Yoga is often discussed as a cure-all—a completely free resource we can turn to when Western medicine has run out of answers for us. While I am certainly open to yoga’s holistic healing, I always want to know more about why yoga is good for this or that. What does the science say? Meanwhile, in another corner of my mind, I just want to wander out in the moonlight find peace in a vinyasa practice under the night sky. Sometimes, it feels like I’m divided into two parts—the academic who values research and the creative soul who longs to invite a little mysticism into her life.
Yoga, of course, is about yoking, finding connections. In this piece, I’ve tried to engage both “parts” of my writing mind in a discussion of yoga and fertility as I explore the perspectives both science and yoga philosophy have to offer on the matter.
Fortunately, both have positive things to say about yoga and fertility. Whether you’re just starting to think about beginning a family or you’re struggling with certain fertility issues (female or male), it seems that mindfully turning to yoga can help things along. (Of course, yoga is not a replacement for consulting a fertility specialist. Rather, consider it a supplement to a healthy conception process.)
What the Science Says on Yoga and Fertility
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of data directly addressing yoga and fertility, but the data that does exist is promising. A 2013 review noted that adopting a regular yoga practice can improve the quality (both count and motility) of sperm. (Did you hear that, future dads?) The same report explains that yoga reduces stress (of course!), which improves autonomic functions in the body, i.e. the things that happen in our bodies “behind the scenes.”
Indeed, lowering stress and its attendant effects may play a large role improving fertility. The Berkeley Scientific Journal (BSJ) confirms the link between stress and the ability to conceive: “studies from the past several decades demonstrate that high stress levels strongly correlate to infertility in both humans and non-human mammals.” One of the way stress impacts fertility is by interfering with healthy ovulation. But it seems that yoga can help with this.
BSJ discusses one study in which women practiced yoga for three months and were then tested for levels of cortisol (a.k.a “the stress hormone”). The study showed that regular yoga practice reduces levels of cortisol. The implications for this are huge—especially given that women who are struggling with infertility experience stress levels similar to individuals with HIV/AIDs and cancer, according to Harvard Medical School.
So when it comes to regulating hormones, improving circulation, and reducing stress, yoga can definitely play a big part. Other fertility concerns—like blocked fallopian tubes, for example—may be beyond the reach of a regular yoga practice, however. That said, if you’re in the process of working with fertility doctors, yoga can help you cope with any anxiety that process brings.
What Yogic Philosophy Says on Yoga and Fertility
John Friend of Anusara Yoga explains that yoga may help ground us and prepare our bodies for pregnancy. He suggests that when apana vayu, the body’s downward-flowing energy, is pulled upward, women may experience trouble conceiving. The culprit for our errant apana vayu? Feeling unsettled, which “ungrounds” us in more ways than one. To resettle our entire selves, Friend encourages us to practice restorative and grounding yoga positions, including legs up the wall. (In fact, there are several recommended fertility-friendly asanas, also known as fertility yoga.) In our practice of fertility yoga, Friend explains, we should also focus on bringing the mind to the area (i.e. abdomen, hips, baby-making zones).
More generally speaking, yoga can help us bring attention to areas of our lives that we need to confront before we feel emotionally ready for pregnancy. Whether we’re talking a toxic relationship or a bit of personal baggage we’ve been carrying around, chances are we’ve all got some healing to do (whether or not we’re aware of it). Practicing opening poses (like the infamous waterworks-inducing pigeon) can help us unlock what we’ve unconsciously been hiding from ourselves.
Finally, yoga has a way of helping us let go of trying to control a situation—and letting go can have a funny way of making things happen.
Have you experienced positive results from practicing yoga for fertility?
More in Peaceful Practice: Why Your Sex Life Needs Yoga
Related: Why Yoga is Good for Your Marriage
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Photo: Maegan via Flickr