By Meredith Nathan LMT
When we discuss fertility massage, it’s often assumed this practice is designed only for women. It’s true that the benefits for women are vast, but men shouldn’t feel left out! The male reproductive system completely mirrors the female reproductive system (in function if not in location). The Fallopian tubes are comparable to the vas deferens, as both are systems of transportation in the body. The ovaries are comparable to the testes, both producing the carrier’s ‘seed’. The uterus and the penis both allow the safe passage of that ‘seed’. And though the hormones dominating men and women are different, both can be negatively impacted by stress.
Abdominal and sacral massage can positively impact circulation, lymphatic flow, and digestive congestion in both men and women. Keeping in mind that restricted blood flow can impact nerve function (including the nerves of the reproductive organs), lymph movement helps the body’s systems of detoxification (and toxicity can impact sperm quality) and digestive stagnation can actually affect hormonal balance, the connection between massage and fertility for men becomes clear. And since the sperm live for 60-70 days, receiving fertility massage while making positive lifestyle choices for several months is ideal!
Lastly, who can argue with the benefits of a stress-reducing massage during a highly stressful time? Lowering cortisol levels, the stress hormone, can boost libido, increase energy, and help promote hormone balance. And perhaps most importantly, it can increase your sense of well-being during an often tense and emotional time. Our culture doesn’t often celebrate or create space for men’s emotions, or their need for self-care…but during a fertility journey, both are vital to creating the endurance that will go the distance.
Try a Fertility Enhancing Boost today!
by Meredith Nathan LMT
A common setback to a successful fertility cycle is a thin endometrium, or uterine lining. In the case of IVF, some cycles never make it to transfer because the endometrium is too thin. Reproductive Endocrinologists usually like to see the lining at least 7-8mm by the time of transfer, with a ‘trilaminar’, or three-layered appearance on an ultrasound. Why does the uterine lining sometimes not grow and thicken throughout the follicular phase as it should?
A few common causes include:
- – poor pelvic blood flow
- – pelvic blood stagnation
- – low BMI
- – estrogen deficiency
- – uterine fibroid(s)
- – adhesions or scar tissue in the uterus
- – endometritis (infection of the endometrial cells) or adenomyosis (a condition whereby the uterine lining grows into the muscular wall of the uterus)
Pelvic blood flow and blood stagnation are two sides of a coin: closely related in some ways, and in other ways complete opposites. For example, someone who never exercises and works a desk job may suffer from blood stagnation; her sedentary lifestyle keeps the pelvic cavity ‘swampy’ in it’s consistency. On the other side of the ditch, the high-intensity, cross-fit, marathon-running athlete is sending much of her blood flow to her extremities (not to mention flooding her body with adrenaline, cortisol, and other stress hormones that may interrupt her hormone balance). Both of these women might end up with a thin uterine lining, for the exact opposite reason.
In other cases blood stagnation can actually CAUSE poor blood flow. Adhesions in the uterus can be the result of trauma or internal infection, but can also be the result of a sedentary lifestyle and blood stagnation. These adhesions can result in lowered circulation, and a thin uterine lining.
Other causes of thin lining can also be related, where one causes the other or several cluster together in a constellation of symptoms. For instance, uterine fibroids are more common in an environment with poor circulation. But, the scar tissue that can result from uterine fibroids can create more blood stagnation and circulatory challenges, resulting in: poor circulation. Likewise, low BMI may cause estrogen deficiency and other hormonal imbalances. Low estrogen may also create other body weight challenges.
Mind boggled? I don’t blame you. But if any of these scenarios sound familiar, take heart. First of all, you do not need to have the ‘perfect uterus’ (if such a thing exists) to get pregnant. I’ve personally had clients with a lining as thin as 4mm achieve a successful implantation and pregnancy (and who now have healthy babies).
And the silver lining is that there are a number of positive, holistic choices you can make to give your endometrium a boost:
- – if you’re concerned about a low BMI, consider gaining weight. Fat cells produce estrogen, and estrogen helps build the lining! That’s not an invitation to gorge yourself on milkshakes and cheetos (wouldn’t that be nice?) – see a nutritionist to help guide you to a healthy BMI, using a anti-inflammatory diet filled with healthy fats.
- – while you’re at it, ask that nutritionist about things to avoid, and also supplements that can support your lining. Some research suggests Vitamin E (included in a good prenatal vitamin) and L-arginine may support a thick uterine lining, while substances such as caffeine and nicotine are known to restrict blood flow, possibly thinning it.
- – choose low-intensity, moderate exercise options, such as gentle (non-heated) yoga, swimming, walking, or the elliptical machine.
- – thermal therapy, hip stretches/openers (including some fertility yoga poses you can use now!), femoral massage, and other self care techniques can help improve pelvic blood flow
- – receive a manual therapy, such as, Fertility Enhancing Massage (FEM), or Mercier Therapy (available at PDtM from Meredith Nathan), to reduce adhesion in the abdomen and increase pelvic blood flow. Your FEM Practitioner, exclusively at Pulling Down the Moon, can also teach you further self care techniques to help boost your blood everyday! Try a sample of these self-care fertility massage techniques today!
(Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric)
Fertility massage is a cutting edge field, with far-reaching benefits that are still being explored. At Pulling Down the Moon, we’ve developed specific techniques for working with the body after seeing thousands of fertility clients for nearly two decades. We’ve striven to be pioneers of this emerging healing art, blending the best of ancient modalities with cutting edge massage techniques. Our programs have reached thousands of women across the Chicagoland and the DC area, have been purchased by Shady Grove Fertility, the largest Reproductive Endocrinology Center in the United States, and Pulling Down the Moon has been recognized by the NCBTMB as a provider of continuing education in the field of fertility massage. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) also recognized our Massage Director, Meredith Nathan, with the 2018 Pioneer Award for the development of this protocol.
After struggling with our inability to support people struggling with infertility who lived outside of Chicagoland and the DC area for years, PDM is proud to be launching Continuing Education in Fertility Massage for the first time since it’s inception. Now Massage Therapists across the country with a passion for women’s health and fertility can receive training in our exclusive techniques, and as a result, couples hoping to be parents around the U.S. can receive the benefits.
Moon Massage Level 1 consists of 3 online modules, each ranging 90 minutes to 2 hours in length, a hands-on techniques review video, and a final exam. It will include an overview of reproductive anatomy, both natural and assisted fertility cycles, contraindications for fertility clients, common fertility challenges and ways massage can support these issues, specific fertility massage techniques, and a 30-minute basic fertility massage protocol that can be used with all fertility clients, both male and female (at the appropriate time in their cycle).
This webinar will lay the foundation for a series of hands on courses, ultimately leading to training in our exclusive Fertility Enhancing Massage Protocol™, a training formerly available only to PDtM staff. This level 1 training is your first step toward certification in the FEM Protocol.
“I believe wholeheartedly the FEM Protocol will complement the therapies I treat my patients with and enhance their success, while hopefully decreasing the stress level they are facing as they undergo the difficult and arduous treatments we prescribe.” – Dr. Melissa Ann Esposito MD FACOG
“I thoroughly enjoyed the Moon Massage level 1 Module training series. Meredith is an amazing instructor with an infectious personality. Her enthusiasm for the subject matter, her vast knowledge, and the way she expresses the concepts so clearly make it highly enjoyable to watch as you learn. It is filled with so much practical information, and though it is highly technical, it is presented clearly and with a review section in each segment. All aspects of fertility and IVF are well covered, and the hands on portions really illustrate the techniques clearly. It was one of the best presented and well designed continuing education classes I’ve taken. Thank you so much.” – Deana Burrows, LMT
By Cathy McCauley, LMT
Spring arrives this month, and with it, more cold days (perhaps even snow)! But March also brings the promise of new life. I love this time of year. The ground starts to smell fresh and ripe. Small green buds begin to swell from the earth reaching up, up, up. Birds chatter in the trees. The sun stays in the sky a little longer each day. After a long, cold winter of hibernation, spring restores nature’s beauty.
Spring inspires us to restore ourselves, too and these self-care techniques will lead you to restoration of mind, body and spirit.
—Hydrate. Drink a glass or two of water first thing in the morning. Keeping yourself hydrated helps boost your mood, improves brain power and protects you against disease.
—Make a gratitude list. Spending just a few minutes a day writing down what you are grateful for can dramatically shift your day. The more gratitude you have, the more open to abundance you become.
—Breathe. Set aside a few minutes each day to practice breathing. There are so many benefits! Among them, diaphragmatic breathing alleviates stress, reduces pain, strengthens internal muscles and moves blood to organs and tissues. If you’re not sure how to get started, schedule an Open the Breath (™) massage to receive some hands-on breath work coaching.
—Stretch. Five to 10 minutes of stretching in the morning increases energy levels, enhances circulation, reduces injury and centers your mind. Even better is a regular yoga practice. Pulling Down the Moon’s yoga classes can give you a jump start!
—Eliminate something from your diet that isn’t serving you. Instead of overhauling your entire diet, start by taking out one food that doesn’t nourish your body. Replace it with a different item that supports your desire for restoration. Learn even more by working with a nutritionist!
Do you have ideas on how to restore yourself or tips for others? Please share them! I look forward to seeing you in the center. Many wishes for a beautiful spring!
by Meredith Nathan, Director of Massage at Pulling Down the Moon, LMTFertility massage is a cutting edge field, with far-reaching benefits that are still being explored. At Pulling Down the Moon®, we’ve developed researched-informed and results-oriented techniques for working with the body after seeing thousands of fertility clients for over fifteen years. Our award winning, nationally recognized FEM Protocol™ is a five-part series using massage and related techniques to enhance the health and functioning of the pelvic and abdominal organs, and to promote the client’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being.The five parts of the protocol focus on cleansing and detoxification, enhancing reproductive circulation, oxygenating the pelvic organs, encouraging pelvic alignment and combating stress. Benefits may include:* promoting egg quality by improving the follicular environment and increasing it’s supply of oxygen-rich blood* lowering hormone disruption through stress management and clearing lymphatic congestion (a common storehouse for excess hormones and toxins)* supporting uterine lining and alignment through melting abdominal scar tissue, clearing circulatory pathways, and releasing structural tension patterns* encouraging relaxation and an overall sense of well-being during your fertility journeyLearn more about why this protocol has caught the attention of the American Massage Therapy Association, the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, and thousands of patients-turned-parents at The FEM SEM, a seminar geared towards helping you understand if The Fertility Enhancing Massage Protocol could assist your fertility journey. The replay of the free webinar is available here.
By Meredith Nathan Director of Massage, LMT
The psoas muscle, the largest muscle in the group of muscles that make up the hip flexor, is arguably the most important muscle in your body. Without this vital muscle you’d never be able to get up off the floor! Reaching from the 12th thoracic vertebrae to the 5th lumbar vertebrae, traveling down the pelvis to the femur, it is the primary connector between your torso and your legs The only muscle in your body that connected your legs to your spine, It affects your posture and stabilizes your vertebrae.
A weak or tight psoas is known as a hidden cause of low back pain. But low back pain isn’t the only mysterious symptom associated with an imbalanced psoas. Another frequent symptom is stress, which both causes the psoas to contract and can also be caused by a contracted psoas. Anatomically linked to your breath, it connects to the diaphragm through connective tissue and diaphragmatic ligaments. Stress not only signals the psoas to contract which creates tension in the diaphragm, it also signals shallow, pant-like breathing which doesn’t engage the diaphragm. Both of these factors signal an ancient fight or flight response in the body, activating stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
Your psoas muscles also create a muscular shelf that your kidneys and adrenals rest on. As you breathe deeply your diaphragm moves and your psoas muscles gently massage these organs, stimulating blood circulation. But when deep breathing doesn’t occur or the psoas muscles become imbalanced, the adrenals and kidneys don’t receive the stimulation they need, and the feeling of exhaustion can become a way of life. In fact, according to Liz Koch, author of The Psoas Book, “The psoas is so intimately involved in such basic physical and emotional reactions, that a chronically tightened psoas continually signals your body that you’re in danger, eventually exhausting the adrenal glands and depleting the immune system.”
The kidneys and adrenals aren’t the only organ affected: as the psoas travels through the pelvis it supports your organs and works like a hydraulic pump pushing lymph and blood into and out of your cells. When psoas becomes tight or imbalanced, overall abdominal stagnation can occur. And if all that weren’t enough, a tight psoas can directly impact a woman’s reproductive system. The nerves of the reproductive organs embed throughout iliopsoas, and a tight psoas may pin down the uterus, creating painful menstrual cramps. The ovaries, which can double in size during ovulation, also sit close to the psoas, especially if the uterus is retrograde. A tight psoas can cause pain in the ovaries, restrict blood flow, and impinge reproductive nerves.
So how can you tell if you have a tight, weak, or overstrained psoas?
Here are some symptoms of an imbalanced psoas:
- pain in the low back/hips
- leg length discrepancy
- postural problems (especially a low back that has a more extreme ‘C’ curve, or one that has almost no curve
- severe menstrual cramps
- chronic chest breathing
- chronic fatigue
If you’ve identified that your psoas might be tight or over-strained, there are things you can do to help support it.
- try a runner’s stretch or warrior pose; hold all stretches for at least 30 seconds so the body will ‘remember’ the new length
- put a small cushion or support behind your low back while seated (for instance, while you’re driving your car or sitting at your desk
- try Open the Breath™, the second blood builder session in The Fertility Enhancing Massage Protocol™; this massage works specifically with releasing the iliopsoas and balancing the viscera through breath work and massage
So give your psoas a little love. You’ll have a happy hip flexor, and your whole body will thank you!
by Cathy McCauley, LMT
You aspire to feel well and whole, yet sometimes, the path to wellness and wholeness can seem like a lot to add to the “To Do” list. Another thing to stress about doing. Wouldn’t it be convenient to find one simple, daily activity that could improve whole-body health?
One activity exists. You already practice it. It’s breathing!
Trouble is, many people don’t breathe to support whole-body health. In fact, many people breathe in a shallow, restricted manner that actually impedes health.
Consider for a moment the functioning of your thoracic diaphragm muscle. It attaches along the inner rim of your lower rib cage and is the primary muscle responsible for your respiration. It is dome-shaped or looks like an open umbrella. When you breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and pushes down against the abdominal organs, which allows the lungs to expand to receive fresh air. When exhaling, the diaphragm relaxes upward against the lungs, helping to expel air from them. The more efficiently your diaphragm contracts, the more air will be drawn into your lungs. However, if your diaphragm does not contract efficiently, you end up with shallow breathing.
Now knowing how the diaphragm works, consider what happens when you are constantly stressed out. The body responds to stress (both good and bad types) automatically by tightening the abdominal muscles, among other responses. When stress becomes the norm, continual abdominal tightness restricts the diaphragm and in turn, shallow breathing occurs.
All the systems of your body can be affected by shallow breathing. Reduced oxygen intake can raise your blood pressure, create low-level anxiety, decrease immunity, cause mental and physical fatigue, reinforce serotonin and cortisol hormonal imbalance, and disrupt digestion.
Thankfully, it’s not too late to learn and practice how to relax your breath and breathe fully from the abdomen. Perhaps it’s time to sign up for a yoga class or schedule an “Open the Breath” massage with us. Or try the “Breath of Happiness” YouTube tutorial. Do what you can to get started.
As reported in our “Open the Breath” massage client information, the health of your body, and specifically your reproductive organs, is greatly affected by the movement of your breath. In fact, the human body is designed to discharge approximately 70% of its toxins through respiration. As deep, full breathing engages the diaphragm, the organs are kneaded and churned, fluids are renewed, and stagnant, toxic build-up is flushed out. The pelvis is bathed in oxygen-rich fluids, helping to balance the chemistry of the blood. Deep belly breathing also creates tone and alignment in the pelvic floor, while promoting movement in its connective tissues. Developing a deep, free breath is fundamental in preserving abdominal pliability and mobility.
Another benefit of belly breathing is the relaxation response. Deep abdominal breathing stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system and enhances your cellular, hormonal, and psychological processes. Your bodies conserve and restore energy, build immunity, and regenerate injured tissues. The relaxation response can even lower blood pressure levels. In addition, a deep breath can encourage a feeling of groundedness.
You aspire to feel well and whole. Breathe—for your health!
See Cathy in Highland Park on Mondays and Thursdays for massage therapy and starting July 17th she will be available on Tuesdays in Buffalo Grove as well!
By Meredith Nathan, Massage Director LMT
Castor oil, derived from the Palma Christi plant, has been heralded for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. Ancient civilizations such as early Chinese, Persians, & Egyptians used this oil in balms and ointments. During the Middle Ages, it was used throughout Europe for treating skin ailments. And there’s a good chance you may remember your grandparents recommending it be taken orally to relieve constipation.
Castor oil can also been a wonderful tool to increase fertility. It can help to detoxify your reproductive organs and tonify your blood cells. Castor oil affects three systems within the body:
- The Lymphatic System: think of lymph as the garbage collectors of our bodies. It finds the ‘garbage’ (i.e. toxins, excessive hormones, and waste) and brings it to our lymph nodes, where it is processed and purified. However, our lymphatic system doesn’t have it’s own pump like the circulatory system does. It gets it’s movement from exercise, heat, and stretching. Castor oil packs can also benefit and stimulate the lymph, promoting detoxification and cleansing when applied to the pelvic region.
- The Liver: The liver, your body’s lymphatic powerhouse, stores & processes toxins and hormones in the body. Stagnation in the liver can lead to hormonal imbalance. Castor oil packs can also be applied to the liver to help it decongest, which may promote hormone balance.
- The Circulatory System: Blood is the body’s natural healing agent. Castor oil packs stimulate circulation in the body, helping to bring fresh, oxygenated, untried rich blood to the reproductive organs. This enables healing of scar tissue, the breakdown of adhesions, and provides nutrition to the ovaries and uterus.
Castor oil packs should not be used during after ovulation or if you could be pregnant, but they are a fantastic way to nurture your fertility during the follicular phase of your cycle. Castor oil packs are used during specific Fertility Enhancing Massage sessions, and can also be used for self care at home.
To create your own castor oil pack you’ll need:
- One flannel cloth (without colors as the castor oil will make it run)
- One bottle of castor oil
- Plastic wrap cut one to two inches larger than the flannel
- One towel
- Hot water bottle
- Container with lid
- Old clothes and sheets as castor oil stains clothing and bedding
Soak the flannel in castor oil until it’s saturated. Place it over your lower abdomen, cover it with the plastic sheet and apply the hot water bottle. Cover with a towel, lay back and relax for 30-45 minutes. Remove the pack and clean your tummy. Store the pack in a container in the fridge and reuse the same flannel up to 30 times.
Or if that seems to complicated, you can apply castor oil like your Fertility Enhancing Massage Practitioner: rub castor oil directly on the lower belly, cover it with a piece of plastic wrap or an oid sheet, and apply a non-electrical heat source on top.
An added benefit of using castor oil is it gives you time to relax and meditate, pray, and generally think good thoughts!
Learn more about Fertility Enhancing Massage here!
by Meredith Nathan, LMT
In the United States alone, more than 5 million people of childbearing age have struggled or are struggling with infertility. That’s larger than the population of Los Angeles. In fact, it’s larger than the population of Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Cincinnati combined. It also means that one in every ten couples of childbearing age is struggling or has struggled to conceive. That’s a LOT of people.
Of course we all have that friend that got pregnant on her honeymoon, or became pregnant with her second by the time her first was 6 months old, or has three kids under the age of five. Sure, there are those that can’t even flirt with their spouse without getting pregnant. But the group of people who have dealt with the frustration and sorrow of infertility is larger than you’d think.
As I first entered this field, I remember reading that the grief levels of couples struggling to conceive rivals the grief levels of cancer patients. So why does no one seem to talk about it? Because to most people it’s a private matter, only to be shared with their partner or perhaps their mother or a best friend. But this very privateness seems to compound the grief – because in addition to all the doubts, fears, marital stress, financial stress, questions of self worth and feelings of insecurity that often comes with the territory, it’s easy to feel so very, very alone.
In honor of infertility awareness month , I want everyone to know that you are most definitely NOT alone. That many people have shared in your struggles. And that their’s more information, resources, and solutions available now than ever before. That there is a community available now that decades ago wouldn’t have been. This is why centers like Pulling Down the Moon exist – to support our clients, to give them community if they are looking for it, and to encourage a successful outcome to their journey.
Please know that you are not alone. And that you don’t have to give in to doubt. There are literally millions that have come before you, many of whom had been through the ringer and were at the end of their hope, but ultimately found their happy ending. Some have even expressed how much they learned through the process, how they felt they grew and changed through the process, and how the prize was most definitely worth the wait. Nothing compares to the love a parent has for their child. And nothing can even touch the passion of a parent who has fought for that child.
Come by for a warm cup of tea, free yoga class , or one of our other complimentary special events for National Infertility Awareness . Whatever you may need, you are part of our community and we are here to help. We are also members of Resolve: The National Infertility Association where you can get help at any time of day at: 866.NOT.ALONE.
In honor of Valentine’s day, let’s talk about the language of love: touch. Everyone understands that physical touch is one of the cornerstones of romance. Who hasn’t swooned with a simple caress at the base of their neck? Or with a hand placed on the small of their back? Or even a few fingers brushing across their hand on a first date?
Unfortunately, romance (and libido) tend to dip during times of stress. Ironically, romance is an ancient healing art for just that very thing! So for the month of February let’s turn up the heat with some targeted touch: a foot massage with five specific points to enhance romance! ***these points should not be stimulated if you might be pregnant.
Starting with your partner face down, apply pressure to the soles of the feet with your thumbs, ‘walking’ your thumbs up and down the arch of the foot. Stop just below the halfway point on the foot (slightly closer to the toe than to the heel), directly in line with the big toe. This is the adrenal reflex point. Apply pressure for at least 30 seconds, or until you feel the muscles start to relax. Melting the adrenal reflex points is an excellent way to decrease stress and stimulate relaxation, which sets the stage for our next point!
Continue walking your thumbs up the midline of the feet (directly in line with the middle toe). Stop just below the ball of the foot between the pads, and apply pressure for at least 30 seconds. This is Bubbling Spring, or Kidney 1, an acupressure point thought to awaken the body’s sexual energy.
Have your partner turn onto their back. Focus the massage on the right foot, either kneading the foot with massage oil or continuing to massage dry with thumb pressure (for extra credit, add lavender to the massage oil for relaxation, or jasmine for romance). Imagine a diagonal line connecting the inside ankle bone to the tip of the heel, and apply pressure to the middle of this line. Stimulate the same point on the outside ankle, and hold for at least 30 seconds. These points correspond to the ovaries and uterus on a woman, and the testicles and prostate on a man. Repeat on the left foot.
Massage up the foot to the toes. Gently apply pressure and pull each digit. When you get to the big toe, press the center point (you will need to use another finger or hand behind the big toe to maintain adequate pressure), and hold for at least 30 seconds. This is the pituitary reflex point, which encourages balance to the endocrine system (an important part of a healthy libido).
Continue massaging the feet and then travel up the lower leg to the knee. Stroke or ‘walk’ your thumbs up and down the inside of the tibia, just above the calf muscles. Find the point four fingers above the inside ankle bone, and press for at least 30 seconds. This is Spleen 6, and is also known to awaken sexual energy and stimulate the uterus in a woman.
Next steps? Get creative. Nothing is more intimate that communicating with your partner about what feels good – so explore and become an expert in what makes your partner feel that touch of romance!
Learn more about how massage can help your journey here !
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