Yoga Day, USA
Yoga means “yoke” or “union” in Sanskrit
The practice of yoga is designed to remind us of our essential nature, which is joy. When we are out of “alignment” physically, we suffer discomfort and dis-ease. The health of the spine is crucial to our sense of vitality and longevity and the practice of hatha yoga is a wonderful way to maintain the flexibility and strength of the spine, while engaging the nervous system housed there in. The practice of yoga helps us to keep the body supple, the heart open and the mind quiet. Quiet enough to tune inward to the real union in the word yoga, the union of self with the Source of life itself.
But what happens for those couples that are experiencing infertility?
Those who feel “life’s source” has run dry for them and millions of others who are experiencing reproductive difficulty? Those who are under stress, whose bodies are out of balance and whose pocket books are dwindling because of numerous attempts to conceive? What does yoga offer them?
The strain of trying to conceive can cause stress equivalent to those suffering from a terminal illness like cancer or AIDS. In their case, yoga can become a tool to learn to cope, to buffer the stress response and manipulate the nervous system back to a place of relaxation and receptivity.
When we experience stress triggered by infertility, the “fight or flight” response in the sympathetic nervous system kicks in and releases the stress hormone, cortisol, into the bloodstream, which in turn, over time, can impede reproductive function. It becomes a vicious cycle of stress and disappointment, and chronic stress over time can lead to depression and illness.
So, how can yoga be a life raft in the sea of stress for those undergoing infertility?
In yoga, the breathing and stretching exercises help to elicit the parasympathetic nervous system’s “relaxation response” which arrests the stress response and stops the vicious cycle.
Yoga focuses on using the breath to be mindful of this moment, through intentional focus and attention, yoga becomes a moving meditation with the mind and body operating in unison through awareness. Through this systematic and scientific methodology, the body’s natural healing capacity is supported, and finds its way back to health and vitality. The physical postures bring an increase in blood circulation, help to detoxify the body and elevate the endorphins that enhance our sense of wellbeing.
What about the mind and emotional health?
A great deal of our attention while going through reproductive difficulties is focused on an uncertain future or a disappointing past, and these thoughts cultivate anxious feelings and emotional upset which in turn increase our stress and impact our hormonal balance.
While we are practicing yoga, our attention is on this present moment in time and space. This awareness of the present moment helps to prevent the patterns of thought that trigger the stress response as demonstrated in the Clinical Implications of Neuroscience Research in PTSD of Boston University School of Medicine.
The practice of meditation and yoga are reaching clinical results that are positive and profound in their implications. Patients learn to distance themselves from their reactions, something that we have called “equanimity” in yoga. The simple idea is that stress is not what happens to you, but your reaction to what happens to you. Thoughts that cause the remembrance of an event that is not current have the same impact on the nervous system as when they originally occurred. Hence we can repeat the stress response by just thinking of the memory. In cases of failed cycles, miscarriage or trauma, you can see how this cycle could be repeated at a detriment.
How can we stop this cycle of stress?
Learning to respond, rather than react is a natural result of yoga as you learn to breathe space into the uncomfortable places in the body and sit with that discomfort and watch without judgment. It is the same in infertility, learning to sit with the uncomfortable places in ourselves, breathing and being present allows us a glimpse into the body that has been out of sorts, emotionally wracked and robbed of its joy. We have an opportunity to accept what is present through awareness and non- judgment. Accepting “what is” is one of the hardest things to do when it seems to be counter to your deepest longings of becoming a parent.
How could I possibly accept “what is” when “what is” isn’t what I want?
Accepting something is not the same as being in agreement. Acceptance is merely a lack of resistance. It seems that resistance to “what is” causes the most suffering. However, it has been my experience as I’ve watched my students over the years, that accepting “what is” helps them to open themselves to the many gifts infertility offers. After all, in yoga it’s not about getting there, the pose is not the goal – it’s the journey that matters. And in yoga the only way to get “there” is to be “here.” I have found the same to be true in the world of fertility. The only way to be on the journey is, step by step, breath by breath, moment to moment and observing without judgment. In yoga we learn to become the participant and the observer, if we can practice this during infertility, we can free ourselves of the suffering.
Yoga is intentional awareness of the mind, the body, the emotions and the energetic source that supports all life.
The key is to remember your intention. If your intention is to become a parent, then you will be. The only mystery is how you will become a parent and the willingness to receive the journey. For some, the journey may lead us in a direction we didn’t expect. For each of us the path is different, but once we hold our child in our arms, it doesn’t matter how they got there. The key is in accepting life’s offerings, and each experience offers us a lesson that deepens our connection to ourselves, one breath at a time.
Teaching yoga for fertility allows me to witness the miracle of yoga, or union, when parents and children are yoked together through the miracle of receiving life’s source. The unfolding mystery of the journey is one that so many of us are mesmerized by – it’s like watching a movie no one could possibly have written: its too compelling, heart wrenching, uplifting, courageous and unbelievable. Hang in there, because your story is worth watching, if you can just learn to breathe, bear witness and watch and wait.