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Why I Recommend Yoga If You're Having Trouble Getting Pregnant: A Fertility Doctor Explains

Dr. Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron
June 24, 2016
Photo by Stocksy
June 24, 2016

After years of religiously using birth control, you’ve decided to pull the goalie.

Trying for a baby was fun at first. But it’s no longer as much fun when you're using an ovulation prediction kit and taking negative pregnancy tests month after month. Now you’ve made an appointment with a fertility center and wondering if you'll need to do IVF.

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Trust me, you aren’t alone. One in eight couples experiences fertility issues. Trying to conceive can be stressful, and if you're undergoing fertility treatment, it can be downright overwhelming.

It's not surprising that 30 percent of IVF patients suffer from anxiety and depression. In fact, studies have shown that trouble conceiving can cause the same amount of stress, anxiety, and depression as an HIV or cancer diagnosis.

The weight of anxiety and depression causes many to drop out of fertility treatment before reaching the goal of parenthood. Plus, the negative effects of stress on the body have been well-documented, and these factors could also affect IVF outcomes.

To study effective anxiety and stress reduction techniques for those experiencing fertility struggles, the team at Fertility Centers of Illinois and Pulling Down the Moon completed a Yoga for Fertility program and measured the impact on patients. It was one of the largest controlled studies to date analyzing the impact of yoga on fertility.

Study participants completed 45 minutes of vinyasa-style yoga and 30 minutes of group discussion with other patients once a week over a period of six weeks. Each yoga practice included a gentle series of flowing yoga poses. Group discussion centered on how to apply different yoga techniques (breathing, meditation, working with negative thoughts, and so on) to the fertility journey.

Not only did the yoga program significantly lower anxiety rates by 20 percent in fertility patients, stress relief was achieved quickly, providing an immediate opportunity to improve mental and physical well-being.

How did something as simple as yoga, breathing, and group discussion help with anxiety and stress so quickly? We believe there are three main reasons these techniques were helpful:

1. Nerve stimulation activates your relaxation response.

As a low-intensity form of exercise that works on the physical body, yoga stretches and bends the spine and limbs, emphasizing deep diaphragmatic breathing in a way that's believed to mechanically stimulate the body's relaxation response.

It's hypothesized that yoga poses and breathing exercises mechanically stimulate the vagus nerve, a large nerve running the length of the spine that is a key regulator of our body's parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS in turn stimulates the relaxation response.

2. Breathing and meditation are key relaxation components.

The yoga program in this study included breathing and meditation practices, which have been shown to decrease anxiety and alleviate depression in many different conditions. Taking a deep belly breath and counting to six for a few minutes can do wonders to refresh your state of mind.

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3. A supportive community reduces isolation.

The yoga program in this study also included group discussion centered on multiple stressful elements of the fertility process—medical aspects, feeling of lack of control, separation from one's usual peer group, and feelings of guilt and self-blame. The group dynamic immediately reduces the sense of isolation and offers a safe support network with others who can relate.

If you are trying to conceive and not feeling like yourself, remember that self-care and community support are paramount to your peace and happiness. When you are feeling overwhelmed, try taking 10 deep breaths to center yourself. To get a break from the stream of thoughts running through your mind, give yourself a one-hour break by focusing on yoga. No matter how small the action, our study shows that just over an hour a week can make a huge difference.

To give yoga a try at home on your own, I recommend following the Moon Salute Sequence in this video, led by Beth Heller of Pulling Down the Moon.

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Dr. Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron author page.
Dr. Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron

Dr. Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron is a reproductive endocrinologist with Fertility Centers of Illinois and is board certified in both Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility. Her professional interests include fertility preservation, which involves preserving fertility for women facing diseases of which treatment could impair ovarian function, as well as women choosing to delay fertility for social or personal reasons. Dr. Hirshfeld-Cytron’s personal practice philosophy stems not only from her clinical expertise but from her experience as a woman and a mother.