Yoga Decreases Stress by 20 Percent in Fertility Patients
There is no way around it, fertility treatment is stressful. Three out of 10 IVF patients suffer from anxiety and depression. Studies have also shown that an infertility diagnosis generates similar stress as an HIV or cancer diagnosis.
For fertility patients, this often means dropping out of treatment before achieving success. Further adding to the problem, stress has been found to negatively affect IVF outcomes. As a fertility patient, being told to “Just relax,” does nothing but create more self-directed negativity, stress and anxiety.
When faced with the stress conundrum, we knew that it was critical to provide an effective solution for patients. Yoga is a mindful, meditative practice that has been shown to decrease stress in other areas of medicine. Thus we partnered with Pulling Down the Moon to investigate the potential role for yoga in stress reduction for infertility patients.
Study: The Impact of Yoga on Anxiety in Fertility Patients
In one of the largest controlled studies to date, Fertility Centers of Illinois and Pulling Down the Moon found that a six-week yoga program significantly lowered anxiety rates in fertility patients. When comparing the yoga group to the control group, the yoga group saw a 20% reduction in anxiety versus a 2% reduction in the control group. Typically during fertility treatment, stress levels continue to rise as treatment continues. In this patient population, we would have deemed the technique successful if stress levels had stayed the same. Completing the Yoga for Fertility program was not only effective at lowering stress, it produced drastic results in a short period of time.
Study participants completed 45 minutes of vinyasa-style yoga and 30 minutes of group discussion with other infertility patients once a week over a period of six weeks. Each yoga posture practice includes a gentle series of flowing yoga poses. Group discussion centered on how to apply different yoga techniques (breathing, meditation, working with negative thoughts, etc.) to the fertility journey.
Beth Heller, M.S., R.Y.T. and co-founder of Pulling Down the Moon, created the Yoga for Fertility Program specifically to help fertility patients.
“Over the 14 years that Pulling Down the Moon has been offering this program we have seen the results in the faces and bodies of our students but it’s wonderful to finally be able to quantify how yoga can help with the fertility process. I think yoga teachers and students everywhere will appreciate that yoga continuing to make inroads in the area of evidence-based medicine. ”
How Yoga Decreases Stress, Boosts Relaxation
While study results show that yoga is an effective stress-reduction tool, we also wanted to understand why yoga is able to accomplish this.
We believe there are three main reasons why yoga can reduce stress:
Community Support Reduces Isolation
The yoga program in this study also included group discussion centered on the most stressful parts of the infertility treatment process – feeling of lack of control, various medical aspects, separation from one’s normal peer group and feelings of guilt and self-blame. Being with others experiencing similar challenges immediately provides a support network and reduces isolation.
Relaxation Activation via Nerve Stimulation
Yoga, a low-intensity form of exercise, works on the physical body. Through stretching and bending the spine and limbs and emphasizing deep diaphragmatic breathing, it is believed that the body’s relaxation response is mechanically stimulated. It has been hypothesized that yoga poses and breathing exercises stimulate the vagus nerve, a large nerve running the length of the spine that is a key regulator of our body’s parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS in turn stimulates the relaxation response.
Utilizing Key Relaxation Strategies of Breathing and Meditation
The six-week yoga program in this study also included breathing and meditation practices, both of which have been shown to decrease anxiety and alleviate depression in many different conditions.
If you are trying for a baby and are feeling down on your journey, remember there are a wealth of resources available for you. Even if you are short on time, committing just one hour per week can make a huge difference in your life. Be sure to be kind and patient with yourself in this process.
Curious about putting your interest in yoga into action? Practice the Moon Salute Sequence right now with Beth from Pulling Down the Moon: https://youtu.be/FIwySw530IM
Dr. Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron, Fertility Centers of Illinois Dr. Hirshfeld-Cytron is a reproductive endocrinologist with Fertility Centers of Illinois and is board certified in both Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility. Her professional interests include fertility preservation, which involves preserving fertility for women facing diseases of which treatment could impair ovarian function, as well as women choosing to delay fertility for social or personal reasons. Dr. Hirshfeld-Cytron’s personal practice philosophy stems not only from her clinical expertise but from her experience as a woman and a mother.