When it comes to yoga, there are often two camps of people: those who love it and those who ask, “Why bother?” I can definitely see both sides. After all, yoga won’t cure you of your student debt or buy your car a new set of tires.
Everyone knows yoga will help increase your flexibility and build up muscle strength, both of which alone are good reasons to do it — not to mention there are legitimate health benefits of regularly doing yoga. From helping ease back pain to rekindling a sense of focus, yoga is beneficial to the lives of many. It may seem unlikely at first glance, but one of the lesser-known reasons to practice yoga is to help with the fertility of people who wish to conceive.
So what exactly is fertility yoga? Hethir Rodriguez, a certified herbalist, massage therapist and doula who specializes in fertility, says fertility yoga is a specific form of yoga that helps one “nurture, support and strengthen the endocrine and reproductive system.”
The endocrine system, aptly nicknamed the “hormone system,” is made up of a series of glands such as the pituitary, thyroid, ovaries and testes along with the hormones the various glands produce. Therefore, doing yoga poses that help promote a healthy endocrine function strengthens one’s reproductive system, potentially increasing the chances of conceiving.
Attempting to conceive, especially the longer it takes to do so, can be a very stressful time for people. A study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility shows that the more added psychosocial stress a person puts on their body, the harder it is for them to conceive. If the stress is bad enough before and during a pregnancy, it could even potentially cause infertility in future children, leaving a lasting genetic legacy.
Dr. Rahul Sachdev, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said people who have been dealing with infertility issues long-term “are extremely stressed out.” He noted that “the health-enhancing benefits of yoga” mixed with “innovative medical intervention” helps relieve infertility-related stress. That stress relief then vastly improves someone’s chances of conceiving.
I talked with a cis lesbian couple who attempted to conceive using a friend’s sperm about how hard it was for them to conceive and eventually have a baby. The partner that carried the baby said, “We went through a miscarriage and a whole lot of pain before we were finally able to have our baby.”
Her partner agreed and added, “I can only imagine how hard it would have been to have a baby if we weren’t lucky enough to know someone that wanted to help us.” When asked if they thought the extra financial stress of having to do fertility treatments would have made it harder for them to have a child, they responded, “Oh yes, it definitely would have. We were already at our wit’s end.”
As a couple, they began attending fertility yoga classes, and within six months found out they were pregnant. Their first child was born at the end of 2017.
It seems physically getting pregnant isn’t the only benefit of fertility yoga for those who practice it regularly. A joint study conducted by the Fertility Centers of Illinois and the Rush University Medical Center found that people who did just 45 minutes of yoga a week saw their anxiety reduce by an average of 20 percent in just six weeks. Chronic anxiety and stress can impact ovulation by interrupting signals to the hypothalamus and actually make a person ovulate less. It can also affect sperm count, making conception harder.
Attending classes for fertility yoga also has its advantages. According to Dr. Alice Domar, the executive director of Domar Centers for Mind/Body Health and director of integrative care at Boston IVF, fertility yoga classes allow someone the chance to interact with people similarly experiencing fertility problems, offering a social support system. A feeling of acceptance can be vital for the mental health and stress levels of someone having a hard time having a baby.
Yasaman Dehkordi, a 31-year-old from Maryland, had three miscarriages before discovering fertility yoga. She said everyone “who attended [was] experiencing the same feelings and going through different steps of the journey, which in ways helps you on your journey. The best part — we felt like we weren’t alone.”
Domar also stated that doing yoga for fertility allowed people to relax their bodies and “establish a more loving connection with a body they may feel angry at for failing them.” She also recommends doing fertility yoga with a spouse or partner, which allows physical intimacy in nonsexual manner, citing that sex often “becomes emotionally charged and linked with failure,” especially after failure to conceive. Yoga benefits the general health of a person, improving sleep, increasing body image and improving nutrition, all of which increase the chances of conceiving.
As a practice, fertility yoga may be able to help decrease your anxiety if nothing else. I asked the lesbian couple who recently had a baby how they thought yoga helped them conceive, and the partner who gave birth said, “It just made me feel like myself again, who I was before trying to get pregnant took over our lives. It helped me get through my grief [of the miscarriage]. Over time, I could feel myself growing. It was mental and physical. Then one day, I noticed I hadn’t gotten my period for a while, took a test and found out I was pregnant. It was the best day of my life.”