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Yoga for Fertility: Viva Las “Vagus!”

by Beth Heller, MS

In a recent clinical study conducted at Pulling Down the Moon we found that women who took our six week Yoga for Fertility class experienced significant reductions in their anxiety levels.  This was very exciting, not just for us but for the women who experienced this reduction in anxiety.

“Allostatic load” (AL) is a term that refers to the physiological consequences of chronic stress and anxiety.  In other words, AL is the physical result of excess chronic stress exposure.  The conditions that lead to AL include repeated exposure to multiple sources of stress and  an inability to “shut down” the stress response in a timely manner.  For anyone who has experienced the challenges of infertility – multiple sources of stress anyone?  – you recognize it’s a perfect recipe for excess Allostatic Load.

To reduce AL it stands to reason that we should try to both reduce the number of stressors we experience and improve our ability to shut down the stress response.  The first remedy, reducing the number of stressors, is challenging.  Between work, relationships and the medical aspects of fertility the stress whammy’s are pretty relentless and often beyond our control.   That leaves the second remedy, learning to shut down or counteract the stress response, as our best course of action.

Enter the vagus nerve.  The vagus nerve runs from deep in the brain down to the gut and is responsible for an amazing array of enervation – from heart to colon.  Specifically, the vagus nerve provides parasympathetic nervous stimulation, our body’s  rest-digest-nest response.  Stimulation of this nerve has been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure, and counteracts our our body’s stress response.  It has been hypothesized that yoga reduces Allostatic Load by stimulating the vagus nerve.

Yoga stimulates the vagus nerve in many different ways.  Asana (yoga poses) fold, twist and extend the torso, impacting the vagus nerve. Techniques like ujjayi breathing also stimulate this nerve.  In our yoga program we focus both on poses that support fertility and those that stimulate our relaxation response.  And now research shows this may be having a real impact on women’s anxiety levels.

In May and June, you can take advantage of yoga in one of three ways at Pulling Down the Moon.  First, we have two great fertility yoga DVDs:  Yoga Practices for Fertility and our Fully Fertile Companion Yoga DVD  for purchase online or in our Centers.  We also have yoga classes in DC Metro and the Chicago Area.  Finally, in our Chicago-area locations we are offering a Three-Pack of 75 minute private yoga sessions for $225 in May and June.  Call or visit our website for more info.