A recent question from a reader: “There’s a bunch of resources on the internet prescribing certain poses to increase the chances of fertility (Viparita Korani, baddha konasana, shoulder stand) Is there any science behind this? No doubt the stress relief element of yoga will help successful conception, but do shoulder stands? And if so, is it really because the pose traps more sperm, therefore enhancing the odds for fertilization? It sounds suspiciously simple.”
For sure, Yoga can help couples who are trying to conceive. Trying to get pregnant is often anxiety provoking and it can become “work” and a source of stress between partners. If in no other way, Yoga helps both men and women to center, to find balance, and to relax and relieve anxiety and stress.
Yoga’s ability to decrease anxious feelings and alleviate stress is well documented. Yoga’s help goes beyond facilitating partners’ psychological abilities to cope with their feeling and emotions though. When women are stressed, their hormonal axis gets disrupted.
The hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis goes out of balance, and the ability to ovulate and to maintain the right conditions in the uterus for implantation and nurturing can go askew. There’s a solid, physiological basis for Yoga’s stress reducing effects to promote a healthy reproductive system and to facilitate the induction of pregnancy.
Through the mind-body connection, alleviating stress supports the proper functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis so that the hormonal cycle can support a pregnancy.
It makes sense if you think about it. During times of severe stress throughout evolutionary history, women who got pregnant were at a disadvantage. If there was war, famine, or a natural disaster, getting pregnant when resources were already scarce was likely to hinder a woman’s ability to survive – and for their offspring to survive if born during bad times.
According to a recent study, infertility rates throughout the world are fairly constant at about 9% across countries. In general, infertility is defined as an inability to get pregnant after one year of trying.
Estimates vary by source, but it appears that about 30% of the time, female hormonal factors are responsible for a couple’s inability to conceive. Another 30% of the time, female anatomy may be the problem. If there have been pelvic infections that cause scarring, particularly in the fallopian tubes, if fibroids are present in the uterus, or if the uterus is positioned or shaped a little abnormally, then mechanical barriers present a problem for the sperm as it tries to reach the egg.
A good friend of mine, swears that standing on her head in sirsasana immediately after sex is the one thing that helped her to conceive after several years of trying without success.
Although there’s no hard evidence to support my view (at least none of which I am aware), it makes a lot of sense to believe that adding some simple gravitational support in the form of inverted postures after sexual intercourse can help sperm challenged by anatomical obstructions to reach their target. A woman’s inverted positioning after sex may also help when a man’s sperm has lower motility or numbers.
Not everyone agrees with gravity-based help like sirsansa or viparita karani for infertility though. Some gynecologists say the sperm is likely to miss the narrowing opening of the cervix and to pool behind it at the end of the vagina. That means there is the potential, particularly for those women with normal anatomy who haven’t been trying to become pregnant for very long, that inverted postures could possibly decrease the chances.
Either way, there are no studies and no proof. It’s all just conjecture. If you’re in your first year of trying and haven’t yet become pregnant, there’s no need to stand on your head after sex. Doing so may even be contradictory to your goal. However, if you’re like my good friend and you’ve been trying for awhile without success, giving inverted postures after coitus a good try might be just the thing you need – at no cost and with no side effects.
Yoga’s emphasis on natural, clean living also promotes fertility. Drinking too much caffeine and alcohol have been shown to reduce reproductive capabilities. Environmental toxins have been implicated in infertility. Eating a healthy vegetarian diet as promoted by the ancient yogis, one with tons of organic fruits and vegetables, will help to neutralize toxicity.
From an energetic perspective, a daily Yoga practice will also help to promote fertility for couples wishing to conceive. Concentrating on building energy in swadhistana chakra, and purifying and balancing that chakra through asana, visualization, and meditation, will help to harmonize the energy body for proper reproductive functioning.
Visualizing the reproductive anatomy and focusing the mind in that area of the body increases blood flow to help oxygenate tissues and supply needed nutrients.
Alice Domar, Ph.D., in her work at the Mind Body Institute, found that one year after participating in a 10-week program involving relaxation, asanas, and nutrition counseling, 55% of couples in the program conceived versus only 20% in the control group.
On a final note, a diagnosis of “infertility” should be taken with a grain of salt. Some things, for reasons beyond our comprehension that have to do with Spirit, take longer than we’d like. It turns out that fully half of all couples who were diagnosed as “infertile” (based on the one year of trying without success criteria) go on to conceive a child spontaneously within two years.
Other couples get pregnant naturally in the following years. There’s no need to rush to fertility drugs. Yoga helps you to balance and to work with your body so that you can get pregnant naturally.