending poses like this stimulate the flow of prana into the lower belly. Sit with your legs 100 degrees wide. If you can’t sit comfortably on the floor or have lower back injury, raise your buttocks on a folded blanket.
Keep your knees pointing upwards. Gently walk your hands forward on an exhalation, keeping your arms long. As with all forward bends, the emphasis is on moving from your hips while keeping your spine straight. If you find yourself bending from your waist, stop, straighten up and continue forward.
To modify this pose, take a bolster or thickly rolled blanket, lay it on the floor in front of you and rest your torso on this as you relax forward.Move forward until you feel a comfortable stretch down the backs of your legs.Stay in this pose for 1–10 minutes. Then come up on an inhalation.
Stand against a wall with your heels in, toes out. Take a breath in. As you exhale, slowly lower your hips towards the floor. Find a comfortable position. If you need to, sit on a folded blanket, cushion or yoga block for support. Use your elbows to widen your knees and thereby bring the energy down into the pelvic region. Hold for a few long, deep breaths. When you’re ready to come out, push yourself up to standing using your legs.
Supported reclining bound angle pose
Reclining poses are helpful because they open and elongate the abdominal area. This pose helps soften and “make space” in the pelvis and lets go of tension in the abdomen, stimulating the flow of blood to the ovaries and Fallopian tubes and stretching the muscles that support the pelvic organs. Avoid this pose if you have knee problems.
Sit with the soles of your feet touching. Place your hands behind you. Gently lower yourself to the floor, supporting your head and neck on a blanket or bolster if needed. Place cushions or blankets under your legs for support if necessary and relax your arms by the side of your body, palms up. Don’t push your knees down in an effort to increase the stretch. On the inhalation, breathe in to your belly, keeping it soft; on the exhalation, imagine all impediments to conception leaving through your breath.
Stay here for 1–10 minutes. To come out, use your hands to press your thighs together, roll to your right side and gently push yourself up.
Supported bridge pose
This pose strengthens and stretches the uterus and Fallopian tubes. Lie on your back and place your feet close to your buttocks, hip distance apart, arms by your side.As you inhale, lift your hips and place a block under the sacrum to support your body. This position helps to gently stimulate the prana in the lower abdominal area. Hold for as long as you are comfortable, taking long, smooth breaths.Lower your body on an exhalation.
This pose helps gently increase micro-circulation in the reproductive tract. You can practise it as part of your yoga sequence and you can practise it after intercourse(which will theoretically keep the sperm inside your body and close to the opening of the uterus).
To set up for this pose, fold a sticky mat into quarters and place it two inches from the wall. Place a round bolster or a firm folded blanket on top of the sticky mat.Place your buttocks on top of the bolster with the sitting bones as close to the wall as possible and take your legs up the wall. Your tailbone should be tilting towards the ceiling. Rest your shoulders, arms and head on the floor. Once in position, allow your legs to soften and bend your knees to allow the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles to relax. The amount of time you spend here is up to you. As you move into and out of the pose, keep your abdominal area soft.
Always complete your practice with 10 minutes of yoga nidra by lying on your back, arms by your sides, eyes closed and gently taking your awareness to each part of your body for a few seconds.
Alternate nostril breathing
“One of the reasons why women can have conception problems is stress,” says Katie. “Breathing practices are great for reducing this.” Alternate nostril breathing calms and prepares the mind for meditation.
Sit comfortably with your spine straight, shoulders relaxed, eyes closed. Place your left hand in chin mudra and your right hand in front of your face (see photo). Begin by gently closing your right nostril and breathing in through your left nostril, slowly and fully. Then close your left nostril and breathe out through your right. Breathe in through the right nostril and then out through the left. This is one round. Complete nine rounds. Take your time.
After doing the alternate nostril breathing, sit quietly for about 10 minutes, observing your breath and any thoughts that enter and leave your mind.
Here are some further practices you can take up when trying to conceive: else can I do?
- Uttar basti — you can buy the necessary equipment to do this genitalia enema from any pharmacy. Carefully follow instructions given in the book Women’s Power to Heal through Inner Medicine.
- Do more “female” activities — massages, facials, buying flowers.
- Go for acupuncture treatments.
- Get the right amount of sleep.
Since sex often becomes emotionally charged and linked with failure (when continually trying to conceive), it may help to take up partner yoga with your partner to allow you to be physical together in a non-sexual way.
While yoga is great physically, what’s even more wonderful is how it affects your mind. I read about a woman who was incredibly healthy, followed every yogic suggestion for fertility and whose doctors confirmed she was fertile. After 10 years of trying, she still couldn’t conceive. Although practising yoga hadn’t helped her conceive, it helped her move forward with contentment and trust that whatever happened would be for her highest good.
First published on wellbeing.com.au