This article is part of a series of Seattle Yoga News articles focused on interviewing local yoga experts in the Seattle area on a variety of yoga topics that are relevant to our readers. This week’s article is focused on Fertility Yoga and is featuring Lynn Jensen, a Seattle yoga teacher and author, who has developed and been leading the Yoga for Fertility program since 2002.
What is Yoga for Fertility and how is it different from a standard yoga practice?
When you attend a Yoga for Fertility class, you will certainly recognize many poses from your regular yoga class or practice. What differentiates yoga for fertility as a practice is which poses and practices we choose to do, the sequencing of those, and sometimes, which poses and practices we choose not to do. In yoga for fertility, we focus on those poses and practices that specifically help prepare us for ovulation, conception and pregnancy.
For example, a typical class will include specific poses for:
- Opening the heart center and pelvic area to increase energy and blood flow
- Stimulating the reproductive organs and glands
- Stress reduction
- Boosting yin energy
- Building life-force energy, and removing energetic blockages
- Balancing hormones and supporting the endocrine system. For example, we may do poses to boost ovarian function, or help regulate the thyroid gland – both of which may impact fertility
As the instructor, I also help students adapt the poses according to where they are in their monthly cycle, since some poses are very helpful during the first half (pre-ovulatory) phase, but may be too stimulative during the second half (post-ovulatory) phase or during an assisted reproductive cycle. We generally avoid poses in a yoga for fertility class that include strenuous core work, which constricts rather than opens the abdominal area, and a lot of yang (heating) poses.
What lifestyle adjustments are helpful when you’re trying to conceive?
My top lifestyle recommendation to support fertility is to reduce your stress levels as much as you can. This may include dropping some extra-curricular activities if you are feeling overly busy, or negotiating to work from home some of the time, or maybe even changing to a lower-stress job.
It can also mean taking a look at your relationships – partner, family and friends, co-workers. If some relationships tend to drain you, rather than support you, you may need to reduce your involvement in these, or even put them on hold for a while, unless you are able to shift them to a more supportive mode.
Even exercise can be a stressor, if you feel obliged to go to the gym for a long workout, on top of an already-lengthy day. It can also be a deterrent to conception. studies have shown that gentle exercise such as yoga, walking and swimming resulted in pregnancies more quickly for those trying to conceive, while being sedentary or doing more vigorous exercise lengthens the time to conceive.
Because there are usually some stressors in our lives that we aren’t able to completely eliminate, it makes sense to have some healthy “de-stressors” built in to your day. This could be a walk in nature, yoga for fertility, a gentle yoga class or home practice, allocating some time for meditation, or doing some creative activity that you find calming. Studies show that doing something that puts you in the “relaxation state” for just 20 minutes a day can offset the effects of many hours of stress.
A healthy, non-inflammatory diet is also important when trying to conceive. Try to increase your intake of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, and decrease sugar and processed foods. If you eat meat or dairy, choose organic to avoid added hormones. It may be worthwhile to get tested for food sensitivities, in order to know which specific foods may increase inflammation in your system. And see if you can replace those lattes with green tea (a cup or two a day). Many Chinese medicine doctors feel that even decaffeinated coffee has toxins that are not helpful when trying to conceive.
Can you recommend a few fertility-supporting poses for people trying to conceive?
Below are a few yoga poses and practices that I consider essential when trying to conceive. Incidentally, these are not just for women!
Centering/calming Breath (Belly Breath)
Lie on your back on your mat with your legs straight, or bend the knees if that is more comfortable for the lower back. Let your body relax and place your hands on your lower belly.
Breathe fully and deeply, allowing the breath to expand into your lower abdomen. On the inhalations, invite the prana into every cell of your body. On the exhalations, visualize stress, defeating thoughts, frustration, etc. all leaving the body. Continue this breathing until you feel calm, and the breath is smooth and even. Ideally, the inhale and exhale should be either equal in length, or the exhale should be a little longer. Pause at the end of the exhale and the end of the inhale, before you start the next breath. This “space” is perhaps the most important part of the breath. Try at least 12 full inhales and exhales, but feel free to do more if your mind hasn’t calmed after 12 breaths.
Why do this?
This centering/calming breathing technique helps the body and mind relax. The deep, conscious breaths send signals to the nervous system, telling it to take the body out of “fight or flight” mode, and move it to “rest and relax” mode instead. This is a great way to reduce the amount of stress hormones in the bloodstream. Allowing the breath to expand the lower belly also helps us overcome cultural conditioning to contract the abdomen and helps to release tension in the pelvic area. Deep breathing is a wonderful way to begin your yoga for fertility practice. It can also be used on its own as a technique any time you need to relax.
Legs Up the Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
Do this pose at a clear space of wall, where you have room to take your legs straight up the wall without bumping into anything. Place your yoga mat lengthwise to the wall.
Start by sitting sideways at the wall, with your left hip just next to the wall and your knees bent. Place your right hand on the floor next to your right hip, and your left hand on the floor behind you. Lean back and take some weight onto your hands. You might even come down onto your left elbow. Next, you will need to swing your legs up the wall so that your sitting bones end up fairly close to the wall. The hands can rest on the low belly or on either side of you about 12 inches away from the body, with the palms facing up towards the ceiling. When you are ready to come out of the pose, draw the knees into the chest and roll onto your right side with your knees bent. Rest for a few breaths before using both hands to press up to a seated position.
Why do this?
You may feel like you are doing nothing once you get into the pose, but don’t be fooled. This pose is one of the most powerful fertility-supporting yoga poses that you can practice. The abdominal organs are nourished and revitalized when the blood from the feet and legs pools in the lower belly. Toxins are removed from the bloodstream, as the blood flows into the lymph glands in the groin. The central nervous system is calmed and the endocrine system is regulated. This pose should be done daily for at least five minutes, during every part of the cycle except when you are menstruating.
What are the odds of success using Yoga for Fertility?
No one can give you a guaranteed program for conception, whether it is yoga, acupuncture or Western fertility treatments. Also, many women or couples are pursuing more than one of those treatment modes simultaneously. However, my experience during the 12+ years I have been teaching Yoga for Fertility classes is that, for women who stay in the class and also practice yoga for fertility at home, the success rate is quite high – definitely over 80 percent. Often, students find my classes after having one or more miscarriages, or after being referred for fertility treatments, or after a failed IVF cycle. This makes the high success rate even more impressive, since students in my classes often come in already knowing they are facing fertility challenges. The benefits of a yoga practice tailored specifically to support fertility, as well as being with a supportive group of women, both contribute to this success.
Interested in more content like this? Get social with us:
- Everything you need to know about Yoga for Healthy Hormones - Dec 16, 2015
- Expert advice on Fertility Yoga with Lynn Jensen - Oct 2, 2015