In the United States, about 7.3 million women suffer from infertility. Both the struggle to get pregnant and the treatment for infertility itself can be very stressful, and stress has been shown to reduce the probability of conception. As natural healing remedies are gaining acceptance among Western medicine practitioners, stress-relieving activities such as yoga and meditation are being recommended more often as a complement to medical fertility treatments.
Stress-Relieving Activities Can Produce Positive Body Changes
During periods of stress, the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter, which impacts fertility. The release of the hormone cortisol can also impede reproductive hormone function. Stress can also trigger the inflammation pathway in the body. Anything that minimizes stress can be beneficial for those seeking to conceive.
Research from the July 2008 issue of the journal PLoS One, finds that mind-body techniques such as yoga and meditation can put the body into a state of deep rest known as the relaxation response. This may physically help change the body’s response to stress. The relaxation response is characterized by a reduction in oxygen intake, an increase in the exhalation of nitric oxide and lower psychological distress.
A more recent study, published in May 2010 in the journal Fertility and Sterility, found that women who participate in mind-body training have a significantly higher pregnancy rate than women who do not – 52% compared to 20%. In addition to yoga and meditation practices, repeated prayer, progressive muscle relaxation, and body scan relaxation techniques are also found to be beneficial in reducing stress.
Yoga may also have physical benefits that lead to increased fertility. The strength and flexibility gained from a gentle yoga practice may improve circulation that can regulate the menstrual cycle. The poses performed may help open up the hips to help align the uterus properly, making conception more viable. The physical activity may also help reduce some of the weight gain brought on by IVF treatments.
Classes specializing in “fertility yoga” may also offer support for women trying to become pregnant. “Being able to open up in a safe environment with support and encouragement of others on the journey, everyone became each other’s cheerleader,” says one supporter of yoga for fertility programs.
Alice Domar PhD, the director of the mind/body services at Boston IVF, affiliated with Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says, “(Yoga) is a very effective relaxation technique, and a great way to get women in the door to get support. It’s a way to get them to like their bodies again.”
Dr. Robert Kiltz, founder and director of the CNY Fertility and Healing Arts Center adds, “Yoga for fertility is a powerful practice that helps men and women reduce stress and anxiety, become more mindful and centered, and therefore, improve the body’s ability to conceive”.
Journal References Cited in this Article Include:
“Genomic Counter-Stress Changes Induced by the Relaxation Response.” Jeffery A. Dusek, Hasan H. Out, et al. PLoS ONE 3(7): e2576, Published online 2 July 2008 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0002576
“The use of complementary and alternative fertility treatment in couples seeking fertility care: data from a prospective cohort in the United States” James F. Smith, Michael L. Eisenberg, et al. Fertility and Sterility – 1 May 2010 (Vol. 93, Issue 7, Pages 2169-2174, DOI: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2010.02.054)