One of the biggest challenges of promoting holistic medicine is the lack of available research on the benefits of practices like yoga, massage and even acupuncture when compared to the research available for mainstream medicine. This month we are excited to share that a new study, conducted by Fertility Centers of Illinois and Pulling Down the Moon found that our six week Yoga for Fertility program significantly lowered anxiety rates in fertility patients. The study, which is one of the largest controlled studies to date looking at yoga’s impact on fertility, found a 20% reduction in anxiety in the yoga group versus just a 2% reduction in controls.
The Pulling Down the Moon yoga program consists of six consecutive sessions, each of which is comprised of a yoga posture practice coupled with a group discussion focused on how to apply different yoga techniques (breathing, meditation, working with negative thoughts, etc.) to the fertility journey.
“One of the most interesting things about the recent research findings is how quickly our program was able to create a large reduction in anxiety,” states Pulling Down the Moon Co-Founder and Study Co-Investigator Beth Heller. “We knew from 12 years of teaching that the class was beneficial but seeing it in numbers is great!”
While we do not know the exact mechanism, here are some of our hypotheses:
1. Yoga is a low-intensity form of exercise that works on the physical body, stretching and bending the spine and limbs and emphasizing deep diaphragmatic breathing in a way that is believed to mechanically stimulate the body’s relaxation response. It is hypothesized that yoga poses and breathing exercises mechanically stimulate the vagus nerve, a large nerve running the length of the spine that is a key regulator of our body’s parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS in turn stimulates the relaxation response.
2. The six-week yoga program in this study included breathing and meditation practices, which have been shown to decrease anxiety and alleviate depression in many different conditions.
3. The yoga program in this study also included group discussion focused on the most stressful elements of the infertility process – medical aspects, feeling of lack of control, separation from one’s usual peer group and feelings of guilt/self-blame. The group dynamic immediately provides a support network and reduces sense of isolation.
Why look at yoga for fertility?
“As a casual yogi,” says Study Investigator and Reproductive Endocrinologist Dr. Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron of Fertility Centers of Illinois, “ I have personally appreciated the calmness and peacefulness that yoga provides. I was interested in learning how this simple intervention could benefit our infertility patients; given the stress and anxiety that goes along with the treatment process.”
When asked what they would like to examine next, these researchers hope to conduct a larger study where patients are randomized to receive either yoga posture practice plus the discussion session or yoga posture practice alone to learn which component of the fertility yoga class is most beneficial. They would also follow women longer to learn if the impacts extend to pregnancy success and likelihood of staying in treatment long enough to allow for lifetime success given that often patients require greater than one cycle of therapy.