Living a life of grace often feels unattainable to women and men who are grappling with infertility.
As the reality sets in that this assumed milestone may not happen easily, hope and excitement are often replaced with stress, anxiety, shame and self-doubt. Having grappled with fertility challenges herself, The American Fertility Association’s National Spokesperson and Co-Chair of the Honorary Board, Brenda Strong, felt called to do what she could to support individuals going through this experience as well as to educate those committed to serving them. A long-time yogi as well as an actress, Strong founded Strong Yoga® 4Fertility, in an effort to bring yoga’s healing message to those who are trying to conceive. Here, Strong educates us on what yoga can do for those dealing with fertility issues and also shares some interesting information about an upcoming retreat geared towards both patients and professionals.
AFA: You have been pivotal to the work of The AFA for many years and share the frustration we all feel about that unyielding statistic of one in eight couples experiencing infertility, despite all of our collective efforts. Can we ever do enough to help people overcome infertility? What do you suggest men and women do when they first realize that the road may be harder than expected?
Brenda: We certainly can try to educate so that the choices they make are informed by the experiences of others who have gone before them. Hopefully that will save them some time and trouble. The AFA is a wonderful resource for that.
We also want to make sure that the trials that they face don’t break their spirit, but strengthen their ability to face the journey ahead. The hard part is that there is not one answer that fits all scenarios because everyone’s fertility story is uniquely their own. What I often suggest to couples whom are starting down this road is to take a deep breath and know that if they truly want to become parents, that there is a baby in their future – they may just not know the how or when it is coming. The key is 100% commitment to the journey and 100% detachment to the results. That’s hard. That’s why Yoga is such a valuable tool for couples experiencing fertility challenges. It often gives them a way to control their emotional response to circumstances that feel out of their control. They learn to control their stress, breathe into the discomfort, and open their bodies to take back their power in situations that often leave them feeling powerless. This helps them relax into the uncertainty, connect to the present moment and embrace the journey one step at a time. The hardest part is the not knowing. I think people who face these challenges are some of the most courageous I’ve ever met.
AFA: What was the personal journey that brought you to yoga?
Brenda: Wow. That is such a long story. But the truth is, as a young actress in my 20’s, I was looking for the most efficient way to keep my instrument in shape. I have always loved to work out but it left me feeling less than satisfied. There was a disconnect between my body and my mind in a traditional gym setting, and when I went to my first yoga class, I was amazed at how good I felt afterward. Every part of me got a work out, not just my cardiovascular and musculature systems, but my nervous system overall. The focus of attention it required, the awareness and connection of my body with my breath transformed it from a “work out” to a “work in”. Everything from the inside out was getting attention: my organs, my digestive tract, my lungs, my heart, my circulatory system, and yes, my reproductive system. Not that I knew that at the time, but I knew I felt whole. Yoga is an ancient healing system for addressing imbalances in the body, including our hormones.
Little did I know the journey it would take me on, in my 30’s, when I became pregnant, I started to teach yoga and when I went through my fertility challenges, I used it as a prescription to heal myself and taught others what I had found in my research. I have been teaching my Strong Yoga 4Fertility method for almost 14 years now and am so grateful to be able to share it with others who can benefit by this work. Thousands of women and couples worldwide have been helped through this program.
AFA: How can it help people on the conception journey?
Brenda: Aside from what I’ve already mentioned about helping them to face the uncertain future, it helps them to reduce their stress and get back in touch with their bodies in a positive way. Fertility challenges can cause stress equivalent to a cancer diagnosis or someone dealing with HIV. We know chronic stress is a main culprit in creating dis-ease in our bodies, which can include the reproductive organs’ optimal functioning. Strong YogaÒ 4Fertiity helps to increase blood flow and circulation into the area of the reproductive organs, increases nutrients, rids the body of toxins and elicits the relaxation response; all of which help the organs function better. Additionally, our yoga for fertility practice uses the Strong Yoga® Fertility Ball Method, which is unique to any other fertility yoga practice. The fertility ball method targets acupressure points for fertility and is a way for women to empower themselves to: stimulate circulation/blood flow; massage internal organs; help regulate gynecological function; detoxify and cleanse; decrease stress; and soften connective tissue/fascia in the pelvic region and belly. Plus, it helps to elicit the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the relaxation response, so it feels great!
We also teach Partner Yoga in a supportive and exploratory way, with the goal of increasing non-sexual intimacy, playfulness and reconnecting as a team. When conception becomes more “medical” with multiple doctor exams, procedures and timed intercourse it can cause significant stress to a relationship and make the subject of sex and sexuality very frustrating.
AFA: What is your personal toolbox for serenity and how do you work with others to create their own?
Serenity is a by-product of self-compassion and acceptance. We may not be happy about our circumstances, but by learning to accept that this is ‘where we are at this moment in time’ allows us to have some serenity and receive what’s coming next. In Yoga we are taught through practice that resistance and attachments cause suffering. That’s not to say there won’t be discomfort in the process, but instead of avoiding it or pushing against it, we lean in to it as our teacher. We use tools like meditation, journaling, positive affirmations, and breathing techniques in addition to yoga poses to release the feelings that can often feel overwhelming. Once you realize that you are not your feelings, you have a safe space to allow all your feelings to be there. The body becomes the gateway and opens up once we turn our awareness inward.
AFA: Let’s talk a little bit about the disconnect that people often experience from their bodies as well as from their partners during infertility. Can yoga help with that?
Brenda: When your body “fails you”, many disconnect out of anger, shame and fear. Yoga helps women reconnect to their own bodies and teaches them to listen to their intuition, which they may have lost a connection to along the way. On a physical level, The Fertility Ball is an empowering tool for women because they can actively connect to their own reproductive organs. We store a lot of feelings in our fascia and other connective tissue and when we are able to release some of these areas that are blocked, it can release vaults of feeling, allowing us to feel more intimate with ourselves, and others. It’s so gratifying to watch couples come in to a workshop one way and leave transformed. Because of the financial, emotional and physical strain on a couple, many couples lose their connection and intimacy becomes compromised. Sex no longer is a way to release tension-it creates tension. There are schedules to follow, medicines to take and often times, invasive procedures that replace sex with no guarantee that the outcome of a cycle will produce the desired result.
So we bring their bodies together through breath and movement, which returns them to a sense of intimacy and pleasure, without it having to be about sex. This facilitates a deeper sense of support and connection so that they can face together whatever is coming next. Humor is reintroduced to the relationship. So often men feel powerless to help and in a strange way, with partner yoga, they can DO something to make their wives feel their support in a non-verbal way. This calms everyone down and opens their hearts to each other again. We often find couples can stay in a fertility journey longer and work with their doctors until they are successful, because they’ve learned coping mechanisms that allow them to stay more relaxed and not give up. That is gratifying.
AFA: You have an important event coming up this summer in Monterey which will focus on body, breath, and emotions and their impact on stress and conception. Can someone just lie on a beautiful beach and get the same result?
Brenda: Not really. A vacation can provide relaxation, but without tools to manage the ongoing stress of the fertility journey, it will only be a temporary fix. We are not just teaching relaxation, we are giving them invaluable tools to help them heal themselves. In addition, they will have techniques and products to take home that will keep them on a positive path physically and emotionally. Our website also provides these couples a safe community for ongoing communication so that they don’t feel isolated on their journey.
AFA: Tell us about the Four Fields of Fertility.
Brenda: Our Four Fields of Fertility workshop teaches couples how our thoughts, emotions, body and breath are all connected. They begin to feel empowered and not victimized by their circumstances. Understanding this has a huge impact on how well they are able to cope with their situation. We teach mind/body techniques that enable them to access their parasympathetic nervous system (the relaxation response.) Additionally, we teach fertility nutrition, environmental impacts, partner yoga, and acupressure using the Fertility Ball Method. We also teach our Breathe to Conceive breathing exercises that they can do during the two week wait or even during procedures to optimize their ability to conceive.
AFA: The event will also offer professionals the opportunity to become Strong Yoga 4Fertility Certified. Why is this important to you and what should they expect to learn?
Brenda: We give experienced Yoga teachers and medical professionals with yoga training the opportunity to learn our methods so that the quality and consistency of instruction is the same, whether you take a Four Fields of Fertility workshop in Maine or California, Boston or San Francisco. Our teacher trainings are taught by our 4 instructors, all of whom are part of my Strong Yoga 4Women team. They each are SY4F certified and are also specialists in the fields of Yoga Therapy, Psychology, and Reproductive Medicine, plus myself who is a 500 hr E-RYT.
Level One of Strong Yoga 4Fertility certification process focuses on mind/body techniques including the Strong Yoga Fertility Ball Method and Partner Yoga. Level Two of SY4F covers reproductive medical education (basic conception, typical procedures and the physical protocols) and how to help support the patients by knowing what poses are unadvisable based on their course of treatment. Ideally, we would love to have SY4F teachers in every city to help support reproductive clinics and patients alike.
AFA: Brenda, can yoga change the world? Can it help people cope with pregnancy and parenting after infertility? If so, how?
Brenda: That is ambitious thought! It can certainly make the world a better place to be for each person who learns the practice of Yoga, because of your increased awareness and health.
Fear is pervasive in fertility issues and that can carry over into pregnancy if you don’t have tools to cope with your fear. My DVD Strong Yoga 4Pregnancy was created for couples who have gone through fertility challenges so that they can learn to let go of that fear once they are pregnant or at least manage it. Pregnancy can be more comfortable and less stressful with Yoga, and I found that Yoga enabled me to have an easier labor because of my body awareness and breath control.
Certainly, those who practice Yoga, who have undergone fertility challenges, are able to have stronger coping mechanisms when they become parents. Because they learned these techniques to address the stress of infertility, they can be more aware and capable of handling the stress of parenthood.
The key is to understand that we can use these techniques everywhere, and to carry them forward into our lives. We learn not to be afraid of life and how to embrace all of it- not just what we think is “going to make us happy”. We learn that being vulnerable is actually life affirming and that creativity comes from this wellspring of vulnerability. Learning to be content with “what is” is a spiritual practice that can make all of life deeply satisfying. If we learn these things, we will be better parents, teachers and students of life.
AFA: You personally are clearly committed to moving the world forward in a positive way. Who would you be without yoga?
Brenda: Who knows?! (Laughter) I can only say that it has helped me during some of the hardest and most painful experiences in my life to have more compassion for myself, to forgive myself, and not to be too harsh of a judge. As a famous yogi once said, “Life is painful, suffering is optional.” Life is too short to not move forward in a positive way.
To view this original article by The American Fertility Association, click here.
Brenda Strong discusses new answers for women coping with conception challenges
“When you feel your body has betrayed you, there can be a lot of anger and depression, you feel out of control” says Brenda Strong, the first national spokesperson for the American Fertility Association. A yoga practitioner and teacher for 23 years, Brenda developed the program Strong Yoga® 4Fertility, drawing from her own experiences with infertility and her research in working with women. Since 1998, she has taught her gentle and effective program for women trying to conceive at the Mind Body Institute at UCLA and at Two Hearts Yoga. It has since led to DVDs, workshops, retreats, teacher trainings, and the development of props designed for nourishing reproductive organs.
In your experience, what is the connection between yoga and fertility?
There is inevitable stress that accompanies the fertility journey. Yoga is a way to release the tension in and around the reproductive organs with specific asanas that enhance circulation and release adhesions and energetic blocks. Yoga can help balance hormones and correct amenorrhea, putting a woman back in a regular cycle. Yoga also helps women and couples to be present and have intimacy without it having to be about sex. I have a DVD dedicated to Partner Yoga, Strong Yoga®4Partners.
What makes the biggest difference for women who practice yoga and are trying to conceive?
By practicing yoga with others who are in similar situations, women know they aren’t alone in their journey and feel supported and safe. Yoga helps restore trust in their bodies and intimacy with their partners during conception difficulties.
What do you focus on most when leading yoga for fertility?
We combine asana, restorative postures, and specific pranayama techniques accompanied by visualization and meditation. We also use the Strong Yoga® Fertility Ball to activate the vessel of conception points through acupressure to release tension in the pelvis and hips. The emphasis is on releasing tension and building energy rather than creating muscular strength. You might say that instead of teaching “Power Yoga,” we teach “Em-power Yoga.”
How did you develop The Fertility Ball?
It was literally a download during one of my meditations. I began to research acupressure points combined with yoga asana with Dr. Daoshing Ni, the author of The Tao of Fertility. He confirmed how accurate the yoga program was in relationship to acupuncture and fertility. This is one of the most powerful tools we can give women to enhance their own fertility. Acupressure with the Fertility Ball is an effective way to prepare the body prior to IVF transfer by increasing circulation and healthy tissue.
What is your biggest success story?
There are many, but I was stopped in a Whole Foods parking lot once by a man with tears in his eyes. He told me what a difference Strong Yoga® had made for his wife, who had multiple failed IVF cycles. He didn’t recognize her because of her stress. After a Four Fields? workshop, she regained a sense of calm, purpose, and confidence; shortly afterward, they were successful with IVF and are now the proud parents of a beautiful daughter.
For the original posting of this story, click here.
The following interview with Strong Yoga's Wendy Obstler was posted on fertilityauthority.com June 30, 2013.
There are a plethora of natural, alternative things to try in tandem with traditional medical treatment trying to conceive. One of the great things about the gorgeous area of Southern California is that we don’t have to go looking too far to find them.
If you are living in Los Angeles, chances are you have at one point been to a yoga class. If you haven’t, chances are you know at least one person who goes religiously and has been changed for the better because of it. So whether you’re a person who does not feel the day has officially started without a downward dog, or a person who has just been casually flirting with the idea of yoga for awhile, here’s something you may not know about: Fertility Yoga.
To answer some of my basic questions about what Fertility Yoga is and how it helps, I spoke to Wendy Obstler. Wendy is a Certified Yoga Therapist and Lead Teacher for Strong Yoga®4Fertility, which is “a comprehensive methodology that includes Yoga asanas (poses), pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation & visualization techniques, as well as education on diet, nutrition and environmental impacts on fertility. “Strong Yoga” was created by Brenda Strong (National Spokesperson for The American Fertility Association) after she experienced secondary infertility and through her teaching and research over the last 18+ years.”
So. How exactly does fertility yoga help in trying to conceive?
“For one, it decreases stress,” Wendy says. “We know stress is a main culprit in creating dis-ease in our bodies, including the impact on the reproductive organs’ optimal functioning. Increasing blood flow and circulation into the area of the reproductive organs increases nutrients, rids the body of toxins and elicits the relaxation response – all of which help the organs function better. The combined practices of Strong Yoga® also enable students to understand the innate connection between the mind and body as they learn specific coping techniques that will help them shift away from fear, anxiety, guilt, shame and feeling loss of control to an empowered presence. It gives individuals the ability to embrace their inherent capacity to receive Life, in all its forms.”
I don’t know about you, but anything that helps de-stress the anxiety, fear and guilt that go along with fertility struggles is worth trying in my book. But is there really a difference, in terms of de-stressing, between fertility yoga and just yoga?
“Not all types of yoga are ideal for fertility,” Wendy says.”Classes are specific to the fertility journey and honor a woman’s natural cycle. The classes are unique because they are taught by certified Strong Yoga®4Fertility instructors, which offer participants expert instruction, including knowledge in reproductive endocrinology, which gives our students peace of mind. Any person undergoing any fertility treatment and at any stage within that treatment process can walk into a class and know they are in the safe hands of instructors who understand — on the physical & emotional level, as well as from a medical perspective, as to what is safe to do and when.”
To compare it to other yoga classes, she adds, “All yoga is going to increase blood flow in the body, but some of the hot yoga and power yoga classes can be contraindicated for a woman when trying to conceive because for one they can cause the body to overheat with a potential for dehydration, which is the last thing we want in pregnancy”.
Whether or not you’re familiar with other types of yoga, it’s important to note that fertility yoga utilizes different methods and types of movement.
“Our methodology uses the Strong Yoga® Fertility Ball Method, which is unique to any other fertility yoga practice. The fertility ball method targets acupressure points for fertility and is a way for women to empower themselves to: Stimulate Circulation/Blood Flow; Massage Internal Organs; Help to Regulate Gynecological Function; Detoxify and Cleanse; Decrease Stress; and Open Connective Tissue/Fascia in the pelvic region and belly. Plus, it helps to elicit the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the relaxation response, so it feels great!”
Those of us who are going through fertility treatments may not feel like our most graceful, coordinated selves. Mental and/or physical balance may be something we lust after, but as a result of stress or side effects, may not come as easy as it used to.
On what kind of vibe a person can expect from a Fertility Yoga class, Wendy says, “the Strong Yoga®4Fertility classes offer a safe and serene environment where women can gather together to support each other in their journey while facing the often unpredictable path of fertility treatments. This offers a sense of community and negates the feelings of being isolated and alone, which are often experienced when going through fertility challenges. Additionally, the practice is specific and accessible to all levels, even those who have never practiced yoga or feel they are out of shape.”
So fertility yoga is not necessarily for people who can balance on their heads, or even people who have ever even been to a regular yoga class. It’s a community-oriented form of body-therapy whose basic goal is to help with the ever-elusive quest for peace of body and mind when trying to conceive. Anything that can help us balance ourselves even just a little bit during a time that feels so unsteady is certainly worth a try.
Yoga Off the Mat – Words of Wisdom from Brenda Strong – Brenda Strong may best be known to the American public as the doomed character of Mary Alice Young on the hit TV show, Desperate Housewives. But, for many people who have struggled with issues concerning fertility, intimacy, and even menopause, Ms. Strong is better known for her work as a yoga practitioner and also, as the national spokesperson for The American Fertility Association (AFA).
In a recent blog entry for The AFA, Ms Strong stated, “I realize now after having dealt with infertility that stress isn’t something that goes away once you are a parent, or even, a yoga teacher. It is something that one needs to manage daily. So how do we pursue our dreams of building our family without killing ourselves with stress? Learning to sit with the discomfort of life’s uncertainty is key”.
Can yoga help with that? Studies at the Mayo clinic have substantiated that assertion and other research studies done in the U.S. have given strong indication that yoga can actually change how genes respond to stress.
Dr. Robert Kiltz, founder and director of the CNY Fertility and Healing Arts Center agrees that this may be so. Dr. Kiltz states that “Yoga for fertility is a powerful practice that helps men and women reduce stress and anxiety, become more mindful and centered, and therefore, improve the body’s ability to conceive”.
Always a forerunner, Ms. Strong announced this week that a new technique combining acupressure and her new, trademarked Fertility Ball can support and empower women to stimulate circulation and blood flow, massage internal organs, help to regulate gynecological function, and decrease stress. Acupressure has long been employed as a simple and gentle way to decrease difficult menstrual symptoms as well as certain forms of sexual dysfunction, and is also the recognized forerunner to acupuncture.
Strong trained yoga practitioner Barrie Raffel teaches classes at Namaste Yoga in New York City as well as at Bend and Bloom Yoga in Brooklyn.
Ms. Raffel and her partner Karen are the creators of the east coast based program, Receptive Nest. In Receptive Nest experiential workshops one can learn a yoga practice designed to support reproductive health and aid in conception and pregnancy, as well as discover ways to calm the mind and nervous system, which often affect hormonal balance.. Ms. Raffel states, “In a yoga practice that has an emphasis on fertility, we look to increase circulation and deliver fresh oxygen to the reproductive organs as well as calm the nervous system and balance the hormonal system. Another benefit of a fertility focused yoga class is that the participants get to connect with others who are also on the road to conception. This connection often leads to increased feelings of support and can expand the perspective of what fertility can look like.”.
Additional listings of yoga centers in the Brooklyn, New York area can be found here. For those who wish to have a baby and can’t, at least not easily, stress is almost a given. And with Christmas just a week away, there may be more stress experienced than is typical. It’s always a good idea to check with a doctor first, but yoga may prove to be an effective way to alleviate stress and also support fertility.
Ms. Raffel states, “Many of us face very challenging decisions on the path to becoming parents, and often, a yoga practice will bring a fresh perspective and also help us to manage our expectations in this goal oriented world. Yoga helps us to stay present with what is and allows us to find a little bit of peace in the unfolding journey to conception”.
Booster Shots | Yoga and infertility take two – Last week we told you about a pitch we got for actress Brenda Strong’s Yoga4Fertility program. The pitch began like this: “Brenda Strong, Mary Alice Young from Desperate Housewives, has created a new yoga method–and it is getting women pregnant.” Strong, a longtime yoga practitioner and instructor, developed the program to help women dealing with infertility, and has other programs for pregnancy and menopause.
We’re used to seeing hyperbole in press releases, and we’re also no stranger to celebrities touting health-related products and services or getting behind public policy issues. We felt compelled to comment on this one, cautioning readers to take any claims with a grain of salt, despite the fact that yoga can be effective in coping with various health-related issues, including cancer and multiple sclerosis. Some people are influenced by their favorite actor/actress/singer/athlete’s involvement in various programs and causes, and they can be blind to the occasional outrageous statement or forceful proposal.
Today we spoke with Strong, who said that she was unhappy with the way the pitch went out, and wanted to clarify a few things. First, she said, she believes that before entering any health program people should research it to make sure it’s viable and right for them. Infertile women should also seek help from their health professional in addition to trying other solutions. “In no way, shape or form,” she said, “am I saying that yoga is the only way to get pregnant.”
However, she does believe that yoga (specifically her program) does have physical benefits, especially for the endocrine system, and can help women survive infertility, an issue known to elicit enormous amounts of stress. “If anything,” she says, “yoga gives women tools to deal with the stress of infertility and helps empower them, so they can say, ‘I can go through this.’ For a lot of women who feel out of touch with their body, this can give them a positive feeling again, like their body can be trusted.”
And yes, women who have taken part in her program have gotten pregnant. But she can’t say for sure if it was yoga, acupuncture, medical treatments, or various combinations of those that did the trick.
“My intention,” she added, “has always been to help women help themselves.”
Yoga’s Feminine Side – Could this ancient practice help you conceive? REMEMBER WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER and the objective was to not get pregnant? Well, times have changed. Starting a family is not as easy as it once was, at least for those of us in our thirties and forties. Experts say a woman’s ability to conceive declines measurably at age 35 and plummets nearly twice as fast by the time she hits 40. Many of us have waited to pursue our careers, find the perfect mate, achieve financial stability—and one day it’s too late.
In an effort to turn back the clock, many couples have been heading to doctors’ offices. With the explosion of highly technical therapies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), gamete intra-fallopian transfer (GIFT), and other modifications of test-tube treatments, couples last year alone spent over a billion dollars in the pursuit of a baby. Yet results can be disappointing. The average success rate for IVF is about 19 percent; with GIFT, it’s 28 percent. Luckily, there may be a simple way to improve the odds. A growing body of evidence is beginning to support the idea that stress plays a critical role in preventing conception. (And these days, who isn’t wound a bit too tight?) A study published in Fertility and Sterility found that among women trying in vitro fertilization, those with high levels of stress produced fewer eggs—and therefore had fewer embryos that could be transferred into their wombs—than their more relaxed counterparts.
Alice Domar, director of the Mind/Body Center for Women’s Health at Harvard Medical School, has demonstrated even more direct evidence of the payoff of stress relief. Fifteen years ago, she divided 110 women who had tried to get pregnant for one to two years into three groups. The first was an infertility support group; the second concentrated on relaxation therapies including yoga and meditation; the third was given fertility medication alone. After a year, only 20 percent of the women on medication alone became pregnant compared to about half the women in both types of support groups.
No one quite understands the physiology involved, but Domar’s research suggests that stress can delay menstrual cycles and create abnormal levels of the pituitary hormone prolactin, which is responsible for ovulation. And the process feeds on itself. The more stressed you are, the harder it may be to conceive, which in turn makes you more stressed. Domar found that infertile women are significantly more depressed than their fertile counterparts, with depression and anxiety levels equivalent to women with heart disease, cancer, or HIV-positive status.
Of course, there are many ways to break the cycle, from meditation to therapy to curling up in a comfy chair with a good book. But if you’re looking for something that combines emotional release with a satisfying physical workout, yoga is a natural choice.
Several years ago I struggled with my own infertility issues, and as a yoga instructor, this ancient practice was a logical place for me to turn. With its deep breathing techniques and asanas, or poses, yoga conditions the body from the inside out, calming the nervous system, slowing the heart rate, stretching and toning the muscles. Yogic breathing also helps strengthen the diaphragm to increase lung capacity and improve circulation, thereby distributing oxygen and nutrients throughout the system.
And this is just the Western view of yoga’s benefits. From an Eastern perspective, yoga relaxes by a different, more “holistic” route. Traditional Chinese medicine, for instance, holds that blockages or imbalances between the masculine (yang) and feminine (yin) energies in the body can be the root causes of ill health—or in this case, stress-induced discomforts and dysfunctions.
Yoga is based on this same concept of enhancing the flow of energy through energy channels, which are part of what yogis call the “chakra” system. The word chakra literally translates as wheel or disk. It refers to the sphere ofbioenergetic activity that emanates from the major nerve ganglia branching forward from the spinal column. A chakra is a center of activity that receives, assimilates, and expresses energy.
Seven of these wheels are stacked in a column that spans from the base of the spine to the top of the head and roughly corresponds to major glandular and nervous system groupings. That’s why neuroendocrine health—the chemical signals from the brain that maintain the body’s delicate hormonal balance—can be influenced by the practice of yoga. The second chakra is of utmost importance for sexual health. Located around the lower abdomen and groin, this energy center rules the reproductive organs, and relates to movement, sensation, pleasure, sexuality and, theoretically, fertility. Anodea Judith, author of Eastern Body, Western Mind, has a healing practice utilizing the chakra system for therapeutic purposes. She believes that if there is an energy blockage, excess, or deficiency in the second chakra, the imbalance can affect physical function, and she suggests poses to “rebalance” the area.
Four years ago, I incorporated this idea into my own research on stress and fertility and began teaching what I call a more “feminine” type of yoga at the West Coast branch of the Mind/Body Institute in Los Angeles. It combines deep relaxation poses and poses designed to enhance reproductive health. The conception success rate in the graduate group has been almost 50 percent. For the women who were also undergoing medical treatments, I found that my yoga program made it easier for them to tolerate the stress and discomfort that’s often involved in the process.
I’ve included a mini-version of that program, the sidebar “Six steps to well-being,” which you can do in your own home as often as you like (it takes about 20 minutes).There’s no guarantee it will help you conceive, but it will certainly let you take a critical first step: relaxing your body and mind so you can improve your chances. One thing’s for sure: If you do get pregnant, yoga will help you relax through the nine months of pregnancy— and a lifetime of being a mom.
‘Yoga4Partners’ with Brenda Strong and Tom Henri – OUR SOLITARY daily yoga practice can sometimes get lonely. At such times it’s nice to partner up and work with a spouse, friend or colleague – provided you both can keep the gossiping to a minimum. Here is a sweet , 25-minute session for two partners that, by my count, includes 15 simple paired excercises or yoga asana. Each excersise or asana represents, and is named as, some admirable quality or qualitieslearned from the cooperative effort, which can then, according to the teacher’s premise, be applied to everyday life. For example, a linked-arms, leaning-back excercise, teaches “trusting and letting-go”, and a knee-to-knee, assisted seated twist teaches “respecting limitations”. Strong, a Southern California teacher, and her partner, Henri, have produced a relatively mild, straight-forward practice that emphasizes both self-and other- awareness. They are excellent models, performing the work with compatible grace and harmony.
The American Fertility Association (AFA) announced that actress Brenda Strong has been elected to the Board of Directors and will continue to serve as the first national spokesperson for the fertility patient advocacy organization. Ms. Strong—known to many as Mary-Alice Young, the narrator and dearly-departed Wisteria Lane neighbor on ABC’s hit “Desperate Housewives”—wrestled with infertility and turned to the practice of yoga to manage and alleviate the associated stress brought on by the diagnosis. She will use her spokesperson platform to educate infertile women and men on how they can re-connect with their bodies, reduce stress, and increase self-esteem through exercise and complementary medicine.
Brenda’s holistic approach to fertility teaches us to treat the whole individual—mind, body, and spirit. We have to balance the elements we can control with those that we cannot. That’s an important message that too often gets relegated to the sidelines,” said The Founder and Executive Director of The American Fertility Association.
“It’s difficult to love your body when you feel like it’s failing you. Yoga reduced my stress and bodily tension. It allowed me to bring my body back into balance, to emerge from my fertility struggle with my sense of self esteem and self worth intact, and to forge a stronger bond with my husband,” said Ms. Strong.
“Too often fertility treatment addresses only a failing body part or an inadequate hormone level. But reproductive difficulties are much more than a bad ovary or low sperm count, “Brenda brings a fresh, new perspective and reminds us that there is a soul and an emotional component to reproductive challenges that we should not forget.”
Ms. Strong has taught at UCLA’s Mind-Body Institute and produced and starred in “Yoga 4 Fertility,” a video series designed to help infertile couples through yoga therapy (http://www.yoga4fertility.com). She and her husband designed a system of yoga postures for women and couples experiencing infertility which reduce stress, increase coping mechanisms, deepen awareness, increase relaxation capability, and improve circulation and muscle tone. The yoga practice enhances and supports any protocol treatment suggested by a fertility doctor.
She is a familiar face on the small and big screen. In addition to “Desperate Housewives,” Strong is also recognizable to television audiences as Sue Ellen Mishkie (a.k.a. “The Braless Wonder”) on the award-winning series “Seinfeld.” She has also has recurring roles on such acclaimed series as “Nip/Tuck,” “Everwood,” “Sports Night,” “7th Heaven” and “Party of Five.”
Now I have to be completely honest – I haven’t used my Pregnancy Yoga DVD much. However, just the knowledge that I have it and that it’s ready for me whenever I have the motivation to actually use it keeps me feeling pretty good. Pre-pregnancy I was all about working out and going to the gym. Staying active and fit was pretty important. There’s just something about being pregnant that takes that drive out of you, but that’s where a good yoga DVD can come into play. I received a Yoga 4 Pregnancy DVD led by Brenda Strong of Desperate Houswives. It’s a great workout for all three trimesters. She even gives some great labor techniques that you can do with your partner. The exercises aren’t too challenging and I’m sure they will certainly help during labor. So if you’re expecting or may be in the near future, it’s definitely something to have on hand….just in case! You can purchase the DVD for $24.95 from the Yoga 4 Fertility website.