Yoga therapy to support fertility challenges
By Laura Edoff
It’s estimated that around 12% of U.S. women struggle with infertility. A diagnosis of infertility is typically given after a year of trying to conceive naturally for women under 35 (and after 6 months for women 35 and older). In women, the causes of infertility vary but include declining egg count as a result of age, hormonal imbalances, obstructions in the reproductive organs, and influences from past medical history; in some cases, the cause is unknown.
Despite the challenges, many women go on to conceive, sometimes with the help of medications and intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF). Even successful procedures, however, come with potential side-effects, such as bloating and painful ovaries from the medications, the possibility of multiple pregnancies, or miscarriages.
Needless to say, this can be an extremely stressful time full of uncertainty. Many women report feelings of depression and anxiety as well as diminished quality of life during fertility challenges. Additionally, women who choose to undergo IVF may experience elevated distress from the medications, doctors visits, and procedures, as well as feelings of fear and uneasiness while awaiting the outcome.
Help from therapeutic yoga
Mind-body interventions like yoga therapy may reduce the physiological and psychological effects of infertility by lowering the stress response, improving resilience, and increasing feelings of well-being—regardless of whether conception is the ultimate outcome.
Yoga therapy employs a biopsychosocial-spiritual model of integrative care by navigating the relationships among one’s body, mind, and emotions with tools such as breathwork, meditation, movement, and yogic philosophy (especially the yamas and niyamas). Each of these practices addresses particular elements of the infertility experience:
- Breath techniques regulate the stress response by stimulating the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous system.
- Physical practices that alternate between active and restorative postures generate resilience.
- Guided meditations introduce present-moment awareness and mind-body integration, leading to reduced suffering.
- The yamas and niyamas can be used to explore qualities of self-compassion, nonattachment, self-awareness, and connection, to name a few.
Working with a yoga therapist throughout the fertility process can help women—and partners— to manage stress and process emotions by finding moments of ease and identifying accessible tools for self-care. Small-group yoga therapy may offer additional benefits by creating community support with others going through similar circumstances.
Along with those linked above, this pilot study demonstrates the feasibility and potential value of mind-body interventions like yoga therapy as supports for fertility challenges:
Psaros C, et al. Mind-body group treatment for women coping with infertility: A pilot study. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology 2015;36:75–83.