The diagnosis of infertility and the decision to pursue treatment can present significant emotional, financial and physical challenges for individuals and couples that ultimately contribute to increased anxiety and depression. Behavioral interventions such as meditation and yoga, that focus on increasing mindfulness and self-compassion, have been successfully implemented in couples undergoing fertility treatment and have been shown to improve psychological distress and coping strategies.1,2
The success of assisted reproductive technology therapy relies on numerous factors that are outside the control of any one individual. Developing a mindfulness practice that facilitates finding peace within the chaos, periods of waiting and unknown is critical to maintaining overall quality of life throughout the process.
As September is National Yoga Awareness month, we want to give a nod to the practice of yoga, as it has been shown to be an incredibly effective tool when implemented prior to and throughout initiating fertility treatment. In addition to the physical benefits such as increased strength and flexibility, the mental benefits from an increasing inner calm, stress reduction and overall relaxation can positively impact many areas of life.3The additional beauty of yoga is that it can be done in the comfort of your own home without any equipment (you don’t even need a mat!) and you can practice anytime you want. So what’s stopping you?
What kind of yoga should I do?
Much of the research that has focused on yoga as an intervention in individuals undergoing fertility treatment has used hatha yoga, which is a type of yoga that combines movement with breath, but you can choose whatever practice suits you best. Other common styles include vinyasa, deep stretch and power yoga. Regardless of the style of your practice. the focus should be on the breath, because that’s where the yoga truly is. Once you learn to breathe and center yourself effectively within the movement, you can translate that practice into everyday life… when you’re stressed about a deadline… while stuck in traffic driving to work or driving to your next appointment… when you find all the ultrasound appointments and injections overwhelming… while waiting in the waiting room… you can find a sense of calm and centeredness within the chaos and keep breathing.
What evidence is there for yoga with fertility treatment?
One study of women undergoing IVF treatment demonstrated that as little as one 55-minute yoga practice once a week for six weeks leading up to IVF treatment resulted in significantly improved overall quality of life, emotional and mind-body scores in addition to a significant reduction in mean anxiety and depression scores.4Another study used a combined approach emphasizing mindfulness of thoughts and feelings through breath, guided body scans and hatha yoga which resulted in improved self-compassion, coping strategies and improved scores in all domains of a quality of life assessment.2
How do I get started?
Make a commitment to dedicate one hour a week to yourself to get started, and see what happens. You could do three 20 minute sessions, two 30 minute sessions, or one hour straight through. Whatever suits your schedule and mind best. Choose a positive mantra to begin your practice with and when you notice your mind wandering, repeat it throughout your practice:
“I am strong… I am capable… I am beautiful… I am resilient… I am a survivor… I am grateful…” Choose a mantra that speaks to you.
There are numerous free yoga videos on YouTube to get you started. Check out our Yoga quick links to view some of our favorites! Once you have the basics down you can simply turn on your favorite music, set a timer for 20 minutes to an hour, go with the flow and breathe. If you prefer a group exercise setting, multiple studios offer very reasonable walk-in rates for anywhere from $5-$10 class.
Commit to taking care of yourself, one breath at a time.
If you have any questions, give us a call! We’re happy to chat!
Ashley Eskew, MD
Wash U Fertility Team
- Galhardo A, Cunha M, Pinto-Gouveia J. Mindfulness-Based Program for Infertility: efficacy study. Fertil Steril2013;100:1059-67.
- Li J, Long L, Liu Y, He W, Li M. Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention on fertility quality of life and pregnancy rates among women subjected to first in vitro fertilization treatment. Behav Res Ther2016;77:96-104.
- Valoriani V, Lotti F, Vanni C, Noci MC, Fontanarosa N, Ferrari G, et al. Hatha-yoga as a psychological adjuvant for women undergoing IVF: a pilot study. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol2014;176:158-62.
- Oron G, Allnutt E, Lackman T, Sokal-Arnon T, Holzer H, Takefman J. A prospective study using Hatha Yoga for stress reduction among women waiting for IVF treatment. Reprod Biomed Online2015;30:542-8.