When You're Not Expecting

Exploring the emotional aspects of women's reproductive health

Infertility and Stress: Could Yoga be the Answer?

Infertility and Stress: Could Yoga be the Answer?

Yoga is enjoying a broader audience as "yoga for fertility" classes are appearing in various metropolitan areas. Described by some as a support group in motion, these yoga classes draw together women who hope to learn skills that will take their minds off the tension of infertility and reduce their anxiety. In addition,these classes provide the added opportunity to share confidences informally with their yoga-mates. But does yoga increase pregnancy rates in infertile women?

An article in the February 6th Sunday Styles section of the New York Times provides some useful information about these classes, which are called the latest in a succession of holistic approaches to fertility treatment, including acupuncture, mind-body programs, massage, and Chinese herbs. In that list, only mind-body programs have generated research data demonstrating effectiveness. No one leading yoga classes makes claims about increasing conception rates. So what draws women to these classes?

It seems to be several things: The opportunity to learn relaxation skills is a relief for many women who carry a load of anxiety over the uncertainty of whether they will ever become parents. For women who have been reluctant to confide in others, the yoga classes provide a natural gathering where infertility is the common bond in a group whose members fully empathize with each other. And for those women whose doctors have told them to avoid strenuous exercise, especially while they are taking drugs that stimulate their ovaries, yoga enables them to feel that they still can stay lithe and limber.

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So, even though there's no evidence to show that yoga classes for infertile women increase rates of conception, there are other rewards that may be highly appealing. Unlike formal support groups, the yoga focus is not on group discussion of infertility issues. Instead, all participants can come together for yoga, share (or not) whatever infertility information feels relevant that day, take away coping strategies learned from their classmates, and feel physically reinvigorated. For many, yoga helps to quiet the infertility chatter in their brains, diminishing the negative messages in this chatter that fuel their feelings of being desperate or hopeless. By learning yoga poses, women force themselves to concentrate and to put their minds and bodies in a good place. And being in the company of others who share the unique condition of infertility, women can develop empathic bonds in what can be a lonely journey.

Dr. Alice Domar, one of the first researchers to advocate stress reduction in infertility treatment, has conducted much of the research demonstrating that mind-body programs can be an important and successful adjunct to medical treatment for infertility.Whether through meditation, deep breathing exercises, bodily relaxation, visualization or other strategies, it appears that de-stressing is therapeutic on many levels for women with infertility. So perhaps the take away message is: even if yoga has not been found to increase conception, are there aspects of a yoga fertility class that might work for you? Might you make new friends? Learn new coping strategies? Quiet your negative brain chatter? Find ways to tone your body when your doctor discourages vigorous exercise? Distract yourself from your infertility preoccupations?

Only you can decide whether this new "resource" for infertile women is something to investigate. But if you're intrigued, give it a try!

 

Connie Shapiro, Ph.D., is a professor of family studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and author of When You're Not Expecting: An Infertility Survival Guide.

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