As part of our free patient education series sponsored by
Fertility Centers of Illinois, we offer a fun class called The Relaxation Response designed for women
(and partners) who are stressed, struggling with the ups and downs of
fertility challenges and willing to explore meditation as a way to calm
body and mind.
To understand why meditation helps, it’s useful to understand a bit
more about stress. One of our favorite holistic teachers, Deepak Chopra,
defines stress as what happens when our needs are not met. For instance,
if we perceive that we need to get to work by 9 and we’re stuck
in traffic at 8:55 we get stressed. If our monthly bills are greater than
the money we have to pay them with we get stressed. If we need a baby
and we’re not getting pregnant that, too, generates a tremendous
amount of stress.
To deal with stress skillfully, it's important to recognize its rightful
place in our biology. What we call "stress" – that stomach-churning,
heart pounding reaction to an irritating boss or a negative beta-HCG result-
is actually a valuable evolutionary mechanism that has allowed for the
survival of our species. The biological stress response is called the
"fight or flight" mechanism. Long ago, human survival depended
on the ability to fight or run from bigger, meaner predators. The secretion
of "stress hormones" like cortisol and adrenaline facilitate
physiological conditions that would allow escape from a hungry saber tooth.
During the stress response, blood is shunted from internal organs to the
skeletal muscles, the heart and respiratory rate increase, glucose is
released from muscles and liver to fuel our muscles, platelets in the
blood become "stickier" to reduce blood loss in the case of
injury and non-essential activities such as digestion, physical repair
and reproduction are dialed back. All fine and good when we're talking
about a tussle with a tiger but in that scenario there's resolution
-either we kill the beast, escape or get eaten. But in this age of 24/7
communication, we can see that a sustained, unrelenting stress response
can severely impact our physical wellbeing.
Any fertility patient who hears the words “just relax and you’ll
get pregnant,” is apt to eye-roll or worse. However, increasing
clinical evidence suggests that stress may impair a woman’s ability
to conceive both “naturally” and with Assisted Reproductive
Technology (ART). Cortisol down-regulates our reproductive system.
Women who do not ovulate have been shown to have higher levels of cortisol
in their blood, and a similar correlation has been noted in IVF patients,
with higher levels of cortisol associated with poor outcomes. It also seems that cortisol effects fertility directly,
as recent studies show that stress actually damages uterine receptivity
(how prepared the uterus is to hold and nourish an embryo) in mice.
So what's the solution? If we're serious about improving our overall
health and fertility, we must address our immediate response to stressful
situations. Here are several tips for identifying and eliminating excess
stress in our lives.
- Make stress reduction a part of your fitness regimen. Taking 20 minutes
a day to practice stress reduction techniques will make a serious dent
in your stress levels.
- Learn to breathe mindfully. The breath is a key way to "stop the bleeding"
in the midst of a stressful situation. Deep, slow breathing in a stressful
situation reduces the severity of the stress response.
Practice hatha yoga. This ancient system teaches gentle stretches, breath awareness and mindfulness
techniques that release tension and dis-ease in the body. Rather than
"fight or flight," yoga promotes the "rest, digest and
nest" hormonal response.
- Learn to meditate. Meditation is a chance to cultivate a non-reactive mind.
Often, stressful events will "re-play" during meditation, evoking
their panic messages. As we learn to observe these repeat performances
in stillness we short circuit their power.
- Live more simply. If stress arises when our perceived needs are not being
met, have an honest conversation about yourself about what it is you really
need to be happy. Try to let go of the things that aren't so important.
Recognize that all of our modern gadgets make our needs seem more immediate
than ever before and try to lessen the pressure you put on yourself to
respond to work and life situations in light-speed.
Take time for deep relaxation. Practices like
yoga nidra (deep guided relaxation), listening to beautiful music and spending time
in nature can restore our body and mind to balance.
There's a great saying in the yoga world, "don't just
do something, sit there!" While this advice may fly in the face of our
go-go worldview, it contains deep wisdom. Stress is a reality in our lives
that we cannot run away from. It's hard-wired into our biology. Thankfully,
instead of razor-sharp teeth human kind was gifted with big brains and
the ability to study our own behavior. When we become aware to the negative
impact of stress on our body and mind and begin to set aside time to address
it, we may finally have the tiger by the tail.
Now, the thing about relaxing is that you actually have to do it. We suggest
you join a yoga class or get into a community that shares the intention
of reducing stress and increasing relaxation. The next Relaxation Response
class will be offered at our Chicago center in March (click here to sign
up) and we are also offering a yoga nidra workshop at our Rockville center
this Sunday, February 28 (
click here for info). We hope to see you there!
Be present, be positive…be peaceful! Paige