Yoga is well known for increasing flexibility and fitness but did you know it can actually help you to conceive? Infertility is a common issue in today's society; in fact a study conducted in Adelaide revealed 1 in 6 Australian couples (see page 9) have issues with fertility.
There are many reasons why a couple (or single person) cannot conceive; ovarian cysts, endometriosis, low sperm counts, hormonal imbalances, thyroid irregularities, poor diet and stress to name a few. We are not suggesting that yoga is a ‘cure’ for all, however, as stress can adversely affect fertility; this is one area where yoga can certainly help. In fact, a study involving yoga and meditation, emotional support and changes in diet resulted in 55% of couples having a baby within one year of finishing the program. This was regardless of the cause of the woman’s inability to conceive (unexplained infertility or low sperm counts).
1. Yoga Reduces Stress
Stress plays a huge role in most peoples’ lives; it’s virtually inescapable, so let’s first look at how stress impacts fertility. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and sends our body into ‘fight or flight’ mode. When our SNS is activated a.k.a 'stress response' our body produces the stress hormone cortisol. High cortisol levels reduce fertility because it leads to immune, digestive and reproductive suppression. This reproductive suppression occurs because our body favours the production of cortisol over the creation of sex hormones.
The SNS is a built-in evolutionary response to self-preservation, it's activated when we are perceived to be ‘under attack’. Back in the caveman days this meant running for our lives to escape a predator, whereas in today’ society our SNS can be conditioned to activate if we are under-attack from stress. When the SNS activates it suppresses bodily functions that are not vital for survival, such as reproduction. Instead the SNS begins to divert focus to the vital organs required for ‘flight’ and survival such as increasing the heart rate and directing blood flow to the extremities so we can run away from a predator.
Exposure to on-going stress prolongs the activation of the SNS and in-turn begins to changes how our endocrine system regulates our sex hormones, causing problems with ovulation, egg fertilisation and implantation. But it doesn’t stop there, stress can impact male fertility as well, it can manifest as male sexual dysfunction. Paradoxically, the stress of not being able to conceive also creates stress; it’s a never ending cycle.
So how does yoga help?
Yoga teaches you how to relax and move from your SNS 'stress response' to PNS 'relaxation response' therefore lowering your stress levels, yoga also teaches you how to better manage and deal with stress. This helps to promotes conception in two ways:
1. By restoring the nervous system to its parasympathetic (PNS) state which is essential for our reproductive system to function properly.
2. By balancing the endocrine system so it can regulate our sex hormones and our reproductive health.
2. Yoga Prepares the Body for Conception
Doing specific poses (asanas), such as forward bends and twists promote healthy blood flow and nerve supply to the groin and pelvis, stimulating the reproductive organs which can boost fertility. Other poses open up the hips and pelvic region (in both the ladies and the gents) which helps to break down any scar tissue and release tight muscles that might be restricting the blood flow to the reproductive organs. The increase in blood flow nourishes the endometrial lining in women, greatly improving the possibility of a successful conception and implantation of the egg. As mentioned before, yoga works on the endocrine system. The increase and decrease in physical pressure needed by the endocrine glands and reproductive organs to secrete their hormones is achieved by the postures and breathing techniques practiced in yoga.
3. Yoga Prepares the Mind for Conception
Where the mind goes, the energy flows... Meditation (another aspect of yoga) works to bring calmness to the mind and emotions by bringing your attention to the breath and therefore, into the present moment. Meditation has been proven in many studies to decrease stress levels in both men and women, which we now know will help to improve your chances of having a baby. It doesn’t have to be long, even five to 10 minutes of meditation a day can deliver enormous health benefits. Why not try one of our guided meditation classes.
Best Yoga Practices for Fertility
1. Baddha Konasana (Bound angle pose): This restorative pose helps to open the hips, increases circulation in the pelvis, it also lifts and tones the uterus.
2. Viparita Karani (Legs up the wall pose): This pose promotes blood flow to the pelvic area, releases tension, and calms the nervous system. Some people also suggest trying this pose after intercourse.
3. Ujjayi Breathing (Victorious breath): This breathing technique triggers PNS 'relaxation response' and brings your attention to the present moment.
There are many types of yoga you can practice but when trying to conceive you could fall pregnant at anytime, so we recommend avoiding strenuous exercise or heated forms of yoga. Instead, treat your body like you're already pregnant and choose a slower paced form of yoga, like our Relaxation class or try meditation, especially if you're under going fertility treatment.
The earlier you start, the better your chances will be to conceive and when you do fall pregnant you can continue to practice yoga safely throughout your pregnancy in a specialised Pregnancy Yoga Class.
Don’t forget that practicing yoga is beneficial for the reproductive health of both males and females, so there's no excuse for your partner not to join you on the yoga mat. Plus practicing yoga as a couple will help you to establish a more loving connection between you and your partner. Conception is a shared journey, so it makes sense to focus on your partnership as much as your mind and body. So, why not give it a go? Yoga is a natural alternative fertility treatment and is only a fraction of the cost.