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Yoga Journal - November 2002

YOGA 4 PARTNERS with Brenda Strong and Tom Henri

OUR SOLITARY daily yoga practice can sometimes get lonely. At such times it's nice to partner up
and work with a spouse, friend or colleague - provided you both can keep the gossiping to a
minimum. Here is a sweet , 25-minute session for two partners that, by my count, includes 15
simple paired excercises or yoga asana. Each excersise or asana represents, and is named as,
some admirable quality or qualitieslearned from the cooperative effort, which can then, according
to the teacher's premise, be applied to everyday life. For example, a linked-arms, leaning-back
excercise, teaches "trusting and letting-go", and a knee-to-knee, assisted seated twist teaches
"respecting limitations". Strong, a Southern California teacher, and her partner, Henri, have
produced a relatively mild, straight-forward practice that emphasizes both self-and other-
awareness. They are excellent models, performing the work with compatible grace and harmony.


 

Alternative Medicine - December 2002

Yoga's Feminine Side
Brenda Strong

Could this ancient practice help you conceive?

REMEMBER WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER and the objective was to not get pregnant? Well, times
have changed. Starting a family is not as easy as it once was, at least for those of us in our
thirties and forties. Experts say a woman's ability to conceive declines measurably at age 35 and
plummets nearly twice as fast by the time she hits 40. Many of us have waited to pursue our
careers, find the perfect mate, achieve financial stability—and one day it's too late.

In an effort to turn back the clock, many couples have been heading to doctors' offices. With the
explosion of highly technical therapies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), gamete intra-fallopian
transfer (GIFT), and other modifications of test-tube treatments, couples last year alone spent
over a billion dollars in the pursuit of a baby. Yet results can be disappointing. The average
success rate for IVF is about 19 percent; with GIFT, it's 28 percent. Luckily, there may be a simple
way to improve the odds. A growing body of evidence is beginning to support the idea that stress
plays a critical role in preventing conception. (And these days, who isn't wound a bit too tight?) A
study published in Fertility and Sterility found that among women trying in vitro fertilization, those
with high levels of stress produced fewer eggs—and therefore had fewer embryos that could be
transferred into their wombs—than their more relaxed counterparts.

Alice Domar, director of the Mind/Body Center for Women's Health at Harvard Medical School, has
demonstrated even more direct evidence of the payoff of stress relief. Fifteen years ago, she
divided 110 women who had tried to get pregnant for one to two years into three groups. The first
was an infertility support group; the second concentrated on relaxation therapies including yoga
and meditation; the third was given fertility medication alone. After a year, only 20 percent of the
women on medication alone became pregnant compared to about half the women in both types of
support groups.

No one quite understands the physiology involved, but Domar's research suggests that stress can
delay menstrual cycles and create abnormal levels of the pituitary hormone prolactin, which is
responsible for ovulation. And the process feeds on itself. The more stressed you are, the harder it
may be to conceive, which in turn makes you more stressed. Domar found that infertile women are
significantly more depressed than their fertile counterparts, with depression and anxiety levels
equivalent to women with heart disease, cancer, or HIV-positive status.

Of course, there are many ways to break the cycle, from meditation to therapy to curling up in a
comfy chair with a good book. But if you're looking for something that combines emotional release
with a satisfying physical workout, yoga is a natural choice.

Several years ago I struggled with my own infertility issues, and as a yoga instructor, this ancient
practice was a logical place for me to turn. With its deep breathing techniques and asanas, or
poses, yoga conditions the body from the inside out, calming the nervous system, slowing the
heart rate, stretching and toning the muscles. Yogic breathing also helps strengthen the
diaphragm to increase lung capacity and improve circulation, thereby distributing oxygen and
nutrients throughout the system.

And this is just the Western view of yoga's benefits. From an Eastern perspective, yoga relaxes by
a different, more "holistic" route. Traditional Chinese medicine, for instance, holds that blockages
or imbalances between the masculine (yang) and feminine (yin) energies in the body can be the
root causes of ill health—or in this case, stress-induced discomforts and dysfunctions.

Yoga is based on this same concept of enhancing the flow of energy through energy channels,
which are part of what yogis call the "chakra" system. The word chakra literally translates as
wheel or disk. It refers to the sphere ofbioenergetic activity that emanates from the major nerve
ganglia branching forward from the spinal column. A chakra is a center of activity that receives,
assimilates, and expresses energy.

Seven of these wheels are stacked in a column that spans from the base of the spine to the top
of the head and roughly corresponds to major glandular and nervous system groupings. That's why
neuroendocrine health—the chemical signals from the brain that maintain the body's delicate
hormonal balance—can be influenced by the practice of yoga.

The second chakra is of utmost importance for sexual health. Located around the lower abdomen
and groin, this energy center rules the reproductive organs, and relates to movement, sensation,
pleasure, sexuality and, theoretically, fertility. Anodea Judith, author of Eastern Body, Western
Mind, has a healing practice utilizing the chakra system for therapeutic purposes. She believes
that if there is an energy blockage, excess, or deficiency in the second chakra, the imbalance can
affect physical function, and she suggests poses to "rebalance" the area.

Four years ago, I incorporated this idea into my own research on stress and fertility and began
teaching what I call a more "feminine" type of yoga at the West Coast branch of the Mind/Body
Institute in Los Angeles. It combines deep relaxation poses and poses designed to enhance
reproductive health. The conception success rate in the graduate group has been almost 50
percent. For the women who were also undergoing medical treatments, I found that my yoga
program made it easier for them to tolerate the stress and discomfort that's often involved in the
process.

I've included a mini-version of that program, the sidebar "Six steps to well-being," which you can
do in your own home as often as you like (it takes about 20 minutes).There's no guarantee it will
help you conceive, but it will certainly let you take a critical first step: relaxing your body and mind
so you can improve your chances. One thing's for sure: If you do get pregnant, yoga will help you
relax through the nine months of pregnancy— and a lifetime of being a mom.

BOOSTING FERTILITY NATURALLY

I started my journey to become pregnant at the age of 37. My Gynecologist informed me that studies showed that most healthy couples who are unsuccessful in getting pregnant after a year are usually successful during the second year. However, considering my age, I was ready to start fertility testing early. I never considered that my husband and I would ultimately qualify as one of the six million plus infertile married couples in the United States. Infertility can stem from a number of health problems. In addition to the complex female reproductive system, about 30 to 40% of all infertility cases have a male factor as the main reason and 40-50% as a contributing cause. My husband and I both participated in all the initial testing and examinations required. Right off the bat we were startled to discover my symptoms of premature menopause. In addition to being a healthy, athletic and youthful woman, I have spent the last decade researching and writing about anti-aging and longevity medicine so being told my eggs were old was a difficult pill to swallow. Eighteen months and thousands of dollars in medical bills later, I can tell you that no rock has gone unturned in my pursuit of knowledge on how to achieve pregnancy.

With the passion of Jonas Salk in his endeavor to cure polio, I eagerly began an examination of all options for treating infertility. The layers of scientific research alone could fill a library. Assisted reproductive technology (ART) has grown enormously in the last decade due to the fact that twenty-five percent of couples over the age of 35 are classified as infertile. From western medicine to herbal therapies and acupuncture, infertility diets, yoga for fertility and mind/body programs, it appears that the field of infertility medicine may provide aid for almost any reproductive problem. While I wish I was writing a success story, there is no doubt that I will be sharing a positive account in the very near future. I believe that with all the knowledge and technology available in field of Infertility there is great hope for any woman who desires to become pregnant. However, there is an enormous amount of information regarding ways to boost fertility “naturally” that many medical doctors don’t share with their patients. The objective of alternative medicine and natural approaches is to enhance physical, mental and emotional health by exploring nutritional values, fitness strategies and options to improve overall well being.

After interviewing seven board certified reproductive endocrinologist, I found that there was a huge gap between alternative medicine and traditional or conventional medicine. As a matter of fact, most medical doctors are extremely narrow-minded when it comes to discussing natural treatments or philosophies of eastern medicine. The unanswered question remains…why do so many doctors choose to dismiss alternative medicine as an adjunct to scientific medical treatments and procedures?

Dr. Uzzi Reiss, a pioneering gynecologist and author of Natural Hormone Balance For Women is not only an exception to this rule, but he is one of the few doctors I have had the pleasure to know that thrives on thinking outside the box. Dr. Reiss looks for a combination of treatments, both alternative and conventional, that will nutritionally affect the body and achieve optimal endocrine function. Dr. Reiss says, “I believe that an imbalance of hormones, as well as, deficiencies of vital amino acids and protein can result in endocrine break down.” He looks at each patient as a completely unique being with idiosyncratic conditions. Reiss initially conducts a series of blood, urine and saliva test and then decides upon a specialized treatment customized to accommodate that person’s specific issues. In his book, Reiss discusses the fact that researchers gave DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), a hormone manufactured by the adrenal gland, to women under the age of forty-two who did not respond to fertility drugs. They found a 300 percent improvement in their response after taking 80 milligrams of DHEA daily for two months.

Unfortunately, my experience with a number of reproductive endocrinologists is that a “cookie cutter recipe” applies to most everyone and alternative medicine is not an option. Although Reiss does not perform certain fertility procedures, like artificial insemination or invitro-fertilization, his goal is to prepare you for optimal results and increase your chances for success whether you conceive naturally or with the aid of fertility treatments. Researching all available information, whether it is based on scientific studies or natural medicine and nutritional research, can only improve your chances of becoming pregnant.

One innovative nutritional supplement called FertilityBlend has shown a promising link to enhanced endocrine function in both men and women. The herb Vitex enhances hormone balance and ovulation frequency and the amino acid L-argenine helps to improve circulation to the reproductive area. Furthermore, antioxidants, Folic acid and other vitamins and minerals address specific deficiencies and promote fertility health in women. A study conducted in conjunction with Stanford University School of Medicine found improvement in women’s mid-luteal phase progesterone levels, basal body temperatures and statistically significant increase in pregnancy rate following nutritional supplementation with FertilityBlend for three months. FertilityBlend for men has shown to improve sperm count, quality and mobility. Dr. Mary Lake Polan, Assistant Professor, Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Stanford University School of Medicine says, “Vitamins, minerals and specific cofactors play an enormous role in fertility function.” She adds, “Good nutrition is a prerequisite for both fertility and child bearing. Studies show an improvement in fertility function on both men and women after using FertilityBlend.” The product combines key ingredients into specifically designed men’s and women’s formulations. FertilityBlend is manufactured by The Daily Wellness Company and distributed at GNC stores nationwide.

Traditional Chinese medicine has developed rapidly in the area of infertility. Currently, there are hundreds of herbal substances identified and used extensively for treating infertility. Furthermore, acupuncture seems to potentially offer a viable alternative therapy for female infertility due to hormone problems. Dr. Daoshing Ni (Dr. Dao) is a California licensed acupuncturist and a doctor of Oriental medicine specializing in gynecology and reproductive medicine. Dr. Dao says, “We have found increased follicular development with some patients in an ART cycle using a combination of Chinese medicine, especially those who were labeled poor responders.” Studies from China have suggested treatment effectiveness in the areas of luteal phase defect, endometriosis, immunological infertility and male subfertility. In addition, herbs have proven to produce overall strengthening and therapeutic effects.

Susun Weed, a New York based herbalist, says many common plants can be used to influence fertility, including red clover, partridge berry, liferoot, wild carrot and wild yam. Other frequently used weeds and garden plants that have been used to increase or decrease fertility includes stinging nettle, oatstraw, pennyroyal, Jack-in-the-pulpit, rue and parsley. For more information on herbal therapies to increase fertility visit Susun Weed at www.susunweed.com.

In the book “The Infertility Diet: Get Pregnant and Prevent Miscarriage” by Fern Reiss, numerous links found between diet and reproductive function are discussed. The Infertility Diet is the result of an evidence-based nutritional analysis of several hundred medical studies that explored connections between diet, fertility and miscarriage. The book discusses specific conditions, evidence behind the recipes and sample menus.
For example, yams are full of anti-oxidants, such as beta-carotene, and contain phytoestrogens, weak estrogens that inhibit the body’s own estrogen. Acting much like the drug Clomid this anti-estrogen effect stimulates the ovaries. Furthermore, if you have received a medical diagnosis of hypothyroidism, you should limit or avoid foods that inhibit the absorption of iodine in your system. These foods to avoid include peanut, pine nuts, cabbage, mustard, and turnips. Reiss provides delicious recipes such as, Curried Yam Latkes and Corn Tofu Chowder. For couples who have been trying unsuccessfully to become pregnant, or who have experienced the trauma of miscarriage, nutritional changes are definitely worth a try. In addition, the book discusses the importance of relaxation and other factors that may affect one’s ability to conceive.

The Mind/Body Institute in Beverly Hills, California, believes that reducing stress may be the best medicine for infertility. Their mission is to alleviate the psychological distress and accompanying depression associated with infertility, which, in turn, increases conception rates. They offer a comprehensive 10 week program that includes intensive relaxation based training, cognitive restructuring and emotional coping and support. In addition, Harvard Medical School’s Mind/Body Institute recently revealed remarkable findings regarding the link between stress and infertility. A study conducted on a group of 184 women who had been trying to achieve pregnancy for one to two years and who were not undergoing any other forms of psychotherapy showed that 55% of the participants who completed the Mind/Body Fertility Program became pregnant and went on to deliver.


Infertility itself can cause tremendous stress, depression and anxiety. Yoga instructor, Brenda Strong, recently released an instructional video entitled, “Yoga4Fertility.” It is designed to enhance and support any protocol treatment suggested by your doctor. Yoga and meditation can reduce stress, bodily tension and energetic blocks in the body that accumulate over time. Strong says, “What makes this yoga practice different and innovative is the sequencing of postures, breath and attention focusing primarily on the reproductive organs in addition to reducing stress levels”. For more information on this yin style of yoga, visit: www.Yoga4Fertility.com.

With new discoveries in the field of infertility being released on a daily basis, researchers are introducing options, as well as, creating new procedures that will successfully treat almost any condition related to infertility. It appears that natural approaches, nutrition, diet, Eastern medicine philosophies, yoga, and mind/body practices all may help boost fertility naturally and increase your chances for pregnancy when medical assistance is necessary. There is definitely hope for almost any couple who desires to become pregnant and realize their dream of starting a family. I will keep you posted on my progress.

LATE BREAKING MEDICAL INFORMATION

Dr. Lawrence Werlin of Orange County, California, is a nationally noted specialist in reproductive endocrinology and infertility. He recently presented cutting edge data regarding the effects of Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). PGD is being used to test groups that are at high risk for pregnancy failure by applying DNA probes that will bind to chromosomes and determine whether the patient is producing a structure of unhealthy chromosomes. Werlin is the principal investigator of a study being conducted by the GENESIS Network for Reproductive Health. He feels PGD will provide evidence and insight about how to increase chances for pregnancy success and when to consider using options such as donor eggs or donor embryos.

Another ground-breaking, yet controversial, technique recently developed by Dr. Michael M. Kamrava in Beverly Hills, California, is the use of Embryo Glue. It involves implanting the embryo into the lining of the womb (uterus). Dr. Kamrava feels that this ground-breaking technique will eliminate tubal pregnancies from the invitro-fertilization (IVF) procedures and guarantee that the embryo will not fall out of the uterus thus eliminating the need for the woman to stay in bed for 2 days. Any patient undergoing IVF is a good candidate for this technique. Furthermore, Dr. Kamrava, a pioneer in the field of infertility medicine is one of the few medical doctors and infertility specialist who agrees that boosting fertility naturally can only help to increase the rate of pregnancy success.

NUTGRAPH

FertilityBlend for Women:
• The herb, Vitex (chasteberry), enhances hormone balance and ovulation frequency.
• The amino acid, L-arginine, helps improve circulation to the reproductive area
• Antioxidants, green tea, vitamin E, and selenium, help repair oxidative damage due to aging and environment.
• Folic acid assists in the reduction of specific birth defects (neural tube defects) in children
• Vitamins B6 and B12, and minerals, iron, zinc and magnesium help address specific deficiencies and promote fertility health.*
FertilityBlend for Men:
• The amino acid, L-carnitine, has been shown to be critical to the formation of healthy sperm. Vitamins C and E, green tea and selenium are all potent antioxidants that help improve sperm counts and quality.
• Ferulic acid, an antioxidant found in Dong Quai, has also been shown to improve sperm quality.
• Zinc and B vitamins (B6, B12 and folate) are critical nutrients in male reproductive systems for several benefits, including hormone metabolism, sperm formation and motility.