Doctors normally advise IVF patients to take it easy on the exercise front, especially when they start on the stimulating drugs and go onto the procedures. That doesn't mean, however, that you should skip on the Yoga practice. It's widely acknowledged that Yoga is the best thing you can do to reduce stress, anxiety and tension (no bias there!)
By combining a lower intensity Yoga practice and mindful meditation, you're in fact setting yourself up for success. But what should you bear in mind when going through an IVF cycle? If this is what you're facing, here are a few tips to help you stay sane, look after your body during this intense process, and (hopefully) increase success:
Focus on a restorative practice rather than exercise: Let's be honest – there are times when IVF is an invasive, and frankly rather awkward, process. You'll be prodded and pricked, and asked all sorts of questions. At the end of it, you'll probably be feeling a bit sore (not to mention left feeling like your physical and emotional privacy has been invaded). This is just the time when you need to focus on your own well being rather than keeping fit (although overall fitness during IVF is important). You'll also need to be keeping your body temperature fairly stable, rather than building up a sweat!
Shhhhh! Listen!: Linked to the above point, you need to turn your attention to how your body is reacting to each asana/pose. It's as with any Yoga class, anyway – if a posture doesn't feel quite right, you need to either relax the pose or simply stop. We live our lives every day like we're superman/superwomen – but during IVF, you'll need to relax the power yoga and take it easy.
Avoid engaging the abdominal muscles: One factor, certainly in female infertility, is reduced blood flow to the abdomen because the muscles are always tense or clenched. If you go the intense exercise route, you could also be playing havoc with your pelvic floor (which could have longer running problems, following pregnancy, too). The IVF cycle period is a good time to step away from Crow, Jump Backs and any other asana that engages the core and abdominal muscles, just to keep the blood flow to the abdomen even.
Avoid intense twists and inversions: You might totally love headstand or that deep turn in twisted triangle – but sorry ladies, this can actually affect the embryo's ability to implant in the uterus. Intense twisted poses can cut off the blood flow around the abdomen. Inversions, in particular, take the blood circulation away from the abdomen, just at the point when it needs it the most – think of how the embryo gets its nutrients, and you get the picture. This can essentially cause issues such as ovarian torsion, where there's lower blood circulation and potentially abdominal pain.
On the back of these "please don't do" tips, you're probably wondering what you can do! Well, of course, Yoga has an answer! Below are only a few of the many asanas that can help you relax, release anxiety (and avoid punching anything or anyone), and increase the blood circulation where it's needed most.
1. Uttanasana and Paschimottansana (Standing Forward Bend and Sitting Forward Bend): These two forward bends help gently stimulate the reproductive organs, by placing a gentle pressure on the abdomen. They are also great to relieve stress, anxiety and bad moods.
2. Janu Sirsasana (One-Legged Forward Bend): Like the two-legged version, this posture is a great way to gently open up the hips, create space, and release tension in the muscles around the lower body.
3. Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose): If you keep this supported, to avoid straining the abdomen, this is a great asana to open up the abdomen, whilst evening out the blood circulation to this area. It's also a great posture to use for later on in pregnancy, simply because you're engaging the pelvic floor. It's also a great posture for the ladies, as it helps reduce tension (which is just what you'll need with some of the physical exams!)
4. Upavistha Konasana (Sitting Wide Angle Forward Bend): Another asana/posture that not only helps with getting the mind into meditative pose – it also helps balance out the blood circulation to the abdomen.
5. Supported Bridge: In this posture, it's best to place a pillow or bolster under the hips. This helps you avoid clenching the muscles too much, allowing blood and energy to pool in the abdominal area.
6. Viparita Karani (Feet Up the Wall): A great immune system booster that can pool energy (and blood) in the pelvic area. It's also terrific for increasing circulation and vitality in the pelvis.
7. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose): A great chest opener as well as a great stimulating pose for the abdomen, Bhujangasana stimulates the endocrine system (just go easy on the abdominal stretch, which is why having the hands slightly further in front of the body than you might normally do is so good).
8. Supported Child Pose: Who doesn't love Child Pose (Balasana)?! It's a truly relaxing pose that helps the body (and mind) rest, and aid digestion.
9. Savasana: Focusing on bringing mental calm, you can also focus your breath on the stomach and abdominal areas. This helps you create an internal peace and quiet as well as maintain warmth.