Emotions & Yoga for fertility

Amy McKeown
Amy Mckeown MBPsS, BSc, PGDip, Yoga and Wellness Coach, Kukoon Wellness
From this video you will find out:
  • Does fertility Yoga help to get pregnant?
  • How Yoga Breathing Exercise help with conception?
  • What type of Yoga is best for fertility?
  • Is there any research supporting the benefits of Yoga for fertility?
  • When can I start Fertility Yoga?
  • Can I do Yoga during IVF?

How does yoga help with fertility?

In this session, Amy McKeown, The Founder of Kukoon Wellness, YOGA Teacher and specialist in fertility yoga and wellbeing has been talking about how to deal with emotions and how YOGA can help improve your fertility.

Amy has been a yoga teacher for many years and then started to specialize in fertility yoga, and with that comes a lot of one-to-one classes. Amy holds group classes every week where the couples who are going through their fertility journey come along. It’s an environment for them to get together and share their own stories. Whether you’re already going for your IVF treatment, it’s a nice time to start with yoga because it is beneficial for the mind and your body. There’s quite a lot of research that highlights how yoga is helping with fertility and helping with conception just because it helps reduce stress and anxiety. Amy talked about different poses, showed some studies on the benefits of yoga and how important the breathing techniques are.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is very much about being present, staying focused and understanding, feeling your body. At the beginning of every yoga class, the attention is focused on our bodies to channel the energy and mindset. It’s a nice way to feel that sensation of calmness, and that’s at the heart of yoga, it’s good to give you that mindset that you need for yoga, for your strength, wellness. Amy emphasized that’s beneficial during your fertility journey. In our daily life, it’s stressful enough, and we rarely make time for ourselves, so just having that focus is quite important.

It’s not only about your physical well-being, it’s about building your strength and some flexibility, keeping us fit and healthy, but it’s also very much about your mindset, being present. You’ll hear the word ‘stay present, in your yoga practice. We live in a society where it becomes unbalanced, it unbalances our body, so our mental well-being and physical well-being are very much interlinked. We very much incorporate that into our yoga practice, and you want to sort of feel that you can balance it out, re-channel it and find that harmony between it.

If you feel stressed, your body can get uptight and tense, so yoga is definitely for everybody, it’s for men, women, younger people, older people – it doesn’t matter if you’re overweight, super fit, or how flexible you are, anyone can do yoga. You need to start and build it up slowly, at your own pace.

‘I think there’s a lot of stigmas attached, you have to be quite fit, slim and healthy to do yoga, whereas yoga is beneficial for absolutely anybody, and it’s all about calming your mind and strengthening your body, but at the same time, it’s about strengthening your mind and calming your body. It’s very much a move in meditation to help clear your mind, stay focused. We incorporate breathing exercise into our practice, and it’s very much about moving with your breath, so that keeps you very present it means that you can only focus on yourself.’

Yoga is very much about listening to your body and how you feel, knowing your energy, and moving to what works for you. There’s no real right or wrong, you know your body better than anyone, so if you feel energetic and you can do a strong class, then try one. If you feel you want to relax, unwind, and be calm in your practice, then there’s always that option as well.
Amy emphasized that’s what is beautiful about yoga, it’s very much tailored around you, it’s not the teacher, it’s not about yoga as such, it’s about you, your mental head like space and how we can apply that for you.

Thinking about how emotion impacts our body is where yoga can be really important. Many times, people say: ‘I don’t feel very stressed, I feel okay, but my doctor has said I seem stressed out.’ A lot of the time, we think we’re good at hiding our emotions, and we’re just ignoring them, but the fact is that our body absorbs that and what we don’t release it just comes through as tension and stress and tightness in our body, and that can be represented as physical pain. Sometimes tension comes from the lower back, and many females particularly hold tension in their pelvis, a lot of emotion is held there.

Men hold a lot of stress in their hips, so a lot of the time, this tension just builds up, and it’s working its way up to your body, and it’s your body saying, I’m stressed and often your head is the last place to acknowledge that. It’s important to notice this in our body, and through your yoga classes, you can get that awareness. One of the first things Amy says to her patients during her classes is to do a body scan, notice where you feel maybe a bit of tension. It’s about getting rid of all that negative energy as well as having to deal with daily stresses or the stresses that you’re going through.

Yoga is good for helping to reduce emotions or building up more positive emotions, and that helps with fertility because yoga is all about building heat within your pelvis to stimulate that blood flow circulation going. It helps with your reproductive organs, it helps you to balance out your hormones. Some poses are all about flushing out the toxins in your body and just helping stimulate positive, happy hormones, as we call them. There’s been quite a lot of studies that show this helps to improve sperm count as well as its mobility, just because you’re helping to build the blood flow to that area.

Through yoga, we can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system reducing anxiety, helping to balance the hormones out and, in turn, especially if you do a yin class in the evening, can help you improve your sleep, and it will reduce that physical pain.

Yoga & research

Until recently, the researchers can’t say for sure why or what it is about yoga, but they know it is helping. It’s helping to build that heat, it’s also helping to de-stress people, calm them, reduce anxiety.
Amy showed one study performed in 2015 where they looked at people undergoing fertility treatment. Those who attended yoga and a discussion group helped them decrease their anxiety by 20%, and that’s only over a short time. If you’ve been trying to get pregnant for a long time, if you’ve started that way back, you can imagine how that can help your mindset and how it can help you understand how you’re feeling and how you’re not alone and how important yoga can be for that.

In 2018, there was a couple of researchers engaged in assisted reproductive technologies and yoga, and they combined 87 different studies. They found that breathing and using meditation practices and poses helped them ease stress, depression and anxiety. That helped to reduce their physical pain levels. That seemed to have increased the likelihood of pregnancy. It goes back to allowing them to reduce stress and anxiety. When you’re going through this process wherever you are in it, there’s no way you can simplify this, but you do get anxious, you do get overwhelmed, and it’s all you can think about. By reducing that stress, taking your mind somewhere positive, focusing on your inner strength and power, knowing what your body is capable of, all of it helps to calm you down.

There’s quite a lot of research done by a doctor, Alice Domar, and she’s found that women were three times more likely to achieve pregnancy after practising yoga regularly for three months. It was once a week for an hour, but it was over three months. Then if through that you do fall pregnant, yoga is good at helping to reduce assisted vaginal delivery, and it helps improve fetal outcomes.

When to start yoga?

If you are thinking about starting yoga, you should think about it now. Starting three months before any treatment is a definite must. If you’re trying to get pregnant naturally, starting earlier is always good as well. It gives your body time, and it helps you find the focus in your practice. It’s not a quick win if you come to yoga for the first time, don’t expect to find it easy, it doesn’t work like that, it’s not realistic. It’s quite falsely advertised that you should suddenly be able to clear your mind and meditate, it doesn’t work like that, it’s a process like anything else, you learn it, and we go through the journey together, and you build up your confidence in your practice. Give yourself three months before you expect to see any results. If you do, it’s not a guarantee, but give yourself time, and I always recommend at least 20 minutes, but even if you do, get on your mat for five minutes, and start slowly, and you sit there and find yourself meditating, or you fancy doing some little stretches. There are poses like a cat-cow, child’s pose, the downward dog, which alleviates anxiety and stress, it helps build the blood flow to the uterus area.

Practising yoga once a week for an hour is enough, although a lot of Amy’s clients do it 2 to 3 times just because it’s better to maintain it. The minute you stop, you notice it, and it can be difficult to rebuild that for yourself. If you feel energetic, then maybe trying something slightly more energetic is good. If you feel like being gentle, or you might have a headache that you still want to practice, or you feel tense, and you don’t want to practice, then doing a gentle 10-minute class, a restorative class, a yin class is good as well. It can depend on where you are in your cycle. If you’re ovulating, then it’s a good time to start doing more energetic classes, whereas if you’re further along in your cycle, it’s not recommended to do certain activities, no inversions and things like that.

When we’re looking at fertility yoga, there’s this big hype of hot yoga, rocket yoga, all those things are great if you’re trying to be healthy, but it has been shown in studies that it’s the more gentle approach to yoga that is what is promoting fertility. If you overdo it, if you’re looking at energetic and bioenergetic yoga, such as a strong vinyasa class, it could be too much for your body. You need to remember that depending on where you are in your cycle and where you are in your IVF treatment will depend on how your body’s feeling. Your body often needs the energy to do its own thing, so doing a strong class can be more detrimental to your IVF process, so it’s just bearing things in mind, and that’s quite often why people come to the one-to-one classes.

Poses to try

Warrior 2 – strengthens your hips, it’s going to build heat in the pelvis and releases any emotions or stress. You’ll find a lot of fertility classes that hold a lot of warrior poses in them.

Cobra posse – this is a variation of upward dog, but it’s about redirecting the blood flow to the uterus and your ovaries, getting that hormone production going, so keeping it strong, building that heat.

You work with your breath through the poses, so any of these poses we talked through you could work as a flow, or you can hold them for easily five to ten breaths, some of the poses you might hold up to a minute. If you attended any yin classes, you’d find you can hold these for three to five minutes quite comfortably, using your breath.

Bridge pose – helps to release tension, it’s good to take any weight off the lower abdomen strengthening your glutes, supports your hips health, and it’s just an all-around good pose to be doing at any point of your journey.

Goddess pose – is a brilliant one for your hip, reproductive areas increasing that blood flow.

There will be poses we shouldn’t be doing, so if you are at certain stages in your cycle, you might feel bloated, you might feel a bit tender around the abdomen, so you’re not going to want to do too much strong core work. You’re not going to want to hold on to a plank pose for too long, it’s best to avoid twisting too much.

If you’re doing yoga before you’ve had injections or ovarian stimulation, then you should be looking more into energetic vinyasa, excluding rocket power hot pod yoga. A nice strong class that you feel a bit of energy, a bit of heat, you want to get the blood flowing to your ovaries, get that hormone balance. Vinyasa class is perfect.

Also, a yin class goes back to your energy levels and how you feel. You hold the poses for 3 to 5 minutes, in some classes, you can hold them up to 10 minutes. It’s about allowing your body to naturally open, giving yourself that time to observe your body.

Yoga during your injections or stimulation or after embryo transfer, again you might be quite tender, so it’s a good time to increase the intensity of your practice to ensure it gets the right nourishment and energy, but you want to be thinking about your body needs, its own energy to recover. As much as you might like to keep the intensity high, remember depending on what day it is and where you are in that cycle, it’s better to avoid twists, headstands, handstands, getting your hips above your heart.

During embryo transfer, it’s just about reducing your anxiety, sitting, doing breathing techniques, meditation, if you feel you can do meditation, especially in the morning of your transfer because you will feel nervous. Amy added that a lot of her clients come to her the day before asking what breathing techniques they can use, what they should be doing, etc. She always advises you to try and stay present, remember what you can control, can’t control, remember to stay self-motivated, confident in yourself.

‘For some people, meditation doesn’t come naturally and again, that’s got a stigma attached to it because it’s not about clearing your mind and having nothing in your head, that’s impossible, it’s about refocusing and knowing what you need to be the best benefit for you for the next few days.’

According to Amy, if you feel that you’ve tried meditation and hate it, but want to give it a go, know that there are ways to work on that, and Amy is always able to help, just contact her, and she can work on it with you because it’s not something you should avoid.

- Questions and Answers

Do you need any extra certificate training to become a fertility yoga teacher?

You don’t specifically need any extra training, but it is out there, and I always highly recommend it because there are things that we don’t know about if you haven’t been through that certain fertility journey yourself, you can’t always relate, and I think you need to learn what poses you should be doing, what poses you shouldn’t be doing. Although it’s not necessary, I would highly recommend it, just to understand male and female bodies in terms of their fertility journey, you learn about the reproductive system far more in detail than you ever would in a normal yoga training course. So yes, definitely.

Do you also have classes for couples?

Yes, that is correct. We have mixed classes and one-on-one classes. I have a lot of one-to-one classes with couples. I always recommend couples to come together into my group classes, so they’re mixed. I’ve always got guys in there, and sometimes they’re not couples, it’s just guys trying to help with their own fertility.

I feel like I’m holding a lot of tension in my belly, what poses can you recommend to loosen up that area?

If you’re holding tension in your belly, I would definitely recommend doing some breathing exercises just to loosen up around the abdomen, it might just be quite tight if that’s where you’re holding your stress. It depends on your gender as to whether we’re going to encourage you to do some twists or not if you’re female definitely, not depending on where we are, but if you’re a man, you can definitely work on a few twists. We could do some so-called leg extensions, you’d lengthen the back of the leg out, the arm forward, and then you could gently scrunch them together, and that’s just going to loosen around your abdomen area and relieving that tension, but as a general rule, I would say work with your breath, taking deep belly breaths. A lot of the time, we just breathe up into our rib cage, so if you notice you’re breathing now, it’s probably quite shallow, so if you take deeper breaths and fill up into your belly, that really helps relieve any tension you’re holding around the belly and noticing maybe it could be around your back as well.

How long after the embryo transfer would you suggest having a break from a physical Yoga practice?

I would definitely recommend at least three days or more if you feel a bit more tender than that. Focus more on managing your emotions, maybe with some meditation, some breathing in that. In that time, three days and listen to your body more if you’re still feeling a bit sore, sensitive. 

Are there any poses to avoid in the two-week wait?

In the two-week wait, you’re going to want to be a lot more gentle with your body, a little more sort of nurturing.  You can feel quite hypersensitive and anxious, so just being super gentle with yourself, connecting your head and body. Gentle yoga practices, avoiding any deep stretching. That sort of if you find yourself in a warrior 2 poses, as we looked at earlier. You can do that, as long as you then don’t force yourself into a painful pose. I would avoid any of the twists, so if you’re in, say, a high lunge, and you try and incorporate a twist, that I would avoid that at all costs. The handstands, anything that involves putting your hips higher than your heart. I would avoid any twist, so that would be whatever a twist that’s like in a yoga class for you. There are loads of them. Generally, any poses of a twist and any inversions to avoid and just be gentle. I would say a child’s pose is a good one, and even a gentle downward dog can be quite nice.

I miscarried a few months ago, and I’m grieving a lot. Now I’m trying to start a new treatment, and I’m definitely struggling with it. Could yoga and meditation help me in this really difficult situation?

I think you need to be kind to yourself, take time to listen to yourself, Yoga will definitely help you to ease off the emotions. You don’t want to let go of them necessarily, but you want to learn to control them. Use them in a way that’s going to benefit you, and yoga can really help you. Every time you get on your mat for that one hour, half an hour, whatever it looks like for you, it will just take your mind off of everything, and it just helps you to refocus and remind yourself how strong you are, the journey you’ve been through and how you can use that to build yourself up and strengthen yourself and keep going. If you can meditate or start to meditate and refocus yourself, it will do absolute wonders because it just puts you on a whole other field within yourself, and it allows you to have that mind-body connection.

Stay present and mindful because I think we all forget to do that, especially, when you’ve been through something like this, and you are going to grieve a lot. It’s about just giving yourself time and not just giving yourself time to overcome this feeling, it’s about giving yourself time physically. Your body’s been through a lot, your mind’s been through a lot, and it’s just about bringing them back together in harmony rather than potentially fighting against each other, building more stress and more anxiety, causing your body to tense up. Therefore, affecting your whole reproductive system. By doing yoga and meditation, it will just help you to balance your mindset and body.

What time of day is best to do a fertility yoga session?

In terms of the time of day, well, there are various answers, it would depend on how you’re feeling and with yoga, in my opinion, yoga should be done when you feel like doing it. Don’t force yourself to do yoga, it should never become a chore, it should just be something you enjoy, stepping onto your mat and practising, but it is very good in the mornings. It’s a very good time to do your fertility yoga just because it helps you to build that energy level that you might need. It obviously promotes the blood flow, the circulation throughout your body, and it can just really sort of set your mind focused for the rest of the day as well. Although, it’s not bad to do it in the evening if that’s what works around your diary. Some people prefer that, so it’s quite a subjective question in a sense it’s all about you. Yoga is about you, what works for you, but I would say the morning if you were going to pin me down to one.

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Amy McKeown

Amy McKeown MBPsS, BSc, PGDip is the Founder of Kukoon Wellness and specializes in fertility yoga and wellbeing. Her years of yoga experience have seen her work with couples and individuals whose fertility journey and treatments have led to depression, stress, and anxiety and through yoga has given them back control of their mind and body. Amy’s fertility classes are research-driven, focusing on encouraging blood flow to the pelvis to boost ovary and uterus health as well as working with breath work to reduce stress and rebuild confidence. As a Member of the British Psychological Society, Amy continuously develops her training and hopes to conduct a Ph.D. on the Psychology of Fertility Yoga.
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Caroline Kulczycka is managing MyIVFAnswers.com and has been hosting IVFWEBINARS dedicated to patients struggling with infertility since 2020. She's highly motivated and believes that educating patients so that they can make informed decisions is essential in their IVF journey. In the past, she has been working as an International Patient Coordinator, where she was helping and directing patients on their right path. She also worked in the tourism industry, and dealt with international customers on a daily basis, including working abroad. In her free time, you’ll find her travelling, biking, learning new things, or spending time outdoors.
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