You know the feeling. Your mind is racing, and so is your heart rate as you juggle the competing demands of work, family, school, and on and on. Sources of stress and anxiety are everywhere — and this time of year is notorious for producing a stress overload.
When you’re stressed, your body responds by going into fight-or-flight mode. This primal response may have benefited our prehistoric forebearers, but in modern humans, the effects of stress are harmful and may interfere with fertility (1).
These effects may be compounded by the fears and anxiety that come with infertility. One study showed that depression levels in patients with infertility were comparable to individuals diagnosed with cancer (1).
Harness the power of knowing your body
The good news? Multiple studies have found that natural anxiety-easing techniques may relieve stress, possibly by reducing the amount of cortisol, a stress hormone, in your system. (4, 5, 6, 7). One small study at Harvard Medical School found that pregnancy rates following in vitro fertilization were almost 3 times higher for women who attended mind/body classes (with yoga, meditation, imagery, etc.) compared to those who hadn’t taken part in these types of classes (8).
As an added advantage, yoga may help you better understand your reaction to and tolerance for pain — a benefit worth discussing with your midwife or obstetrician as an option for pain management when you do become pregnant and are thinking about your birth plan (9).
So why not practice some natural self-care in the New Year by carving out time for yoga and stretching? Below are 5 easy-to-learn stretches and yoga poses that target different areas of the body for you and your partner to try at home. As always, consult with your doctor if needed, and always listen to your body. During any physical activity, if something is painful or doesn’t feel good, stop or adjust the pose. Using yoga props, such as blankets, pillows, and yoga blocks can help support the body to allow it to relax.
Pranayama, which in Sanskrit translates to life force extension, is a mindful, belly-based breathing technique meant to instill a conscious awareness of your breathing. Try it to quiet your mind, focus your breathing, and find serenity in both your body and spirit after a stressful day.
To begin, lie in a comfortable position on your back.* Bend your knees and set your feet flat on a mat or the ground. Place your palm on your abdomen and monitor your breaths for a few moments, noticing the mild contraction of your abdomen as you exhale and the expansion as you inhale. Work in a slight pause between breaths, if comfortable.
Try to gently but actively expand your abdomen during inhalation and contract it as you release your breath to enhance the natural movement of your diaphragm. Continue for 6-12 breaths.
Important note: If you are in your second or third trimester, limit the time lying on your back to 90 seconds or less. An alternative would be to prop your back with a big bolster on blocks to create an angle to lie on or to do this on your side.
Source: Yoga Journal
A stiff neck and knotted shoulders are often unavoidable consequences of the daily grind. Try this calming neck stretch to help unkink knots in your levator scapulae muscles, the pair of muscles that run along the sides of your neck, and are particularly stress-prone.
Sit or stand in a comfortable position within reach of a wall. Lift the elbow of the arm nearest to the wall slightly above your shoulder and comfortably rest your elbow against the wall. Slowly turn your head away from the wall and gently lower your chin a bit to stretch your neck.
With compassion move slowly making small adjustments to the neck to avoid deep expressions and straining the neck muscles. Breathe deeply when you find any tight or sticky spots in the neck. Hold this position for about 30-60 seconds. Repeat on your other side.
Source: Spine Health
Recapture a more Zen-like feeling with this playful pose to stretch your hips, elongate your spine, and release tension in your low back.
Find a peaceful location to lie on your back. Bend and lift your knees, extending them, so they hover in the air on either side of your abdomen. Next, grasp the outsides of your feet, big toes, ankles, or wherever is most comfortable. Gently move your knees toward your armpits, if that’s enjoyable.
Relax into this pose for a few moments or give your lower spine an impromptu mini-massage by rocking gently from side to side while in this pose.
Ready to listen to what your body trying to tell you?
Important note: If you are in your second or third trimester, limit lying on your back to less than 90 seconds. A great alternative would be to do Windshield Wiper Legs in a seated position. To do this, find a comfortable seated position on a folded blanket. Bring both hands behind your back to prop the upper body in a reclining position (or bring your hands onto two blocks behind you if the floor feels too far away). Bend both knees and place your feet on the floor out in front of you. Slowly allow both knees to lower towards the right and in a slow motion bring the knees back to center and then off towards the left. Repeat as many times as it feels comfortable. Come out of the pose by bringing the legs back to a comfortable seated position.
Source: Yoga Journal
This gentle, restful twist helps to relieve stress in your lower back and unkink your spinal column. As you concentrate on restoring balance in your back, slowly empty your mind and let the stress of your day melt away.
Begin by reclining on your back on the floor or a mat with your legs straight. Draw your knees gently to your chest and clasp them with your arms. Bring your right hand to the outside of your left knee and lower both knees to your right side.
Extend your left arm straight out to your left, so it’s level with your shoulder, and your palm faces the floor or mat. Your right hand can remain resting on your left knee. Then, turn your neck slightly to the left, make sure to keep your shoulders in contact with your mat or the floor. Repeat on the other side.
Important note: Reclining Twist should not be done if you are pregnant. Instead, an open seated twist is an option since it does not compress/twist the stomach. To do an open seated twist, find a comfortable seated position on a folded up blanket. Place a block behind you on the left side. Keep the left leg out long as you bend the right knee and bring the right foot closer to the groin, keeping the right foot on the ground. Slowly begin to turn the upper body towards the left resting the left hand on the block behind you. Breathe here for a few breaths, slowly come out of the pose and repeat on the right side.
Source: Running Magazine
Child's pose is a position of stillness in a yoga class — a restful pose intended to help you relax, breathe, and rid your mind of anxious thoughts. To begin, kneel on a mat or the floor with your big toes touching.
Sit back on your heels and spread your knees a comfortable distance slightly wider than your hips. Gently lower your torso and head between your spread knees, so your forehead rests softly on the mat or floor. Relax your shoulders and arms and let your arms rest on either side of your head, with your palms facing the ground.
Hold for a few moments to focus on gentle inhalations and exhalations.
Important note: Balasana (Child's Pose) is not recommended for those who are already pregnant since it compresses the stomach. Instead, a recommended pose is a wide leg forward fold where the stomach is not compressed. To do a wide leg forward fold, find a comfortable seated position on a folded blanket. Bring both legs out wide, without pulling the legs further than they naturally fall. Place a folded up blanket under each knee and a big bolser out in front between your legs. Slowly begin to bring the upper body towards the bolster, use your arms to rest on the big bolster to support the upper body. Avoiding falling into this pose, instead slowly allow gravity and time help you move into the pose. Breath here a few breaths. Use your hands to push the floor away and bring the upper body back to a natural position to come out of the pose. Use your hands to gently guide the legs back to a seated position. Any pitch or pain should be avoided and coming out of the pose slowly is recommended.
Source: Very Well Health
Hopefully, doing these stretches and yoga poses will not only relieve stress but also help you feel more in tune with your body. If these exercises have sparked your interest in working out as you try to conceive, read this blog for safe workout routines that may pack amazing fertility benefits, such as minimizing the risk of miscarriage and pregnancy complications and boosting the chances of implantation.
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