There are many reasons that a therapeutic yoga program may benefit women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. PCOS presents very differently in different women but the syndrome as whole is associated with infertility and other adverse health conditions including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Women with PCOS may also have higher levels of chronic inflammation and elevated levels of circulating stress hormones.
The good news is that more and more research suggests that lifestyle intervention including diet and exercise may be the best way to manage PCOS. In addition, new research is showing the benefit of Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat the hormonal imbalances, symptoms like hirsutism and acne, and menstrual irregularity that is associated with PCOS. Another element of PDtM’s PCOS “Action Plan” is yoga. Yoga has been shown to lower levels of stress hormones and women with a regular yoga practice have been show to have a “healthier” physiological response to stress . Yoga has also been shown to reduce markers of oxidative stress and blood sugar control in people with diabetes as well as improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels in heart disease patients (1).
Some of the goals of a therapeutic yoga practice for PCOS include:
Standing and seated yoga asana that create an invigorating, but not exhausting, exercise session
Twisting poses, which in yoga physiology are believed to help decrease abdominal fat
Postures that bring blood to the thyroid gland, an important endocrine gland for metabolism
Stimulating agni, the digestive fire, that supports complete digestion and metabolism of foods
Mudras (hand yoga) that stimulate different physiological and energetic systems
Breathing exercises that induce the relaxation response
While lifestyle changes can be very helpful with PCOS, they are not enough on their own. Working in partnership with you physician or Reproductive Endocrinologist and ensuring they are kept up to date on any holistic treatments you may be using is the smartest approach for PCOS management.
Therapeutic yoga for PCOS is available at Pulling Down the Moon in class or one-on-one setting. If you would like to learn more about PDtM’s PCOS Action Plan contact us at 312-321-0004 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) Field, T. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 17 (2011) 1e8
A new study compared the effect of electro-acupuncture (EA), physical exercise and no intervention on testosterone levels, menstrual frequency, acne and hirsutism in women with PCOS. After 16 weeks of treatment, the researchers found both EA and exercise lowered testosterone and increased menstrual frequency, with EA having a significantly greater impact than exercise. After a further 16 weeks of EA treatment or exercise, improvement was noted in hirsutism and acne symptoms, again with electro-acupuncture having a greater impact than exercise.
Lifestyle treatment including diet, exercise, stress reduction and Traditional Chinese Medicine for PCOS makes sense. If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, we encourage you to come in for a consultation and work with our expert practitioners. Our comprehensive and targeted approach to PCOS includes specific dietary recommendations and supplementation, yoga and relaxation for stress reduction and Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncture treatment. You do not need to be struggling to conceive to benefit from our expertise. In fact, getting a handle on PCOS before you are “trying” is essential. PCOS is often under-diagnosed in teenage girls and the acne, irregular periods and weight gain are chalked up to puberty.
For more information about PDtM’s comprehensive approach to PCOS, call 312-321-0004 to book a complimentary face-to-face or phone session with our Patient Advocate.
Anna Pyne, LAc, MSOM, FABORM
A question I frequently get asked in my acupuncture practice is “Can acupuncture help improve egg quality?” From my own clinical experience the answer is, it can. Acupuncture and herbal therapy help improve the environment of the ovary enabling it to function optimally and properly, therein allowing it to make goo d quality eggs. An example of this is with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) where the problem is a functional disorder of the entire system that is affecting the ovary. In other words, the issue is not with that single organ alone. Since the body systemically is not working properly it is not able to nourish the ovary. Therefore many immature follicles develop within the ovary impeding the process to fully grow one or two healthy quality eggs, as is the case in a normal cycle. There are many treatment strategies that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) offers to help regulate the body’s functioning in PCOS, so that the ovary is being supplied the energy and blood it needs to be able to produce an exceptional egg.
Another instance in which I have seen an improvement in egg quality is with endometriosis. The explanation is a bit simpler to understand than in PCOS. Generally speaking, with endometriosis the condition is one of blood stasis, a problem that can hinder fresh, oxygenated, nutrient rich blood from reaching the ovary thereby having a negative effect on its function of making a good quality egg. Here again there are many options in which TCM can help treat blood stasis so that the ovary is being thoroughly supported to produce a good egg.
Though there is no data via research studies presently to support this claim directly, there is much that I have seen in my clinical experience to believe it to be true. If you have any questions regarding egg quality and how TCM can help please feel free to contact me or book an appointment!
Spring is a powerful symbol of fertility, rebirth and renewal. In our upcoming book The Infertility Cleanse, we spend a fair amount of time writing about the role of symbols in health and healing. Warning: this is one of those places where what we do at Pulling Down the Moon moves into the more mystical realm. As you read the rest of this blog I will ask that you put your skeptical mind temporarily on “pause.”
To understand how symbols can help us to heal and to thrive, let’s understand a few basic concepts.
1. Symbols are images that describe a thought or belief. Symbols can be personal (something in your life that means something specific to you) or they can also be societal or universal . Symbols tend to gain power when the “resonate” for more than one person, i.e. when they evoke the same thought or belief in more than one person. However, your own personal symbols can be very powerful as well because they have meaning that is uniquely understood by you and can be very specific.
2. If we look closely at symbols we will often find that it’s difficult to describe them in words. The experience of trying to put a symbol into words is similar to trying to describe a vivid dream soon after waking. Words cannot truly capture the power of the dream images and often the act of putting a dream into words drains the “power” one initially felt in dreaming.
3. Finally, symbols act most powerfully by conveying a feeling state. For example, to non-car aficionados, the Porsche logo says “power” or “money.” But witness the power of Porsche for car lovers who have invested the Porsche symbol with a lot of energy. For these folks the mere thought of owning or driving a Porsche can evoke a visceral feeling of speed or mastery. Remember the hormone-happy Tom Cruise character in Risky Business (Porsche – there is no substitute)?
Amazingly, brain science is beginning to shed some light on why symbols can evoke visceral reactions. Apparently, the different hemispheres of our brain process sensory input differently. Our left hemisphere is oriented toward linear reasoning and serves to organize sensory input in order, choosing details and constructing a reality that is based on a perceived “past” and projected into an imagined “future.” The left brain thinks in words and numbers. The right hemisphere of the brain thinks in pictures and is engaged primarily in the present moment. It experiences, but doesn’t organize, sensory input. Time does not exist for the right brain. Nor does separation of Self from Other (f or a striking depiction of right/left brain hemisphere function watch this video of neuro-scientist Jill Bolte Taylor ).
This piece of neuro-science is very interesting from the yoga perspective. In yoga, our aim is to create a state of whole-ness (yoga means union) that is experienced by our witnessing consciousness (we call this Awareness). We start with yoga postures that integrate the different parts of the physical body through balance, strength and stretching. Yoga breath work (pranayama) brings awareness to our breathing and creates shifts in our state-of-mind. Finally, meditation trains the mind to let go of the “chatter” that is primarily generated by the detail- and time-obsessed left brain and gives equal attention to the whole-ness of sensory input generated by the right brain. Meditation does not aim to annihilate the left brain or glorify the right brain – it creates whole-ness and transcendence by unifying input from both brain hemispheres and allowing it to reside in a welcoming awareness.
While this is all well-and-good from a sit around and talk philosophy kind of way, what’s it got to do with symbols, healing and fertility?
Good question. Fundamentally, we live in a left-hemisphere-driven world that feel like the only “real” world. We have lost the ability to connect with the right brain and the “Now-ness” it imparts to us. However, the Now is enormously important. Everything that ever happens happens in the Now. New thoughts and new solutions arise in the Now, positive change happens in the Now, and healing, too, must also arise in the Now. If we’re obsessed with negative thoughts and beliefs, the Now is a bummer. If we’re open to positive thoughts and input the Now can be quite lovely.
Meditating on a symbol is like striking a tuning fork for the “Now” our right brain is experiencing. Since the right brain thinks in pictures and symbols, a symbol can create a shift in the quality of the right brain awareness. A positive or inspiring symbol can create a positive and inspiring Now. Take for example a simple meditation on Spring. Spring is a powerful symbol of fertility and renewal. The feeling you get when you “experience” Spring is visceral. There’s a churning aliveness that feels as if it’s even making our hair grow! We can use meditation on the symbol of Spring to bring these qualities into the “Now” of our lives. If you don’t believe me, try the following simple meditation.
- Sit quietly, with a straight spine on the floor or in a chair. Close your eyes and tune into your breath, simply feeling the inhales and exhales as pure sensation.
- When you begin to feel still, call to mind an image that symbolizes Spring – this could be a tulip, a leaf-bud or any image that calls to your heart and mind the energy of Spring
- As you hold the image/symbol in your mind’s eye allow the feeling of Spring to arise – the newness, the sense that winter is over, the sense of fertility and expectation, the smell of damp earth and green things growing.
- Rest in that feeling state for as long as you can – working up to 15 minutes.
- Upon coming back from your meditation, bring the feeling state of Spring back with you and practice holding this energized state as you move through your day.
This last part of the meditation is the most important. Symbols can help us stay attuned to this happy (higher) vibration. I use symbols in this way every day. In my home I have a simple altar (actually it’s a shelf) where I place symbols that have a powerful personal meaning for me. Whenever I am quietly going about my business at home, I light the candle and welcome the vibration of the inspiring symbols to permeate my “Now.” Throughout my day I will often visualize lighting that candle and accessing these symbols in times of stress or need.
Many of you have likely seen this (now famous) video where neuro-scientist Jill Bolte Taylor describes how her stroke revealed to her the inner-workings of the human brain. If you’ve never watched it, this is an amazing, awe-inspiring video that has the power to transform…but it’s 20 minutes long so make sure you’ve got time to enjoy. If you watch, please share your comments here.
by Beth Heller, M.S., R.Y.T.
You may have noticed signs at your local Whole Foods Market promoting the ANDI score of different foods. ANDI, in case you missed it, stands the for Average Nutrient Density Index, a rating scale that compares the amount of nutrients per calorie in particular foods. The ANDI is the creation of Eat Right for America founder Dr. Joel Fuhrman M.D.
The ANDI score rates foods on the inclusion of many different nutrients including:
Calcium, Carotenoids: Beta Carotene, Alpha Carotene, Lutein & Zeaxanthin, Lycopene, Fiber, Folate, Glucosinolates, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Selenium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Zinc. It also factors in the ORAC score X2 ( Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) which is a method of measuring the antioxidant or radical scavenging capacity of food.
The upshot of this is that a food like kale has a score of 1000 on the ANDI and a food like cola has a score of 0.6. In other words, kale provides far more nutrients per calorie than soda. At first blush, the ANDI seems like it could be the Rosetta Stone of nutrition. It makes quantitatively clear what most of us already intuitively know – and might tip the balance in our decision between, say, and orange (ANDI = 109) and a banana (ANDI = 30).
But there are places where this scale gets murky.
- Take foods that contain healthy fats, for instance. Olive oil scores a 9 on the ANDI, walnuts score a 14 and avocado, one of the most perfect fertility foods, scores a measly 30. In fact, if we stuck to high ANDI foods we would most definitely consume a diet that is too low in healthy fats like the monounsaturated fats in olive oil and avocado and the omega-3 polyunsaturated fats in walnuts and fatty fish like salmon.
- Low fat dairy products, which have been shown to be associated with ovulatory infertility and may contain high amounts of hormone-like substances like IGF-1 that are suspected to be related to reproductive cancers, have a higher ANDI than the full-fat dairy that at least one study has shown to be protective for fertility.
- Beans and lentils also score relatively low on the ANDI (~100) despite the fact that they provide protein and special forms of fiber that promote friendly GI bacteria and support our body’s ability to eliminate waste.
So what’s the bottom line on the ANDI and fertility? In our opinion, the best way to use the ANDI is to fine-tune your choices within individual food groups. For instance, oats and barley top the ANDI for whole grains while white rice and white flour don’t even make the top 10. The ANDI might make our trips through the produce department easier too, helping us to choose romaine (389) over iceberg (110) for salad. In terms of overall diet, however, this scale is only one piece of knowledge in a bigger picture of fertility friendly eating that includes lean sources of protein (like organically raised meats, beans and lentils) and healthy fats.
Getting off caffeine can be a challenge but we recommend that women lose their dependence on this stimulant when they’re trying to conceive. While sources are all over the board – some suggesting that a moderate caffeine intake of 400-700 mg per day, about the amount in three cups of coffee – appears not to affect a woman’s fertility, other studies have found that women who consume more than 300 mg of caffeine per day had a 27% lower chance of conceiving each month they “tried.” One study even found that drinking tea nearly doubled monthly odds of conception!
Clearly the data is all over the board. However, Pulling Down the Moon’s view of caffeine is that it is not a good choice when you’re trying to conceive. Artificial stimulants create imbalances in our bodies’ systems. Drinking caffeinated beverages can also make it harder for us to relax and may exacerbate poor sleeping habits as well as camouflage the effects of sleep deprivation – all conditions that are potentially detrimental to fertility. Furthermore, you’ll have to give it up anyway once you’re pregnant, where repeated studies have linked caffeine consumption of > 300 mg/day with low birth weight, miscarriage and birth defects like cleft palate. If you decide to drink caffeine, limit your intake to < 300 mg (a Starbuck’s Grande coffee has 320 mg).
And while the goose is giving up her daily cup, the gander better not laugh too hard. Research indicates that men who consume more than three cups of coffee per day had increased DNA damage in their sperm.
There are many different strategies for getting off of caffeine, but one that we like is to first make the transition from coffee to green tea, which is filled with antioxidants and has lower caffeine content than coffee. Then, gradually, begin to alternate your cups of green tea with herbal teas, until the switch to herbal tea is complete.
What the Literature Says
Research Finding: Caffeine not associated with ovarian age indicators (FSH, follicle count, estradiol, inhibin B)
Hum Reprod. 2007 Apr;22(4):1175-85. Epub 2007 Jan 29.
Research Finding: Caffeine intake not associated with endometriosis.
Am J Epidemiol. 2004 Oct 15;160(8):784-96.
Research Finding: High level of caffeine consumption (> 500 mg per day) associate with decreased fecundity (longer time to conception)
Am J Epidemiol. 1997 Feb 15;145(4):324-34.
Research Finding: Moderate caffeine intake (400-700 mg/day)associated with improved fecundity, high (>700 mg/day) caffeine intake associated with lowered fecundity.
Prev Med. 1994 Mar;23(2):175-80
Research Finding: Caffeine intake no effect, but drinking tea doubled monthly odds of conception.
Am J Public Health. 1998 Feb;88(2):270-4
Research Finding: Women reporting caffeine consumption of > 300 mg per day had a 27% lower chance of conceiving each month.
Am J Epidemiol. 1993 Dec 15;138(12):1082-92.
Research Finding: Sperm from men who consumed > 3 cups of coffee per day had 20% more DNA damage than men with low caffeine intake.
Hum Reprod. 2007 Jan;22(1):180-7. Epub 2006 Oct 19
Reiki is an ancient Japanese form of Natural Healing. Rei is the Japanese word for Universal (the Energy that is available for everyone) and Ki (chi in Chinese) is the Japanese word for energy. Reiki moves the Ki that is abundantly available in the universe into the body for health and wellbeing. Of the many holistic techniques for fertility (yoga, acupuncture, massage, nutrition) reiki is probably the most unknown. That’s unfortunate because a session with a gifted Reiki Master has many benefits for the fertility journey. ( You can read more about reiki and fertility in Beth’s blog on the subject here ).
We have many different ways to experience reiki at Pulling Down the Moon.
Yoga + Reiki = Bliss. Join us for a Restorative Yoga + Reiki workshop on Saturday March 12 at Pulling Down the Moon in Chicago from 1 to 3 p.m. Fertility yoga expert Jenilyn Gilbert and Reiki Master Lisa Espinosa will help you experience a deeply healing session of supported yoga poses and healing touch. Pre-registration is required and space is limited. Click here to register.
One-On-One Reiki for Fertility Sessions with our Reiki Master. Call 312-321-0004 for more information.
By Cathleen McCauley LMT
Imagine for a moment that you feel completely healed. What does that feel like to you? Maybe you feel well, your reproductive system or other body parts functioning healthily. You may feel spiritually whole, filled with understanding and purpose. Or perhaps for you, feeling healed equates to emotional balance and ease.
As you focus your awareness on your personal healing, know in your heart that it is possible. During growth or crisis phases in life, healing takes courage and dedication as you sift through your feelings and sit with them. Oftentimes it requires outside assistance, a trusted companion to help you dig deep into the parts of you that need some attention. Above all, it calls for gentleness with self and spirit.
Turning to the chakra system to help you find your way through your experiences can be a great first step. Let’s look at how the first and second chakras, known as the lower chakras, can bring healing awareness.
The Root Chakra
The first chakra, known as the Root Chakra or Muladhara in Sanskrit, spins from the base of the spine. It relates to procreation and Mother Earth as well as to birth, receiving unconditional love from your parents and the beginning of your life. Oftentimes it is described as the place where physical energy, instinct and vitality are born. From the Root Chakra, your kundalini, or pure desire, rises.
Meditation on the first chakra can help you feel safe, secure, grounded and stable as you navigate the fertility journey. When you are rooted, you feel fully alive, joyful, curious and able to trust. This chakra teaches that all is one.
Working with this chakra allows you access to greater self-nourishment should you have healing to do from early childhood. When you spend time nurturing and supporting your inner child, your first chakra blooms. Healing on this level also plants the seeds for the future. What you do now to heal yourself opens the way for your children to have fulfilling early experiences when they come into the world.
Being disconnected from Root Chakra energy can manifest as high levels of fear or stress, addictions, depression, obsessive disorders or an extreme need for control. Physically, this chakra relates to the spine, kidneys, adrenal glands, immune system, skeletal system and reproductive organs. Cold hands and feet, frequent urination, high-blood pressure, low back pain, difficulties in the feet, legs or hips, low sex drive, and infertility or impotence are common ailments associated with an unbalanced first chakra.
The Sacral Chakra
As the energy of the first chakra opens, it moves up to the lower abdomen two fingers below the navel to closely relate to Swadhisthana or the Sacral Chakra. The center for emotion, desire and passion, the second chakra brings creativity, empowerment, sincerity and sexual energy into your life. Its symbol is a crescent moon, representing femininity and the womb.
As you open awareness to Sacral Chakra energy, you begin to explore your true feminine nature. You embrace your compassionate and nurturing qualities; you trust your intuition. Creativity blossoms and your emotions feel in balance. Relationships, both casual and intimate, are satisfying. You experience and enjoy sensual sexual experiences. Your female reproductive organs function healthfully.
As a child, if you were unable to express your feelings, emotions or desires, your second chakra may need attention. Some characteristics of an unbalanced second chakra include fear of pleasure, being out of touch with your feelings, resistance to change, acting overly emotional or dramatic, sexual addiction or poor boundaries.
In her book Anatomy of the Spirit, The Seven Stages of Power and Healing (Three Rivers Press, 1996) author and medical intuitive Carolyn Myss, Ph.D., explains that many female health problems stem from second chakra issues. “Problems with menstruation, cramps and PMS are classic indications that she is in some kind of conflict with being a woman…,” writes Myss. Problems with bleeding or irregular periods frequently occur due to emotional stress and the feeling that a woman doesn’t have control over her choices, she says.
Further, Myss’ writes that tubal problems and infertility are centered on a woman’s inner child. The flow of eggs, she writes, can be blocked because the woman’s inner being does not feel nurtured or mature enough to feel fertile.
Opening awareness to the parts of you that may need healing attention can be difficult. Take small steps. Remember to treat yourself with gentle care and nurturing commitment. Honor yourself for where you are right now on your journey, and be well in knowing you are whole.
As you ground yourself and connect with your feminine energy, I encourage you to contact me for more information or to make an appointment for the Enhance the Blood massage session. This healing massage treatment focuses on opening circulatory pathways to bathe the reproductive organs in blood and bring regeneration and nourishment to your whole body.
I look forward to assisting you as you connect with the sacredness of your body. You may contact me at Cathleen@pullingdownthemoon.com.
Spring is coming and this time of year our minds turn inevitably to swimsuits, sleeveless sundresses and bare skin – when we’re not thinking about babies, that is. Body conscious times like this can create additional stress for those of us who are trying to conceive. Many of us have given up exercise during our fertility journey, the fertility medications and emotional ups and downs that accompany treatment may have helped us gain a few pounds and our body image may be less-than-fabulous. The good news is that a fit, toned body is not out of the question when we’re trying to conceive. We just need to be smart about it.
At Pulling Down the Moon we use a sort of decision tree to help women find an exercise regimen that’s right for them:
1. How close are you to your ideal bodyweight?
Body weight can play a major role in our fertility. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine about 12% of infertility is related to weight – 6% of cases due to underweight, where a woman’s body is too lean for proper hormone function, and 6% due to overweight, where excesses of estrogen-producing adipose tissue (fat) disrupts hormonal balance. For women who are close to their optimal weight, an exercise program should serve to reduce stress, develop/maintain strength and keep the heart healthy. Women who need to lose weight should set goals to increase daily activity levels significantly through a program of low impact cardiovascular exercise, strength training and stress reduction activities such as yoga. If you’re not sure about your ideal weight, a consultation with one of our nutritionists is a great place to start.
2. What role has exercise played in your life up to this point?
Some women have a less-than-healthy relationship with physical exercise. Some may hate it and struggle to fit it in to their day. Chronic under-exercise can make it hard to maintain a healthy body weight or may contribute to sluggishness and depression. On the flip side, there are those of us who train hard every day, use exercise to maintain an “ideal” body weight or feel anxious when exercise is limited. Chronic over-exercise can raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol as well as negatively affect the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis (the hormonal system that governs reproductive function). Your relationship with exercise will dictate whether you need to slow down or speed up.
Once we know the answers to the questions above, we can begin to make recommendations. In general, a fertility-friendly exercise program should include cardiovascular exercise that is low-impact and low to medium intensity, which means keeping our heart rate under 60% of max. Exercise modalities like strength-training are also fabulous when you’re trying to conceive. Strength training increases lean muscle mass and helps us keep our bodies strong and shapely (although we need to be careful here – a body fat percentage of at least 22% is generally accepted as necessary for a regular menstrual cycle). In addition to looking good, lean mass means increases metabolism and builds stronger bones. Yoga is another must-try for those who are trying to conceive. The yoga asanas increase strength, improve our flexibility and help to balance our hormones. Yoga has been proven to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and in yoga physiology its believed that specific yoga postures can be used to increase the flow of blood and life energy (prana) to reproductive organs.
So get out and exercise this spring, but exercise wisely. For some of us, this will mean increasing our exercise levels, and for others it will mean slowing down – and some of us will find that what we’re doing is just right. Remember, this is not the time to try and get ripped, drop your body fat percentage to “Hollywood” standards or train for a marathon. A fertility-friendly exercise program will leave you feeling nourished and relaxed.
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