According to the National Infertility Association, infertility continues to be on the rise, with one in eight couples struggling to conceive at any given point. This can often lead to tension within relationships, frustration and increased levels of stress. Although there are many reasons behind infertility, one of the main contributing factors is high levels of stress and anxiety.
How yoga reduces stress
Johannesburg-based yoga teacher and mom, Mandy Walker, started practicing yoga many years ago and found it to be so beneficial for her anxiety (and overall wellbeing) that she started teaching it and has never looked back. Mandy fell pregnant naturally at 39 and believes yoga played a big part in her ability to fall pregnant and maintain a healthy pregnancy post 35.
The practice of yoga is all about encouraging a stronger mind/body connection, while encouraging you to be mindful of your current state of health – both mentally and physically. Through a series of breathing exercises and relaxing poses, yoga has been found to induce a “relaxation response” in the body. This relaxation response brings about a state of happiness, peace and calm, which helps to improve a woman’s reproductive function. “A healthy, balanced body is optimal for sustaining a healthy pregnancy,” says Mandy.
On the flip side, a recent US study conducted by psychologist Dr Alice Domar, found high levels of the stress hormone cortisol can have a few negative physiological effects on the body that not only alter a woman’s delicate hormonal balance, but specifically throw fertility hormones out of whack. The good news is, yoga helps to lower cortisol levels in the body.
“I’ve found yoga to be the single best thing I’ve ever done to de-stress and keep me in touch with my body, balance my emotions and hormones and boost my energy levels. Unfortunately, there’s lots of misinformation out there about yoga and many people are too intimidated to try it. But it’s all about finding the right teacher and the right type of yoga for you. The aim is to ease into it by showing up on a mat once a week – even if it’s just for an hour,” she says.
Mandy believes practising yoga regularly takes the stress out of “trying” to fall pregnant and adds joy and excitement to life. “This is so important for those undergoing fertility treatments of any kind. It helps to balance out the clinical, pressurised aspects of trying to conceive and can make all the difference,” she adds.
The benefits of yoga for fertility
Essentially, by practicing either Yin (restorative) or Vinyasa (flow) yoga once a week or more with an experienced teacher, you’ll:
- Learn to breathe and move in certain ways to counteract stress. “In life, we tend to build the neural pathways that allow us to have a stressed/anxious reaction to various triggers. In other words, we default to using our sympathetic nervous system, which spikes cortisol and adrenaline and depletes our energy,” explains Mandy.
However, yoga counteracts this by encouraging the body to use the parasympathetic nervous system – linked to a feeling of peace and calm. The more we learn to rely on our parasympathetic nervous system, the calmer and more in control we feel. This state of mind also encourages rest and repair, which is critical for the body when it comes to conceiving successfully.
- Be more in tune with your body and use your breath to help shift your stress reactions. Since raised levels of cortisol and adrenaline throw hormones out of whack, learning to still your mind and find more peace has real noticeable effects on hormones that influence fertility.
- Learn which yoga positions regulate hormones. For example, a shoulder stand and fish pose help to regulate the thyroid gland.
- Instantly get in touch with what’s going on inside your body and mind and take measures to restore balance. This allows a natural sense of ease and flow in life and will also help most women to embrace motherhood later.
Yoga also helps to:
- Lower blood pressure – an essential component in fertility and a healthy pregnancy.
- Balance out moods, regulate cravings and reduce addictive tendencies. “This happens naturally,” says Mandy. As your endocrine, digestive, and nervous systems all become regulated through yoga, you’ll naturally sleep better, want to eat healthier, and feel in the mood to be intimate and relaxed with your partner.
To book a private yoga class with Mandy, visit livingyoga.co.za or call 079 887 9512.
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike.