Brenda Strong, known for role as the deceased Mary Alice Young on Desperate Housewives, is also an accomplished yoga practitioner and teacher for over 23 years. Brenda, who struggled with infertility, created Strong Yoga4Fertility to support women on their life journey through reproductive difficulties, relationships, pregnancy and yes, even menopause. The mother-of-one sat down with Celebrity Baby Scoop for a glimpse into her mysterious role on Desperate Housewives and a frank discussion on infertility and overall wellness.
CBS: Do you enjoy working on Desperate Housewives?
BS: “I LOVE it!!! I feel like I am the luckiest person on the planet. I love working on a show that is consistently written so well, and continues to get critical and audience acclaim. I am so grateful to be able to do what I love for a living, and still have the assemblance of a ‘normal’ life.
My schedule allows me to continue to be there for my family and do charity work for the organizations that I am involved with like Events of the Heart for women’s heart disease, and The American Fertility Association of which I’m a board member and National Spokesperson.”
CBS: How often do you work on the show?
BS: “I work on average at least 2-3 days a week when I’m not on camera. I usually have one day of ADR for the final recording for the voice over on Fridays and then a day of prep at home. I also lay down the template for the upcoming episode and do a table read for the new episode on a separate day.”
CBS: Do you ever get to work with the other gals on Wisteria Lane?
BS: “I see them once a week for the table reads of the script and at charity events, award shows and when I work on camera. We have a great working relationship.
CBS: Will you ever appear, visually, on the show again?
BS: “I always hope that Mary Alice will be seen more. That is always in the hands of Marc Cherry and our writers. Bringing Mary Alice back is meaningful because she was so much a part of Season One and the launch of the show and still is involved on an emotional level through the narration. It’s always powerful for the audience when she returns to Wisteria Lane because it helps reground the cast in the history of their friendships and connections to each other through her loss.
She is only in flashbacks though which makes it challenging to write when you have an ongoing story line that moves you forward. The 100th episode was a perfect example of a stand alone episode that allowed us to return to Wisteria Lane and have the past inform the future. I would love it if we could do more of those types of episodes, they stand on their own so beautifully.”
CBS: You are a yoga expert and have created 3 DVDs called Strong Yoga4Women to help empower women through their struggles with fertility. Is your method a holistic look at the mind, body and spirit? If so, how does this apply to fertility issues?
BS: “My philosophy is that yoga is good for every age and stage of a woman’s life because it promotes awareness and health in a holistic way. Particularly when it comes to being in touch with your body, being aware that your thoughts affect how you feel emotionally and physically is a holistic view that we are a multifaceted organism constantly ‘at cause’ in our own health.
Strong Yoga4Fertility was something I created based on my own research and work with the graduates of The Mind Body Institute program that I’ve taught at UCLA since 1998. I had undergone secondary infertility and understood all too well on an emotional and physical level the toll that was being taken from these women and couples.
In my research, I found that certain yoga poses were helpful in calming the mind and nervous system and assisting the balance of hormones and bringing increased circulation to the pelvis, and addressing the intense stress couples go through when trying to conceive.
Teaching the body to relax through using yoga and the breath, allows women to receive whatever the fertility journey brings them, often with surprising results. If the goal is solely baby focused, every month that you aren’t pregnant, is going to feel like failure. Teaching women to focus on getting healthy and more balanced is key to releasing some of the stress around getting pregnant. When the goal becomes your own health, vitality and empowerment, you understand that it’s an ongoing journey that will prepare you to be a better parent whenever that time comes. My students started getting pregnant more easily after that.
My three-DVD package is an approach on how to balance Mind, Body and Spirit while undergoing something as emotionally, physically and financially as taxing as infertility treatments. The intent is to empower them on their journey so that they can cope consciously with what is happening moment to moment.
1. Strong Yoga4Fertility teaches women how to access their parasympathetic nervous systems (the relaxation response) while detoxifying their bodies, removing adhesions and tension internally and increasing blood circulation and well-being.
2. Strong Yoga4Partners teaches couples how to maintain intimacy and connection to one another by using yoga as a metaphor for the dynamics of a relationship.
3. Strong Yoga4Pregnancy is the celebration of a woman’s changing body, helping her to modify her yoga for each trimester.
Knowing how precious pregnancy is post fertility struggles, I’ve allowed for special attention to calming fears, labor preparation and included testimonials from women who got pregnant using Strong Yoga4Fertility.
CBS: Why do you think so many couples struggle with fertility?
BS: “There are many factors. It’s difficult to generalize, but statistics seem to attribute 30-40% to male issues and 30 to 40% to female issues, and 15 to 20% is simply unexplained.”
CBS: Have the infertility rates increased in recent years?
BS: “Infertility rates are rising and studies show that in 2010 it will be the highest it has been in recent years. Each case is unique to the individual, but infertility rates may in some part be affected by a number of influences: Advanced age, overall weight, unhealthy eating and exercise habits, overall stress, STDs, thyroid issues, and environmental toxins that interrupt and disrupt hormonal balance among others.”
CBS: Do your DVDs help men as well as women in their struggles with fertility?
BS: “Yes. A surprising number of men have responded to the DVD, in spite of the fact that it is primarily focused for women. The Yoga4Partners as well as the Yoga4Pregnancy DVD’s include both men and women in the process.”
CBS: What is the greatest misconception surrounding fertility and infertility?
BS: “I caution anyone thinking that they may want a family someday to get checked early by a reproductive endocrinologist to make sure that everything is in order and create a plan. Even if you aren’t ready now, having all the information will allow you to make more informed choices for the future. Having a baby at an advanced age is not as easy as it always looks!”
CBS: You suffered a miscarriage and struggled with fertility yourself. What helped you to conceive and your now-15-year-old son, Zak?
BS: “I practiced yoga and meditation prior to conceiving Zak and did acupuncture and herbs during my pregnancy.”
CBS: Did you practice yoga during your pregnancy?
BS: “I actually went through my Yoga Teacher Training while I was pregnant, which was an amazing gift to us both.”
CBS: Did this help strengthen your mind, body and spirit during your pregnancy?
BS: “Absolutely. Studies have shown that what the mom does directly impacts the child physiologically, so I feel that both of us benefited in mind body and spirit from my yoga practice during the pregnancy.”
CBS: You are the spokesperson for the American Fertility Association. Tell us about your role at AFA.
BS: “My role with The AFA is two-fold. I am their spokesperson, so I help to represent them in the press and bring awareness to their many wonderful services and programs. I also serve on their Board, helping shape policies and contribute in any way I can.”
CBS: What is the mission and the message of the organization?
BS: “The AFA’s purpose is to educate the public about reproductive disease, and support families during struggles with infertility and adoption.”
CBS: What are some ways that we can support our sisters and friends going through infertility? What should we say? What shouldn’t we say?
BS: “It is such a sensitive time, and the emotions are running so high, the best thing to do is to listen and be compassionate. It is a very private and often isolating experience and can be laced with shame and feelings of depression and failure.
The worst thing you can say to them is ‘just relax’- trust me, they are doing the best they can. If they can be around other women who are going through reproductive difficulties, either in a yoga for fertility class or a support group focused on fertility, this can be extremely supportive. (Please take a look at the websites for The AFA, The Mind Body Institute or Resolve).
CBS: Do you feel many couples rush into IVF before trying natural methods to increase their chances of fertility?
BS: “I doubt that anyone rushes into IVF (Unless they have waited too long or there are physical reasons that make it the only option). Most reproductive endocrinologists will support a very gradual approach that is less invasive first, like a supported natural cycle or IUI before ever recommending IVF.
However, I do think that many people are unaware that the more natural methods of acupuncture and yoga can help to increase their chances of conceiving either on their own or in support of their doctors protocol.”
CBS: What is your feeling on hormonally-controlled fertility options versus more natural methods?
BS: “I feel it’s a very personal decision. They are both trying to achieve the same result, but it depends on how much time you have on your fertility clock. If there is less time, then the more controlled version will achieve faster results, but can also be hard on the body. If you have more time, opting for more natural methods will allow the bodies natural healing ability to kick in and balance the hormones through acupuncture, herbs and yoga.
They are both viable approaches, however, I always recommend that you consult with a fertility specialist to get a good picture of where you are and what choices are available to you. I have seen success with both approaches and yoga actually supports both beautifully.”
CBS: If you are working on any other projects or with any charities, please feel free to discuss.
BS: “My personal mission is to help women to wellness. Women are the heart of every family, the choices they make impact the entire family unit, the community and the world.
To that purpose, I also serve on the Board of Events of the Heart, an organization committed to raising awareness about women’s heart disease through the art of story. Our goal is to reach a million women this year and inspire them to get themselves and their sisters, mothers and friends checked.
We recently performed these stories at the Women’s Conference in Long Beach and it was a huge success. At the heart of every woman there is a story…what’s yours? Tell us your story here.”