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!
Historically, there has been a lack of attention to the full range of women’s emotions. The typical woman is presented as having a limited response to stressors or negative experiences: she is sad, helpless, and inwardly focused. Anger, in contrast, may be seen as unusual and/or inappropriate for a woman. This may be especially true for women during the postpartum period, as the emotion of anger suggests there is something to be angry about, which starkly challenges stereotypes of new motherhood.
There are a number of reasons why it is important to protest those stereotypes and recognize women’s experiences of anger during the postpartum period. For one, normalizing the response is important in helping women to recognize their own emotions and feel less isolated. Unless it represents a chronic and debilitating pattern, anger in and of itself is not pathological, and may be an entirely appropriate response to a negative occurrence. Expression of the emotion can be constructive and help to remedy aspects of a new mother’s life that may be working against her.
The reasons for feelings of anger postpartum are numerous and surely varied for each woman. They range from societal (insurance company frustration, hospital bureaucracy, poor maternity leave policies at work) to relational (not enough support from friends or family, waking up constantly while your husband sleeps through the night, having your instincts questioned by the pediatrician) to the personal (poor birth experience, negative feelings about body/appearance, sleep deprivation, lack of time for self). The list could go on and on. I once had a client who denied her own angry feelings for months after her child was born. One day she was in the library, and found that her stroller could not fit down an aisle. It was the last straw for her, and she began to feel overcome by an incredible amount of rage and frustration that she could no longer ignore. She realized then that she needed an outlet.
Be it therapy, mom’s groups, or talking with our own mothers or sisters, being able to express the frustrations, injustices, and indignities of motherhood can be crucial for our mental health. It also can be the first step to creating societal change, helping us organize and question why we and our babies are not better supported. It can validate other women’s experiences, sending the message “It’s not you, it really is just that tough sometimes.” Finally, it can serve to help us enjoy all the amazing aspects of parenting because we are not carrying suppressed negative emotions.
One of my main goals for the therapy room is make it a taboo-free zone. Women are so often shocked when I tell them that their feelings or experiences, be it anger or whatever else, are not uncommon. Because we are so trained to keep a smile on our faces, make it all look easy, and not make others uncomfortable, we may have the illusion that we’re the only ones faking it. The struggle is real, mamas. As real as the love and joy and delicious chubby thighs. By moving toward authenticity and the acknowledgement of our full range of emotions we can achieve greater fulfillment as well as push for changes that can improve our experiences as mothers. Maybe a campaign for wider library aisles?
Dr. Erika Yamin is a clinical psychologist with a long-term focus on women’s reproductive mental health (issues relating to pregnancy, motherhood, postpartum, infertility, adoption). She has extensive clinical, academic, and advocacy-based experience in this area, and previously worked as a birth doula. Erika completed her doctoral coursework at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and her master’s degree at the University of Chicago. She sees her work as a tremendous privilege and is continually awed by her clients.
by Kellie Greene RYT, RPYT
The fertility and pregnancy journey can often be riddled with anxiety, fear, and doubt. Our yoga instructor Kellie Greene draws on more than ten years of experience to give you a brief overview on why adding mantras to your coping toolbox can be beneficial at any point on your journey with Pulling Down the Moon.
What is a mantra?
Mantras are something we discuss in both the Yoga for Fertility and Prenatal classes. They can be useful in yoga postures that are held for a longer period of time, or doctors appointments, waiting for test results, and daily encouragement. It can be helpful to disrupt the stress hormone cycle, and boost the beneficial hormone oxytocin. It also gives parents something they can control. A mantra can be a simple phrase, a word, a prayer, or an intention. It is typically repeated several times in a row during a challenging experience, or several times throughout the day.
Why choose to use mantras?
The fertility and childbearing experience is one of great stress. That may present as anxiety, difficulty making decisions, depression, fear, or passing physical symptoms. A mantra is a tool meant to bring some level of calm. It can be helpful to remind yourself of a feeling you wish to evoke to replace the stress response. Or, it can be helpful to remind yourself that this part of your journey is temporary. Regardless of why your have chosen to try a mantra it can give you something you can control, or allow you to shift your focus intentionally on to something positive.
Common fertility mantras-
- This is temporary One day at a time
- I will be a parent It will happen for me
- I am healthy, I am whole I can do this
- I am not alone I will stay patient and trust
- Common Prenatal mantras –
- My baby is healthy and happy in this moment.
- The information I have tells me baby is fine
- My body is doing exactly what it needs to be doing in this moment
- My baby is safe
- I trust my body
- Today I am pregnant
The fertility and pregnancy can be lonely, and filled with many emotions. It’s ok to be your own loudest cheerleader. Each day can be a new mantra. You can use it once or a 100 times.
If you would like help choosing a mantra that is right for your situation talk to one of our yoga instructors before or after class. Check our schedule for a time and location that is right for 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!
Anyone who has struggled with infertility can attest to the physical and emotional strain that accompanies this path to parenthood. The rollercoaster of hormones, hope and disappointment, comments made by others, and grueling medical schedule makes anxiety nearly universal to the treatment process.
As a result of this increase in anxiety I would encourage you to consider self-care as a fundamental tool to cope with the anxiety that is inherent to the process. Self-care includes:
- Pamper yourself. Between the daily hormone injections, the blood draws and ultrasound of an IVF cycle, your body takes a beating! Be sure to give yourself a little extra TLC. Get a massage, make time for yoga or take a nap. Treat yourself to what you enjoy. You’ve earned it.
- Find support. Though you may feel alone in this process at times, infertility is quite common. You may already know friends or family members who have struggled with infertility. Talk to them. If you don’t know anyone look for a local support group or a mental health provider who specializes in reproductive health.
- Stay rooted in the present. It can be overwhelming to deal with the countless details of IVF: the medication regimen, the monitoring, the instructions, the potential outcomes. Sometimes it is too much to take in all at once. If you find yourself stressed about the process, bring yourself back to the present. What is happening in this moment? What do you need to do today, not tomorrow or next week? Focus only on the next step and then the next step, one step at a time.
- Ease up on your schedule. Cut obligations where you can. Delegate work or chores if possible. Ask for help from friends, family, colleagues or neighbors. Fertility treatment is a time-intensive process–letting go of any extra responsibilities will give you the time take care of what is really important while decreasing the stress of trying to juggle too much.
- Remember your life outside of fertility treatment. It is easy to get swept up in the process so that conceiving becomes your sole focus. What did you like to do before you began treatment? Paint? Walk? Read? Do it again! What in your life is going well? Do you have great friends? A good husband? A job you like? Focusing on those good areas in your life doesn’t mean that getting pregnant isn’t a priority, it simply helps to balance out your attention and lower anxiety while you undergo treatment.
- Get help if you need it. If you find that your anxiety becomes unmanageable or if you’re struggling with depression, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Many women need a little extra help during this difficult time.
Ariadna Cymet Lanski, Psy.D
Clinical Psychologist, Wellbeing Chicago
Dr. Ariadna Cymet Lanski is a clinical psychologist who offers a wide range of psychological services to meet the unique needs of individuals and couples coping with fertility challenges. Her services include consultation and support during various stages of fertility treatment, consultation for individuals using egg/sperm donor or gestational carriers. Additionally, Dr. Cymet Lanski conducts egg donor, gestational carrier, and Intended Parents assessments.
Dr. Ariadna Cymet Lanski’s clinical practice specializes in reproductive health issues -from preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum adjustment to parenthood. Through the years, Dr. Cymet Lanski has provided support and assistance in understanding the psychological impact of fertility issues and other reproductive crises. She has helped many patients to manage stress and feel empowered about their choices. To this end, Dr. Cymet Lanski frequently utilizes mindfulness concepts and is a strong believer in the relationship between emotional and physical wellbeing.
Since 2011, Dr. Cymet Lanski has been an active member of RESOLVE and the ASRM Mental Health Professional Group (MHPG), having served and then chaired the MHPG Membership committee. She has presented in various national and international medical conferences including various presentations at the ASRM annual congress.
Well Being Chicago
Ariadna Cymet Laski, PsyD
by Alison Lautz, LCSW, RYT
Over dinner a few weeks ago, a friend and I chatted about her attendance at the Wanderlust Yoga Festival in Chicago. I unfortunately had not been able to make it which was a big bummer. My girlfriend had recently been through some big, not so great, life changes and had said that spending the day at the yoga festival was very healing for her. She shared a quote with me that one of the Wanderlust teachers had started their class with that really resonated for her life and current situation. The quote by an unknown author read “It was never mine carry, so today I lay it down”.
This is where the beautifully simple, yet abstract and often elusive idea of “letting go” comes in. As a yoga teacher, I use this phase often during my classes and for many of us, hearing the words “let it all go,” may be one of the reasons why we step on our mats. These comforting and supportive words ease our minds both off and on the mat. Fully letting go to create more space takes courage, trust, and faith. This 100% translates to life off of our mats and igniting the strength to tackle head on whatever struggles we are facing.
As we practice yoga, we connect with our divine nature and our higher selves. Letting go may feel different each day. Sometimes it feels active and moves forward into more knowledge. Other times letting go feels like acceptance, sometimes it feels like a release. It can mean a celebration, while other times it feels like surrender or a rest. However it feels to you, it is important to remember that this practice of letting go evolves and grows deeper the more you do it. It’s a practice and it’s not meant to be perfect right off the bat and you can’t expect it to be.
The lack of control that we have while trying conceive can seem very unfair. The waiting game is frustrating, isolating, tiring, unpredictable, expensive, and lengthy. Increased ease through our fertility journeys can be found if we work on and practice ‘letting go’. Once we start to channel our ability to ‘let go’, we find that we can transfer this skill to be useful in other parts of our worlds; work stresses, relationship issues, time management, parenting, financial fears, and health management, just to name a few. Come check out Yoga for Fertility or the Two Week Walk to work on ‘letting go’.
“It was never mine to carry, so today I lay it down.”
by Alison Lautz, LCSW, RYT
Join Ali in her new series of Yoga for Fertility on Mondays at 5:30pm! Questions? Call us at: 312-321-0004.
By Margaret Eich, MS, RDN
A recent study looked at women’s diets while they were trying to conceive and found that certain aspects of their diet impacted their fertility. 5628 women with no previous pregnancies recalled their intake of certain foods leading up to conception when they were 14-16 weeks pregnant. The two factors that were found to impact time to pregnancy (how long it took to get pregnant) were fast food intake and fruit intake.
Eating fruit 1-3 times per month as compared to 1-6 times per week was associated with an 11% increase in time to pregnancy. Eating fruit 1-3 times per month compared to 3 times daily was associated with 19% longer time to pregnancy.
Eating fast food at least 4 times per week was associated with a 24% increase in time to pregnancy as compared to women who eat no fast food. Risk of infertility was 41% higher in the group of women who ate fast food at least 4 times per week compared to those who ate no fast food.
It’s important to keep these results in perspective, as the time to pregnancy increase with high fast food intake or low fruit consumption was only about 0.6-0.9 months, which isn’t a huge difference. The increase in risk of infertility is definitely concerning. The bottom line is that we already know that fast food is harmful to our overall health, but it is also seems to impact fertility, which could be through the intake of unhealthy fats in fried foods and just a generally nutrient poor diet high in refined carbs and added sugars.
It’s important not to stress when you read these studies! Fertility is affected by many factors, so worrying about your fast food intake or lack of fruit intake is definitely counterproductive. Instead look forward and work on small changes that that will improve your overall health and potentially your fertility moving forward.
If you are eating fast food regularly, focus on one step you could make towards healthier eating. It could be cooking up 1 one-pot meal with leftovers per week, such as soup or chili that you could eat for multiple meals during the week. Alternatively, it could be choosing healthier fast food options with more whole foods such as tacos, a salad with protein, or a burrito bowls that include vegetables and omits fried foods. Adding some fruit can be as simple as taking the step of bringing an easy fruit with you to work or adding a fruit after dinner in the evening. Clementines, bananas, and apples are all pretty easy and portable. Berries pack a good antioxidant punch and would also make a great addition.
Need help making changes to your diet to maximize your fertility? Schedule a nutrition appointment today! Get outside this summer with others TTC and learn more about nutrition for fertility with Mia Zarlengo at the FREE Two Week Walk event in Chicago on July 21st!
By Amanda Hofbauer MA, AMFT
By Dr Helena Para LAc, DACM, MSTOM
With the quickly approaching summer, and Chicago’s humid tendencies already underway, some people may be getting concerned about staying cool. One such population would be women with a tendency towards hot flashes. While we most often associate hot flashes with menopause and ladies over 45, there are other reasons for this bothersome temperature dysregulation. Pregnancy, menstruation, premature menopause and anxiety can all be causes of hot flashes, and some individuals are just heat intolerant overall. Interestingly, Traditional Chinese Medicine pays particular attention to your body’s internal and external temperature, and you may find that your acupuncturist often asks about temperature even when you don’t have any complaints associated with it.
The best way to balance temperature and clear heat is the integration of acupuncture into your health care routine. Your acupuncturist can determine the root cause of the fluctuations you are experiencing and bring your body back into balance. If you want to carry on the heat clearing outside of the treatment room- you can also eat foods that are “cooling” in nature.
Alfalfa sprouts Apple
Bamboo Shoots Banana
Bok Choy Cantaloupe
Snow Pea Barley
Try a Nutrition Consultation in June AND a follow-up session for only $99! It is great for general health, your fertility treatment plan, during pregnancy, and postpartum. Learn more here.
Don’t miss the opportunity to meet Helena in Sept for our FREE Points to Ponder: Acupuncture, Community, and Stress Reduction session in Chicago! Have more questions about how acupuncture can help you or want to schedule an initial consultation? Call us today at: 312-321-0004.
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!
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