HEALTH & FITNESS - Can yoga help promote fertility?

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An estimated 20 percent of couples in the U.S. are faced with the devastating effects of infertility.

Not only is infertility an emotional drain, it can be a financial one as well. Couples spend billions of dollars each year in pursuit of having a baby. But rather than looking for answers in a clinic or sperm bank, more and more couples are finding success and peace on the yoga mat.

A regular yoga practice has been shown to increase chances of pregnancy and has proven to be successful in lowering stress levels, allowing energy in the pelvis to flow freely, and opening up and softening the pelvic organs.

The causes of infertility can be mysterious and range from exposure to environmental toxins to a drastic drop in sperm counts.

Hormonal imbalances caused by high levels of stress have been linked to infertility in many studies. Stress can be hugely detrimental to multiple systems of the body.

Take, for example, the immune system. When the body is under a lot of psychological stress, the defenses of the immune system are reduced, and we're more likely to get sick.

The same goes for the systems of reproduction. Stress and depression can have adverse affects on the processes of ovulation, fertilization, tubal function or implantation.

According to Roger Cole, a physiologist and yoga teacher, stressful emotions activate the sympathetic nervous system, causing the adrenal glands to release epinephrine into the bloodstream.

Strong, stressful emotions such as fear and anger can cause the body to produce more cortisol and fewer sex hormones. All of these changes are part of the "fight or flight" response, which prepares the body for emergency action but also interferes with its ability to repair itself and increases the chances of infertility. One of the most powerful effects of epinephrine is that it constricts blood vessels.

This constriction may also occur in the uterus, thus interfering with conception. Similar is the yogic concept of apana, the downward moving prana, or energy, which for women is centered in the pelvis. Allowing apana to flow freely could be the key for reproduction to occur.

There are specific yoga poses or asanas that help to gently stimulate apana energy, as well as increase circulation in the reproductive tract. There are also poses that help to soften and make space in the pelvis and let go of tension in the abdomen. In a 10-week mind-body workshop, Harvard Medical School researcher Alice Domar studied a group of 184 infertile women who had been trying to get pregnant for one to two years. Along with nutritional and exercise information, the group received methods for relaxation training--including yoga and meditation.

The group also learned how to identify recurrent negative thoughts and replace them with a positive, uplifting outlook; something yogic philosophy also teaches. At the conclusion of the study, 55 percent of the women in the group using yoga got pregnant within a year, in contrast to the 20 percent of women in the control group who conceived in that same time period.

Improving the general health of the whole person, such as getting proper nutrition, sleeping more, cultivating healthy relationships, and keeping a positive body image will greatly increase the chances of fertility.

It is a heartwarming revolution to see a new sense of calm and patient parenting being brought to life by couples who successfully use these tools to conceive and, in doing so, shift into a whole new lifestyle -- a beautiful way of living by connecting to the earth, themselves and each other. A lifestyle that not only helps them bring a baby into the world, but enables them to become less stressed and more mindful parents.

Jennifer Henry, a registered yoga teacher, is the owner of Firefly Yoga and holds classes at Many Waters Wellness Center. For more about her or Firefly Yoga go to www.fireflywallawalla.blogspot.com or call 814-883-1562.

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