Among the sentiments I hear most often from women who are struggling with infertility is a feeling of powerlessness to affect their situation. The moment you receive the diagnosis, you are forced to confront your inability to perform (what you always assumed was) a simple, basic, human function.
When my husband and I realized our dreams of starting a family would not be achieved as easily as we had always imagined, we struggled with whether to pursue medical intervention or alternative therapies, explore adoption, or accept that parenthood was not part of our journey. Equally challenging for me was ceding control over something that was (not) happening in my own body.
At the time, I was enrolled in an advanced yoga teacher training program in which we were required to research and explore the connection between yoga and any topic of personal interest. This was one decision I didn’t have to think twice about: I knew immediately that I wanted to study the connection between yoga and fertility. In my years of teaching and practicing yoga I had seen how yoga had proved beneficial in the lives of my students, and I had experienced its benefits personally. Yoga had enabled me to recover from – and prevent – running injuries. It helped me overcome a period of distorted body image and disordered eating. And I was desperate to believe it could provide some guidance in my current struggles.
I am pleased to tell you that through this experience, I learned that yoga CAN help enhance the body’s ability to conceive. Research demonstrates many benefits of yoga for enhancing fertility – from reducing physical and emotional stress to stimulating circulation and blood flow in the reproductive center and throughout the body. And in the five years I have been teaching Yoga and Fertility workshops and working one-on-one with women struggling to become pregnant I have seen yoga make a difference for hundreds of women battling infertility.
At the same time, it would be irresponsible to suggest that yoga is a guaranteed one-way-ticket to motherhood. The barriers to conceiving and carrying a child to term are as unique as the individuals who are experiencing them, but I can think of no reason (unless your doctor has told you otherwise!) not to incorporate this healing practice as part of whatever approach you choose to start a family. While no single list of poses can capture the many ways yoga can support you on your journey, the following suggestions are a great place to start:
What: Butterfly (Baddha Konasana Variation)
Why: Hip opening postures target the muscles and connective tissue surrounding the reproductive organs. This pose comes from the yin tradition, which emphasizes longer holds and enables us to target the deeper connective tissue beneath the muscles.
How: From a seated position, bring the soles of the feet together, and allow your hands to rest on your shins. Drop your chin to your chest, and allow yourself to fold forward with a rounded spine. For additional support, you can rest your head on your feet or a block. (Hold for 3-5 minutes)
What: Goddess (Utkata Konasana)
Why: This pose has the advantages of a hip opening posture while also strengthening the major muscle groups of the legs. Longer holds of this pose challenge the yogini to tap into and really experience her inner strength.
How: From standing, step feet 3-4 feet apart and turn them out at a roughly 45 degree angle. Begin to squat, aligning knees over the ankles and striving to bring thighs parallel to the floor. Lift elbows to shoulder height, extending fingers toward the sky with palms facing forward. (Begin by holding for 10 breaths, then rest and repeat up to five times. Gradually extend the length of each hold to one full minute)
What: Yogic Squat (Malasana)
Why: This pose is also a hip opener, and it adds a grounding quality. In yoga we talk about the movement of energy, and this pose stimulates “apana vayu” – or the downward flowing energy that is most active in the pelvic and lower abdominal regions and regulates eliminative functions, including the menstrual flow.
How: Start standing with feet hip distance apart. Lower your hips to a squat. If heels lift away from the mat, you can support them with a blanket, or step feet farther apart. Bring palms together and press elbows against your inner thighs. (Begin by holding for 10 breaths, then rest and repeat up to five times. Gradually extend the length of each hold to one full minute)
What: Supported Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Why: Supported poses help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and are said to reduce anxiety and fatigue. In addition, the physical sensation of allowing props to support your weight can also help you gain comfort with the idea of accepting help from a partner or friend during an emotionally challenging time.
How: Lay on your back with feet on the floor, hip-distance apart and toes pointed forward. Tilt your pelvis to lift the hips away from the floor, and place a block beneath your sacrum. (Hold for 3-5 minutes)
What: Reclined Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Why: Both a gentle hip opener and a supported posture, I like to end fertility yoga classes with this pose. It is an excellent posture for meditation and breathing exercises and invites students to let go and release.
How: Lay on your back with knees bent and the soles of the feet together (similar to butterfly). Let your hands rest on your belly, and feel it rise and fall with each breath. For additional support, place a bolster, pillow, or rolled up blanket beneath your spine and another beneath each knee. (Hold for 5-15 minutes)