Fertile Ground – Preconception Yoga

Sometimes it feels weird when a new student turns up for their very first time at my little yoga studio in Stellenbosch, and it transpires that they are the only one attending the class. Not weird for me, but weird in that I know that the person in question is likely to feel totally in the spotlight and that they can’t escape my gaze, and that that may make them feel uncomfortable.

And what I’ve realised over time is that these things ALWAYS happen for a reason. Every single time it has happened, it turns out that there is a very real need for us to have some one-on-one time together, without other students. I recently had a situation like this and, given the specific topic that we ended up discussing somewhere between Cat and Cow,  it reawakened my passion about using yoga as a tool in falling pregnant, or to deal with the sometimes overwhelming stresses of trying to do so, or in handling infertility issues or procedures.

It just brought home how very many people take it for granted that pregnancy is just a God-given right and that it will happen, on cue, when you decide that the time is right. As I, and so many other people know, this is absolutely not the case at all. Pregnancy – from the point of conception to a full-term, healthy pregnancy, labour and subsequent birth, healthy baby and mother – is nothing less than a full-blown miracle, and one that so very many yearn for and are simply not able to experience, due to a myriad of reasons, none of which are due to any fault or failing of their own.

I read an article by Denise Kersten Wills, a writer based in Washington, DC, about how calming techniques taught in fertility yoga classes can support women on the path to pregnancy, and I wanted to share some of the salient points with those of you that are interested.  Read on, or visit the original article here.

After more than a year of trying to get pregnant, Michelle Cutler was beginning to feel deeply disappointed, anxious, and frustrated with her body. Cutler was just 32 but had long suffered from polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal imbalance that’s one of the most common causes of female infertility.

Cutler tried fertility drugs and two rounds of intrauterine insemination without success. It seemed as though every woman she knew was moving on to motherhood while she stood still. “I felt so stuck,” she says, “like my life was on hold.”

Through the Fertility Centers of Illinois, a consortium of clinics where she received treatment, Cutler learned about Pulling Down the Moon, a holistic fertility center in Chicago that offers yoga, acupuncture, massage, and other treatments. Cutler began taking fertility yoga—gentle classes that emphasize breath, relaxation, and opening the muscles around the hips and pelvis.

Similar programs are cropping up at yoga studios and fertility centers across the country, driven by patient demand and doctors’ growing interest in alternative therapies. Some fertility yoga classes are designed for women with diagnosed problems, but others welcome those who are just beginning to prepare themselves for pregnancy. While there’s been little research on whether fertility yoga aids conception, other research about yoga and stress suggests it may.

And yogic philosophy can help women stop trying to control the process. “As they say, ‘You can’t force the river,'” says Brenda Strong, a yoga instructor who teaches fertility yoga at UCLA’s Mind/Body Institute. “The idea is to invite the river to flow through you.” Some women report that after they stopped struggling to get pregnant, they conceived. Others imagined parenthood in a new way—by deciding to adopt, becoming a godparent, or focusing on a creative project.

When Cutler first tried fertility yoga, she was emotionally depleted from the failed insemination attempts and was preparing to try in vitro fertilization (IVF). Yoga, she says, helped her stay grounded. “I felt so nurtured and so cared for,” she says. “I experienced a sense of calm, and I hadn’t felt that in so long.”

She also noticed physical changes. “I started to actually feel like I was opening my hips and making my body ready to receive embryos,” Cutler says. And within just a few months, she became pregnant through IVF and now has twin daughters, Ella and Brady. Cutler can’t prove it, but she is convinced that yoga helped her have a successful pregnancy.

When Strong began researching infertility in 1996, little information about fertility yoga was available. Strong, an actress who plays Mary Alice on ABC’s Desperate Housewives, wanted a second child but was struggling to get pregnant. She wasn’t able to find what she wanted elsewhere, so she developed her own fertility yoga program, which she began teaching at UCLA in 2000.

Since then, interest has grown. “Especially in the last year, it seems to have hit a critical mass,” Strong says. One reason is that science still can’t explain many aspects of infertility, which affects 12 percent of women of childbearing age in the U.S. Approximately 20 percent of cases are considered “idiopathic,” meaning doctors can’t identify the cause.

Subduing Stress

Stress, however, is known to raise the likelihood of infertility, and yoga is very effective at reducing stress. Women who have trouble conceiving experience anxiety and depression rates similar to those of patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other serious illnesses, according to a study from Harvard Medical School. And even women without fertility problems can find trying to have a baby—a mysterious process ultimately beyond our control—an anxiety-inducing experience.

The links between stress and infertility are complex and not fully understood, but cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, can interfere with ovulation, says Eve Feinberg, a reproductive endocrinologist with the Fertility Centers of Illinois. Lower stress levels and having a positive mood and outlook can increase the odds that fertility treatments will work.

Perhaps the strongest evidence that reducing stress (through yoga and other means) can boost fertility comes from a study by Alice Domar, PhD, of Harvard Medical School. She created a fertility program at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and later opened the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health.

In 2000 Domar found that 55 percent of infertility patients became pregnant (and had a baby) within one year of participating in her 10-session program, in which they were introduced to yoga and meditation, along with other relaxation techniques and acupuncture. In a control group, just 20 percent had babies.

“Yoga is really good for patients who are highly anxious, and fertility patients tend to be anxious,” Domar says. “A lot of these patients are angry with their bodies for not doing what they want. Yoga gets them back in touch with their bodies.” Domar warns, though, that vigorous exercise may impede fertility, and she suggests women avoid physically demanding forms such as Ashtanga and Power Yoga if they are having trouble conceiving.

East Meets West

Of course, yoga is not a silver bullet, particularly for problems such as blocked fallopian tubes. “We can help with the hormone regulation, stress levels, and blood-flow issues,” says yoga teacher and Pulling Down the Moon cofounder Tami Quinn, but she urges women to consult doctors. “The East-meets-West approach is the fastest way to meet your goal.”

Any woman who wants to enhance her reproductive health—whether or not she has diagnosed infertility—can benefit from yoga, says Eden Fromberg, an obstetrician/gynecologist with Soho OB‑GYN and founder of Lila Yoga, Dharma & Wellness in New York City. “Stress is harmful to just about everything physiologically,” she says. “When the body feels like it doesn’t have enough energy, it will start to shut down the less crucial functions. One of those is reproduction.”

During her fertility yoga workshops, Fromberg introduces students to Fertility Awareness, a practical method of charting physical signals (such as body temperature and cervical fluid) each day to find out when a woman is able to conceive. Studies have shown that couples trying to get pregnant have much better odds if they know when the woman is fertile, and some women find a sense of empowerment when they tune in closely to their own fertility cycle.

When Leslie Pearlman and her husband began trying to have a baby four years ago, she did her best to push the what-ifs out of her mind. Pearlman, a Forrest Yoga instructor from Hampton Bays, New York, was 35 at the time. What if she had difficulty getting pregnant? Worse, what if she couldn’t conceive at all? She found comfort in being able to read her body’s fertility signals. “I had this wisdom I was tapping into,” she says. After three months, she became pregnant with her daughter, Maya, now a toddler.

Letting Go

While the medical profession views yoga as helpful for fertility primarily because it reduces stress, yogis see much broader benefits. It balances hormones, opens the hip and pelvic areas, and improves the flow of energy through the body.

In nearly 30 years of teaching, John Friend has helped many women with fertility issues. The founder of Anusara Yoga, Friend says he’s noticed a pattern: Often, the apana vayu, the body’s downward-flowing energy system that’s involved in reproduction, is pulled upward, usually because women are unsettled in some way. “You literally get ungrounded,” says Friend. To the trained eye, he says, it’s easy to recognize the biomechanical signs—thigh bones that are pulled up and forward in the hip socket and a tailbone that doesn’t properly scoop downward.

Friend recommends basic hip openers, such as a lunge with one knee on the floor. Another simple position is to come to all fours, then rest one cheek on the floor, feeling the pelvic floor dilate on the inhale and contract on the exhale. “You have to bring the mind to the area,” he says.

Friend believes that women with fertility problems would benefit from any nurturing yoga class—not just those billed as fertility yoga—as long as they learn proper alignment. Beginners should stick to simple poses, he says.

Viparita Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose) is often taught to women preparing to conceive because it is calming and brings energy to the pelvis. Many instructors also highly recommend Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose), a restorative hip opener, as well as (Seated Forward Bend) and Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), both of which are relaxing.

Deep twists and positions like Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), which puts pressure on the abdomen, can provide good preparation for reproduction. But women should avoid those poses when they might be pregnant, as the positions could interfere with implantation or harm the fetus, Fromberg says. Positive visualizations, heart openers, and poses that foster self-nurturing can help women cope with stress and disappointment.

Debbi Cooper, a self-described “control freak” who had multiple miscarriages, recalls a yoga class in which she grew frustrated trying to do a handstand. “I remember thinking, ‘It’s just like infertility,'” she says. “Sometimes you try as hard as you can to make something happen, but it still doesn’t work when you want it to.” When she got home, Cooper told her husband to watch as she demonstrated what she was doing wrong. “All of a sudden I got up there effortlessly,” she says.

The lesson: “Sometimes you really do need to let go,” Cooper says. In 2007 she gave birth to her son, Gabe. “I don’t know if yoga helped me get pregnant,” she says, “but it helped me find peace in a very stressful time”.

I echo Cooper’s point: at a time that The Band and I had been told in no uncertain terms, by two independent infertility specialists, that there was zero chance of us having a baby on our own without any intervention, and after too many procedures to count – and actually being warned specifically NOT to try to fall pregnant as it would definitely result in an ectopic pregnancy (if by some miracle fertilisation did occur) – we finally stopped trying, chilled out and let go. I was totally immersed in my yoga practice at this stage, The Band started playing a lot more golf, we went on a holiday to Mexico and kayaked and drank a lot of Margharitas and didn’t talk about babies at all for a while, and then our first miracle happened.  As many of these cases, I’m not putting it down to yoga, but in situations like the above, it’s a case of ‘nothing to lose, everything to gain’, so why not give it a shot?

Sending love, light and empathy to all of you that are working through this same thing. Stay strong. Breathe. Believe in miracles. Trust the process of life. Namaste.

Pairing Yoga and Wine?

Just read an interesting article by yoga instructor Jill Lawson called ‘Pairing Yoga and Wine Blends Complementary Health Benefits’. Being a wine lover who is fortunate enough to live in South Africa’s beautiful wine-growing region, it comes as no surprise that I literally inhaled (sorry) the facts she cites, but I’m pretty sure that there are a lot of yogis out there that will be up in arms about what she is saying. I’m curious to see what sort of reaction she gets, but I trust that those nay-sayers note that she’s not advocating over-indulging, but rather freedom of choice, moderation and balance.

Read the full article below or click here to go straight to the original post.

Increased levels of heart-healthy high-density lipoproteins, better sleep, and reduced anxiety are just a few of the shared benefits of yoga and…can you guess? Wine!

As yoga rises in popularity, yoga and wine retreats are also making an appearance as some of the most sought after vacations in the world of self-pampering spa-like escapes.

In addition to booking a week of yoga and wine tasting at some fabulous resort with some fabulous instructor, such as Wine and Yoga in Tuscany with Sadie Nardini, yoga studios and businesses are also taking advantage of the delightful combination loved by so many.

For example, The W Hotel in San Diego is on the cutting edge of the wine and yoga craze by offering the popular Vino and Vinyasa series sponsored by Lululemon Athletica. Consisting of an all-level vinyasa flow class followed by wine and appetizers, yoga and wine lovers can take to the hotel’s rooftop to strut their poses before satisfying their palates.

But, it is not just businesses and retreat centers who are keenly tuned in to the dynamic relationship between wine and yoga. Colleen Saidman, wife of acclaimed yoga teacher Rodney Yee, has partnered with Estancia winery to assist in their campaign to sell wine. Pairing wines with health tips, Saidman believes that yogis need not steer clear of drinking alcohol, but rather find an appropriate balance and avoid overindulging.

As with anything, moderation is the key. Just as too much yoga can cause injury and harm to the body, drinking too much wine also has its own set of nasty side effects. While yoga may help relieve the symptoms of a hangover, the idea is to find the perfect pairing that fosters one’s health, not conquers it.

All people may not accept drinking, even in moderation. Some yogis may even frown upon drinking wine after yoga, or at any time for that matter. Everyone has his or her own personal preferences of how to act, and either belief shouldn’t arouse judgment or condemnation.

I personally love a smooth and light glass of pinot noir after flowing through a slow and mild vinyasa class. The lingering finish of savasana is the best precursor to the bouquet of oak and berries that is to follow. The first sip feels nothing more than a continuation of my yoga practice; body relaxed, mind at ease, and heart warm and happy.

About Jill — Yoga Instructor Twitter: @JillLawsonYoga http://www.jilllawsonyoga.com/
Jill Lawson has been a fitness professional for 20 years, and has concentrated on yoga for more than 10 years. She has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science, and a master’s in physical education. This yogi lives in Southwest Colorado where she teaches yoga and Pilates.

Abundance

As we wait, (im)patiently, for our funding to come through for TRADE-MARK (my day job), so reading this beautiful quote today felt very timeous: The universe operates through dynamic exchange… giving and receiving are different aspects of the flow of energy in the universe, and in our willingness to give that which we seek, we keep the abundance of the universe circulating in our lives.
~Deepak Chopra

I have been working on a voluntary basis since middle of July, and I am absolutely confident that things are going to fall into place, but I can’t deny the fact that we (the Band and I) are feeling the pinch of me not earning more than I do through my yoga teaching. The way that things have worked out so perfectly what with getting Derryn on board at the studio, freeing me up to do my TRADE-MARK thang during the day whilst keeping my hand in with my teaching (which I cannot imagine not having in my life!) just does make me believe that it’s meant to be, and I’m finding that I just have to dig really deep to keep believing in the abundance of the universe, and that there is enough to go around, and it’s just a matter of time! It’s a very basic yogic principle, and one that I am keeping front of mind as an absolute priority.

I am so inspired by the incredible tradesmen that I am working with, speaking to on almost a daily basis now, and hearing the singularly wonderful feedback that they are getting from jobs that they have done, that I can’t imagine not being involved in this incredible project. It has got to happen! Watch this space… and if you know of anyone with shallow pockets and long arms (a lovely Irish saying that I learnt from the Band) who wishes to help fund us, hook us up!