What are the positive impacts of yoga for fertility and overall wellness? The founder of Fertile Yoga explores the benefits of fertility yoga, ways to modify yoga poses for your needs, yoga mistakes to avoid, and why she believes in the power of getting on the mat.
In this article:
Yoga is for Every Body
Anyone can do yoga. That is a premise that I believe in fully, with my whole heart and mind. No matter how muscular, flexible, young, or old you are, no matter what you weigh or what modifications need to be made. Because at its core, yoga is all about breathing.
Let’s explore what yoga is, why yoga is so beneficial for fertility, mental health, and overall wellness, and how it can be especially helpful for those experiencing fertility challenges.
What is yoga?
To me, yoga is loosely defined as the union of breath and movement. Breath creates movement, so even simply breathing (with your diaphragm rising and falling) is movement.
The origins of yoga are rooted in Indian philosophy. While it began as a spiritual practice, it has gained mainstream popularity as a way of promoting physical and mental well-being.
3 Key Benefits of Yoga for Fertility
Yoga has well-researched benefits that are accessible from your very first practice, including stress relief, supporting good health habits, and improving mental/emotional health, sleep, and balance, according to the National Institutes of Health.
So while there haven't yet been any large-scale studies performed proving that yoga improves fertility, research has shown that the positive benefits of yoga on overall health and wellbeing are significant.
Let's dive in to three of the biggest benefits of yoga for fertility:
1. Reduces Stress & Anxiety
Fertility issues are (understandably) a major source of stress and overwhelm. One of the main benefits of yoga is its positive impact on mental health. Yoga can help to combat the difficulties of undergoing fertility treatment or fertility-related challenges by promoting mental and physical relaxation, which in turn reduces stress and anxiety.
In 2020, a comprehensive review of research on the effect of yoga among those undergoing fertility treatment suggested that "yoga therapy has a potential positive impact on mental health of women undergoing infertility treatment."
In addition, practicing yoga can help release emotion, relieve tension, alleviate pain, and encourage the body to release mood-boosting endorphins, which help us manage stressors more effectively.
2. Lessens Physical Side Effects
For those undergoing fertility treatment that include hormonal medications (such as IUI or IVF), yoga can help reduce some of the unpleasant side effects, like bloating, nausea or fatigue. While yoga cannot directly treat or cure underlying medical conditions, it can provide relief of some of these uncomfortable physical symptoms in some patients.
3. Builds Mindfulness & Resiliency
One of the most helpful aspects of yoga is that it encourages you to concentrate on your breathing and movements, which helps you remain in the present moment (instead of feeling anxious about present or future outcomes). This can lead to a positive shift in perspective, help replenish your emotional strength, and result in an increased sense of resiliency.
In turn, feeling more optimistic, strong, and resilient can help you keep going with fertility treatment when things get tough, which increases your chances of success.
Yoga also promotes:
- Increased self-awareness
- A more gentle and loving way to move and inhabit your body
- Reduction of stress and anxiety in a somatic and spiritual way
- A reminder to be more mindful of your breathing
- An opportunity to pause your busy life and step away from technology
Above all, think of yoga as a time to offer some love and attention to yourself. You deserve it!
How Yoga Changed My Life
My mother began her own yoga practice when she was 41 (I was 15) and yoga was not yet "cool" or widely practiced (this was over 40 years ago). She was viewed as the strange mother in the neighborhood, but still - I was intrigued.
Years later, I returned to yoga for the calming effects and physical relief that it offered, helping me through two pregnancy losses and more than six years of infertility and fertility treatment.
I jumped at the opportunity to study with a yoga teacher who’d inspired and motivated me for years. My initial 200-hour yoga teacher training included all the things you might expect, like anatomy, sequencing, poses, Sanskrit, history, philosophy, and other components.
One unexpected gift was the opportunity to choose a specific area of concentration. As a Patient Advocate here at Illume Fertility and as someone who had struggled to build my own family, I chose to focus on the particular needs of those in fertility treatment.
The Origins of Fertile Yoga
After many decades of experience and seeing the many benefits of yoga in my own life, I decided to develop a yoga program specially-designed with fertility patients in mind.
I went on to acquire my 500-hour yoga teacher training, choosing to focus on writing curriculum for Fertile Yoga, as well as developing yoga programs for those dealing with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis.
This emphasis, along with the mentorship of Dr. Spencer Richlin of Illume Fertility, gave me the confidence to launch one of the few studies on yoga accepted by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). The results of the study showed that Fertile Yoga could decrease sadness and stress and increase hopefulness.
That is the short version of how Fertile Yoga came into being, nearly 14 years ago.
Why do fertility patients need special yoga poses?
With so many widely accepted and beneficial styles of yoga available already (Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin, Hot Yoga, Ashtanga, Kripalu, and others), why was it necessary to create a new style of yoga? Well, I discovered that there was no style of yoga specifically for those in fertility treatment, and fertility patients require special considerations and modifications.
How to Start Practicing Yoga for Fertility
There are so many accessible ways to practice yoga!
While every body is a yoga body, and you should feel welcome in any class, you may feel less pressure or discomfort practicing yoga in the privacy of your own home.
There are wonderful free classes on YouTube and virtual classes on Zoom. If you prefer to try a class in person, check out your local Parks & Recreation department, a local gym, a community yoga studio, or ask friends for recommendations.
A trained yoga teacher can show you how to perform basic yoga poses and educate you on which ones are ideal for fertility. If you’re a seasoned yogi, try to incorporate poses such as Viparita Karani, Baddha Konasana, and Supta Baddha Konasana into your routine.
Reminders for Anyone New to Yoga
Whether you are an experienced yogi or have never taken a class, it is important to know these three key things:
- Yoga should be personal: it’s your practice! Modify it to suit your individual needs.
- Everyone who is able to breathe (even those who need to lie down or sit without moving their arms and legs) is able to practice yoga.
- Fertile Yoga is based on the premise of honoring yourself, your body, and your intuition. Some participate by engaging in all of the poses offered, some participate by lying quietly for the entire class. Simply focus on balancing your mind, body, and spirit through movement, breath, and rest.
Yoga Mistakes to Avoid
Two of the biggest mistakes you can make in yoga are 1) not taking the chance and trying a class or 2) taking a single class and immediately deciding yoga isn’t right for you!
There are so many types of yoga and different ways to practice yoga. Keep trying until you find a style that feels right for you. Remember: No one is an instant expert the first time they attempt something. Give yourself the gift of trying again.
Don’t Be Afraid to Modify Yoga Poses
In any class, you can and should modify poses to suit your own needs. Only you know if a pose is right for you at any given moment. Here are some good general rules to follow:
- If you’re unsure about a pose, modify it by reducing the intensity of the pose by 40-60%
- Bend your elbow and knee joints less to keep your hips and shoulders safe
- Don’t hyperextend your arms or raise them above your head if it feels uncomfortable - simply rest your hands on your hips
- Sit in a chair to take pressure off of your joints or other sore parts of your body so you can still reap the benefits of the practice
- Stay on your mat and rest as you need to - whether guided by the teacher or not
- Remember, you live in this body, you get to decide what feels right for you
- Try new things as you feel comfortable and always keep your goals in mind
Be Gentle With Yourself
A phrase I often say while teaching (and just as often in my own head), when I’m in a yoga class or doing my own practice, is less is not less, and more is not more. In yoga, this is particularly true. Allow yourself to practice at your own pace, being mindful of what you need in the present moment.
Find what works for you, don’t compare your abilities to anyone else, and remember that yoga isn’t a competition - it’s all about the individual (that’s you). We invite you to join us for a free virtual Fertile Yoga class soon.
Enjoy your practice!
With 30+ years experience in the fertility field, as well as navigating her own infertility, Lisa has dedicated her life to advocating for and supporting those struggling to grow their families. Her work includes serving as Illume Fertility's Patient Advocate, Strategic Content Lead, and founder of Fertile Yoga, as well as advocating for those with infertility at RESOLVE and other organizations.