Two alternative perspectives
The benefits of yoga
• When dealing with infertility, yoga can be an effective approach in regaining balance and cultivating a positive and replenished state of being while undergoing the trials and tribulations of various fertility treatments. Yoga can be especially helpful because it provides a way to mitigate stress, release body tension and move stagnant energy and fluids while supporting an individual to foster an open and relaxed state of being. Each of these factors has a positive effect on one’s fertility.
We are moving faster and are busier than ever. For many, stress is part of everyday life and high levels of ongoing stress are common. This has an adverse effect on any individual in terms of general health and wellbeing and particularly so for those wanting to conceive.
The stress response is an activation of the sympathetic nervous system where one goes into flight or fight. The body does not differentiate in terms of stressors; whether you are being chased by a grizzly or you’re feeling pressed by a quickly approaching deadline, it responds in the same way by releasing a flood of stress hormones that are meant to get you out of danger. This is a good thing when you’re running for your life, but not so good when you’re at your desk and adrenaline is pumping through your veins.
In terms of fertility, when the body is in a heightened state of sympathetic arousal, the reproductive system is suppressed because as far as the body is concerned, there are other, higher priorities at stake – such as survival.
In order to prepare for conception and to most fully support the reproductive process, the body best responds when it is in balance, replenished and nourished. Studies have shown the practice of yoga can reduce levels of stress hormones in the bloodstream and consequently can enable the reproductive system to come back online.
The type of yoga practised is an important consideration. In order to mediate the stress response, it is necessary to support the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS enables deep relaxation where the body is able to rest, repair and restore itself. The best yoga form for the PNS is restorative yoga where an individual is supported with props for 15 to 20 minutes per pose to facilitate a feeling of deep replenishment and relaxation.
For some, however, this approach just isn’t doable because they have too much energy or are too keyed up to sit still for five minutes, let alone 20. In this case, a gentle or moderate Hatha class could be a good start. This type of yoga is also effective at enabling relaxation, facilitating stretching and the movement of energy through the body and helping to focus/quiet the mind.
It is also important to address the stress factors in one’s life and to take steps to not only manage them through yoga and other modalities, but also to reduce them. Less stress equals better results.
Yoga’s effective in supporting conception is not limited solely to its physical benefits. This is a practice that touches on all aspects of one’s being: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. The process of addressing fertility can be an emotional and stressful one. Yoga can be an invaluable tool in teaching one to focus their mind on the present moment and direct thoughts away from negativity and worry.
And if one is open to a higher power, connecting to this source energy through meditation and prayer during yoga practice is also a beautiful and powerful way to connect to the force of life that has run through us and conceived all of life since time immemorial.
Christina Niven is a yoga therapist and teacher with Mindful Movement – therapeutic yoga. 604-649-8522 www.mindfulmovementtherapy.ca
The Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective
It is estimated that up to 16 percent of heterosexual couples – where the woman is 18 to 44 – are experiencing infertility, according to a research study funded by Assisted Human Reproduction Canada. This percentage has almost doubled since 1992, the last time infertility was measured. (See “Infertility on the rise in Canada: Study,” February 15, 2012, National Post online).
Not surprisingly, the study notes, “The use of assisted-procreation technologies has increased dramatically over the past decade.” One such treatment that has become extremely popular is traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). TCM is a complete medical system that dates back thousands of years and uses therapies such as acupuncture and herbal medicines to restore health and balance in the body.
TCM has a unique view of health and offers much hope for couples struggling with infertility. For example, when approaching infertility from the TCM perspective, the treatment goals could include regulating the menstrual cycles (in women) and/or hormones (men and women). We may want to reduce stress or improve blood flow to the uterus and reproductive organs, which may in turn directly impact the number of egg follicles available for fertilization in women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF).
In men, the increased blood flow to the reproductive organs can positively influence sperm health, which is the predominant cause of male infertility. There are now several TCM clinics in Vancouver that specialize in infertility treatments and have developed working relationships with conventional fertility clinics such as Olive, Genesis and PCRM. A truly comprehensive approach to infertility is now becoming common.
So how does it work? Assuming there are no congenital issues with either partner, the TCM practitioner will undertake a very detailed consultation to determine where the imbalance lies. In infertility, much of the emphasis is on the kidneys, but there may be involvement of the liver and/or spleen as well. In the case of women, in order to determine the nature of the imbalance, detailed questions about the nature of the menstrual cycles will be asked. For example, the practitioner will want to know about cycle regularity, volume, colour, consistency and pain. Other areas of questioning may be related to childbearing (if applicable). Regardless of gender, questions related to sexual activity, emotional health, physical activity, diet, bowel and urine function, sleep and more will provide important clues as to the nature of the imbalance. Your practitioner will also inspect your tongue and feel your pulse. The tongue in particular can give us a lot of insight into the state of the blood, body fluids and internal organs.
After collecting all of this information, the diagnosis and resulting treatment strategy is devised. Treatment may include acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal medicine, diet recommendations or exercises. In most cases, weekly acupuncture and herbs are suggested for a minimum of three months. Acupuncture involves the virtually painless insertion of very fine needles at various locations on the body. Treatment has a cumulative effect. In order to maximize chances of conception, whether by way of assisted reproductive technology (ART) or not, three months is optimal.
It is becoming more common for couples to attempt getting pregnant later in life. It is not uncommon for women in their mid-to-late 30s and early 40s to begin trying to conceive. Perhaps that gives some insight into the increasing rates of infertility as well as other factors, such as our extremely busy and stressful lifestyles. Whatever the causes may be, the unique diagnostic and treatment methods employed by TCM are increasing the chances and offering much hope to couples struggling with infertility. This is illustrated by the number of fertility clinics that are encouraging acupuncture and TCM therapies as adjunctive measures to improve and optimize the chances of successful pregnancy.
Dr. Brad Matthews has been practising Traditional Chinese Medicine for more than 15 years. He operates the North Van Pain Clinic (www.northvanpainclinic.com), with a primary focus on the treatment of acute and chronic pain, sports injuries and athletic enhancement. He is also trained and certified by the Blatman International Myofascial Academy in pain management using acupuncture injection therapies, trigger point therapies and prolotherapy.
photo © Subbotina