by Jillian Delsignore
Eric and I always knew we wanted children, always wanted a family. We talked about it from the time we first started dating in 2016. Going back even years earlier, I had girlfriends encouraging me to freeze my eggs but I never went through with it. It was a combination of fear (can’t handle needles!), uncertainty of the future, my travel schedule (always an excuse!), you name it, I used it as a reason not to do it. When Eric and I met, some of those excuses and fears were alleviated as I could suddenly see the future. The picture of our family became clear.
We had our first joint meeting with Dr Rapisarda at FCI in the summer of 2017. We thought we were there to discuss freezing eggs but he said that given we were there embarking on this together, it was best that we freeze embryos. And so began our journey to Elliott James.
We did our first IVF cycle in November 2017. The shots, the ultrasounds, the blood tests… it was almost surreal to experience that first time. Your world suddenly revolves around daily injections, follicles and hormone levels. I remember our first trigger night like it was yesterday. We always seemed to trigger on Saturday nights! We got one embryo. One embryo from eight eggs. It became clear we needed to continue with more cycles given the odds of success. Those cycles followed in January and November 2018 resulting in two more embryos, both from the last cycle.
We were never able to do a fresh transfer because of my lining. It never wanted to cooperate even when I was being pumped with hormones. We tried our first frozen transfer in April 2019. The process was supposed to take 30 days – mine, it took 3 months and even then my lining was barely viable for a transfer. We were still hopeful but the pregnancy didn’t take. We tried another transfer cycle right away but we had to cancel it because my body just wasn’t responding. It was becoming clear that me carrying our child was not going to be part of our journey.
It was time to make a decision… try again or explore other options. We just couldn’t risk one of our remaining two embryos. Surrogacy was it but where do we even begin. Where do you find a person who is willing to give her body, give herself to help someone else bring a child in to the world? Then there’s the emotion of the whole process. I wouldn’t be pregnant, wouldn’t be able to experience that, feel our baby kick, know what I would eat, how I would care for myself – that lack of control was really hard to accept but it was our path.
We found an amazing organization, ConceiveAbilities, to help us through the entire process – finding a gestational carrier, getting us a lawyer, acting as our complete coordinator of what is a very complicated process. We were open to finding a GC anywhere in the country in an effort to be matched quickly. Not only did they find us a match in six weeks, they found us someone in Chicago. We met Steffanie for the first time on video in early January 2020. We instantly knew she was going to be our perfect match.
Its really hard to explain the relationship that develops between intended parents and a GC. Its intense, emotional, loving, all the feels. This part of our journey was particularly unique because at this point COVID was upon us which meant protocols at doctors appointments had completely changed. We couldn’t attend the transfer but drove her to and from and just waited in the parking lot. Our OB appointments became a routine of driving to the doctors office, hanging together in the waiting room and then heading back out to the car when she was called back so we could FaceTime during the appointment. We made it work and we loved getting to spend the time together even if it was in waiting rooms and parking lots.
We are forever grateful for the hospital in allowing both Eric and me to be there all throughout labor and delivery in addition to Steffanie’s husband. I was able to cut the cord and we could immediately hold Elliott which was something we feared wouldn’t be possible because of COVID. The hospital even went so far as to providing us a room on the postpartum floor. It was amazing to see how invested in our story everyone became over the course of those 14 hours. Doctors and nurses whose shifts had ended an hour before Elliott’s birth came back in the room so that they could be a part of this joyous moment. Hugs, tears, the quiet moment when a doctor said to me “you’ve waited a long time for him haven’t you”. Yes, we had waited a long time and it was worth the wait. Those moments and days in the hospital are ones we will truly never forget.
One constant in our journey are my friends at Pulling Down The Moon. They have been with us from the very beginning. Acupuncture and massage played a big role in not only my physical health but mental health as well. I instantly calmed the minute I walked in the door – every single time. It is the most inviting environment and despite my fear of needles, the acupuncture was something I came to love. We even had to do some of our shots there! Never a dull moment when you are beholden to the clock and miscalculate how long you’ll be at acupuncture! The connections that I made with everyone there became some of the most important to me in this journey as I could see myself in them. They had their own stories and worked there to help women just like me, just like them, get their families. I found that the support doesn’t end when it was not me who would be pregnant. They offered to help Steffanie, to let her use my package, to help the odds of us getting pregnant. I even found myself going back throughout the pregnancy for that mental break and self care I know I would get from my Pulling Down The Moon friends. They were also invested in my story and it meant the world.
The journey to parenthood looks different for everyone. When you’re in the midst of it all and feel like its not meant to be, its easy to lose hope and let the emotions take over. I’ve been there many times. Remember you’re not alone. There are resources and support systems that exist to help you along your journey. You don’t have to do this alone. We are a stronger family thanks to this journey and are so blessed to have our sweet Elliott James.
By Beth Heller, Pulling Down the Moon Co-Founder
People ask us all the time what things they can do at home to support their fertility. In response, we’ve put together a collection of essential fertility tools that can help you obtain some of the benefits of holistic fertility treatments like massage and acupuncture in your own home.
- What is it? Our Abdominal Wrap includes a flannel cloth, organic castor oil and a proprietary blend of herbs traditionally used to support female fertility.
- How do you use it? Simply saturate the flannel with castor oil and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon of herbs and place on your lower abdomen oil side down. Place a hot water bottle over top, cover with a towel and rest with your feet elevated for up to 30 minutes.
- Who should use it? Good for everyone on the TTC path, especially recommended for thin lining issues and/or cycles with a short luteal phase.
- When should I use it? We recommend wrapping from the first day of your menstrual cycle until ovulation.
- Why abdominal wrapping?
Here are four key reasons why this traditional technique supports fertility:
- Blood Flow – When we apply heat to a body part (think sprained ankle) we promote blood flow to the region. Blood is our body’s healing agent and helps to build a rich uterine lining and nourish developing egg follicles. Our special herbal blend provides gentle added support and nourishment.
- Reduce Inflammation – Castor oil has a unique chemical makeup that allows it to be absorbed through the skin and function as an antioxidant helping to improve the uterine environment.
- Warm the Belly – In Traditional Chinese Medicine there is a condition referred to as ‘cold uterus’, an imbalance of the yin and yang in the body leading to a colder core temperature. Without enough warmth (yang energy) in the uterus, the follicles may not fully ripen and body temperature won’t rise sufficiently after ovulation to support and nurture a growing embryo, if ovulation is able to occur at all. In this view, if the uterus is cold due to lack of blood flow, old dead cells can accumulate, further blocking healthy blood flow, and a vicious cycle is born.
- Promote Relaxation – Taking 20-30 minutes a day to relax is a key part of supporting your fertility. Use the time to practice breathing, or enjoy a guided meditation.
by Cathy McCauley, LMT
Whether getting pregnant naturally or using some form of assisted reproductive technology (ART) like IVF, fertility clients come to Pulling Down the Moon because they want to increase their chances of fertility success. I often see clients have better success after a 90-day prep.
Because the cycle of an egg is about 90 days, it’s helpful for you to prepare and optimize the health of your ovaries, uterus and your whole body at least three months before trying to conceive. In that time, you can monitor your nutrition, increase your vitamin intake, become intentional about improving blood flow and lowering stress levels. All of this can help enhance fertility and create a healthy environment for a pregnancy.
Want to create a 90-day prep plan for enhanced fertility? Start here!
Preconception nutrition research shows that what you eat can impact the health of your ovaries and eggs either negatively or positively. Yet trying to navigate all the information out there can be overwhelming. The ART Prep/Recovery Program is unique to Pulling Down the Moon and exactly what it says: A science-based nutrition program (with some teachings and techniques from Traditional Chinese Medicine and yoga added) especially created to help you prep for your upcoming treatments.
With this program, our nutritionists will help you set goals, regulate blood sugar levels, support the liver, assist in getting your gut and thyroid to function properly, discuss sensitivities, look at possible food eliminations, decrease inflammation and safely cleanse. Your nutritionist will also be an accountability partner and will provide support, encouragement, ideas, and recipes to help you meet your goals while simultaneously working to improve your egg quality.
Vitamins and Supplements
Pulling Down the Moon has been working with medical doctors for over more than a decade, as well as, keeping up with the latest research and literature in the emerging field of supplements. We can provide recommendations on specific supplements for your unique situation and also help you streamline an overwhelming supplement regimen to include the supplements with the most research behind them for fertility. From finding the right prenatal vitamin to taking a probiotic to getting on a supplement of CoQ10, we can help you make the right choices as you work on enhancing your fertility during your prep.
Blood Flow and Stress Reduction
Studies show that embryos with the highest implantation potential are from follicles that have sufficient blood and oxygen. If you want optimum egg health, promoting oxygen-rich blood flow to the ovaries is essential.
No doubt, stress influences your body in many ways and your fertility is not spared. High levels of stress can create an abundance of hormones, which in turn, can disrupt ovulation. By reducing your stress levels, you can have a positive affect on your fertility and your overall well-being.
Here are some approaches:
In very simple terms, acupuncture is believed to clear blockages in the body in order to allow energy, greater health, and the feeling of emotional well-being to flow freely within the body. And more and more, acupuncture is becoming a widely accepted and sought after natural treatment for restoring fertility.
Some research shows acupuncture may improve ovarian functioning, balance the endocrine system and hormones, increase circulation to the uterus and improve egg quality.
Additionally, the treatments are balancing, relaxing and offer clients an opportunity to unplug and feel grounded. Many clients fall asleep during their sessions.
Pulling Down the Moon acupuncturists are well-trained in working specifically with fertility clients. They are knowledgeable in treating your whole body and can provide you up-to-date information on fertility health and wellness.
Pulling Down the Moon’s Yoga for Fertility (YFF) offers you another way to prep for enhanced fertility.
At each class, you will learn a series of yoga postures designed to improve fertility by increasing blood flow into the pelvis, releasing stress and anxiety and balancing life energy flow in the body.
In addition to this physical practice we explore concepts from yoga philosophy that frame the fertility journey in a way that reveals our personal strengths, reinforces the joy of everyday life and empowers us to create the family we are meant to have. Through this class you will also join the wonderful, positive healing community of Pulling Down the Moon and enjoy the energy of all the amazing women who have shared their journey with us.
The last treatment service we offer is dear to my heart. I’ve been a massage therapist at Pulling Down the Moon for several years and have seen women experience much success after receiving massage as part of a fertility prep plan.
What we offer is unique. Our 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, and combating stress. Benefits may include:
- promoting egg quality by improving the follicular environment and increasing its 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 journey
We offer a massage treatment schedule to keep you on track during your 90-day prep. And once you’ve actively started trying to conceive, whether naturally or through ART, we encourage you to continue to receive the FEM Protocol. It is safe any time in a cycle and we are trained in helping you determine what will be the best treatment for you no matter where you are on your fertility journey.
Get started with a 90 day prep and save with one of our New Year, New You Passports to Wellness! Have questions about how Pulling Down the Moon’s unique services can support your journey? Call us at: 312-321-0004 for us personalized support 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)
By Christine Davis, Acupuncture Director
Everyone has advice for you: Do this, do more of this, don’t do that, do less of that. This is the only thing that works. Everyone is different, so nothing works for everyone. Eat more of this. Eat less of that. Exercise more. Exercise less. Weigh more. Weigh less.
I think that, particularly because of the internet, you can find information to support every theory out there on literally everything. It’s hard to know what to trust, what is actually true. While it can take some time to find the things that work for us to stay healthy or find balance, I do think there are a few things that we can universally take as truth.
Here’s what I’ve found:
- Slow Down. I started with this one because it helps to make all the rest possible. We hear this a lot, right? Take time for yourself, relax, find ways to unwind. But how do YOU do that? I think it’s necessary to take some time every single day to be quiet and listen to what your body, your mind, and your heart are telling you. Some days, you might have more time, some days, it’s only 2 minutes. But this has to be a priority like any other. When you take time to be still, whether in meditation, taking a walk, listening to quiet music, doing yoga, or even in an acupuncture session, this is time to hear yourself: your thoughts, how your body feels, where your mind is. What works for one person may not work for another. Remember there’s a reason that we call meditation a “practice.” It’s a process, not a destination. It recharges you, helps you find yourself and your goals, and strengthens your ability to cope with the challenges that life throws your way.
- Eat Well. There are so many theories out there about how to eat, what to eat, where to eat. It can all get very confusing! But I think we all know what things don’t feel right – whether it’s refined sugars/carbs, greasy/fried foods, too much salt, portions that are too large, etc, so staying clear of those as much as possible is critical. The more I go through life and doing the work I do, the more I realize just how important these things are. A study that came out last month showed that unhealthy diets are responsible for 1 in 5 deaths worldwide. Even if our diets are only “kind of” unhealthy, those foods could be contributing at the very least to inflammation, endocrine dysfunction, and thereby problems with fertility. If you are feeling lost in the woods about where to start, make an appointment for Nutritional Counseling with one of our amazing Dietitians.
- Sleep. Oh this is a hard one. We all think we can get away with sleep deficiency, but it always catches up to us in the end! The key is to try to stay consistent, even if you can’t be perfect every night. Aim for 7-8 hours, as close as possible to the same time to bed every night and wake up every morning. Of course, you will have special events, travel, and other things that try to throw a wrench in the works, but the more you condition yourself to stay consistent, the more your body will be prepared to sleep well when it’s time. Other things to try:
- Stop drinking anything caffeinated after 10am if you plan to go to bed by 10pm. Caffeine can stay in your body for up to 16(!!!) hours, so plan accordingly.
- Try a simple chamomile tea about 30-45 min before bedtime – steep in 4oz or less of water so you won’t have to get up to use the restroom during the night.
- Stay away from devices 45-60 min before bed. It’s tempting to try to catch up on emails, surf Instagram or space out to some Netflix, but trust me on this, sleep is way more important!
- Clear clutter from your house in general, but definitely from around your sleeping area. There should be nothing that reminds you of stressful situations or work. Keep your sleeping area as simple and comfortable as possible to invite relaxation and rest.
- If you are still struggling to fall and stay asleep, try acupuncture to help regulate your diurnal cycle.
- Exercise. This is another one that gets pretty complicated, but the bottom line is that you need to move your body on the regular. Medicated IVF cycles notwithstanding (when walking and gentle yoga are safe, as well as, recommended), getting your heart rate up and doing some resistance (free weights, muscular isolation, etc) exercise are necessary for us as humans. Our driving, sitting lifestyle has caused us to not have to do these things for basic needs, so we have to go out of our way to find them. If you love going to the gym, then do it! If you hate going to the gym, then find what works for you – yoga, martial arts, ballroom dancing… If you enjoy it, you’re more likely to stay with it. I had a personal trainer as a patient one time. I remember asking him what the best kind of exercise was. Do you know what he said? He said, “The best kind? That’s the one that you DO.” 100% accurate. If you are someone who has strayed away from exercise or maybe never had a regular practice, it’s time to make friends with the feeling of moving your body to make it strong and healthy. Find what works for YOU.
- >I want to make one side note here to say that you may be someone who exercises TOO much which can also have adverse effects on your body. It can be difficult to let go of an ideal of weight, shape, or status. If you are dealing with a BMI that is below optimum, consider discussing what’s going on with your MD, Dietitian, and acupuncturist.
That’s it. That’s all I know. None of this is new. But this stuff does work – tried and true. Some of it takes real willpower, but setting the wheels in motion now can help you find your healthiest self for life.
Try Acupuncture for only $75 in May! Learn more about holistic health options for the journey for you and your partner at the Shine Together In Person Meet-up with Pulling Down the Moon’s very own Christine Davis presenting on Tuesday, June 11th at 6:00-7:30pm at our Chicago office. Register to save your spot today!
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 Cassie Harrison RYT RYPT
February. Romance is in the air…or is it? Students in my Yoga for Fertility class audibly groan at the mere mention of sex. Especially if I suggest they have more of it. I get it. When trying to conceive, more often than not, sex becomes a chore. A root canal, really anything, is preferred over seeking passion in the bedroom. Mind you, this suggestion isn’t just about sex, it’s more than that. It’s about regaining an intimate connection with each other. Reminding each other that we are not just pawns in the bedroom, but two people (who are both struggling and who need each other more than ever) to regain trust, love, and compassion. Join me on on a journey to find more quality time in the bedroom.
Let’s go down that rabbit hole to open your minds to the thought of sex. The folks over at SexLoveYoga said “We don’t leave room in our mind for sex. It’s filled with other thoughts, but none devoted to sex, not sexy sex anyway.” This begs the question, what kind of thought comes to mind when you think about sex with your partner? Wait, am I being presumptive? Have you even thought about it, that is, outside the window of time to reproduce? Let’s start there. Now that you thought about it, what came to mind? Still having trouble, maybe this webinar, Sex Kitten from Tami Quinn, Co-Founder of Pulling Down the Moon, and Dr Shameless of Vibrant will help remind you what sexy sex is, and no it’s not what you’ve been doing!
Now that you’re thinking about sexy sex again, let’s tap into desire. It’s there, but it’s buried under all the other stuff that’s entered your life recently. Doctor appointments, medications, shots, ultrasounds, you have literally placed your sex life in a petri dish, not sexy! In order to get back on each other, what I mean is, no I meant that! Desire will not happen on it’s own, you must create it. Kissing. Touching. Snuggling. Spooning (my personal favorite). Effort will need to be made by both of you to receive the other. It’s easy to take each others role for granted during the fertility process. If your sex talk resembles “It’s time, hurry get in here, now perform!” Add pressure to that and then…nothing, mood killed by pressure, followed by disappointment, because it feels like an opportunity missed. This doesn’t have to be your story. Repeat, this doesn’t have to be your story. Hold each other, then write or name out loud a sexy sex bucket list. Should that fail to get your desire flowing, there’s always partner yoga. You can do it anytime, anywhere according to https://www.badyogi.com/.
Conceiving, sex and love making, what do these three have in common? Intimacy! According to Google, sex is an intimate act (convenient!). You can also show intimacy through closeness, rapport, and companionship just to name a few. These literal textbook definitions form the foundation of your relationship, deep stuff… my point is you might not be ready to have sexy sex, but by opening yourself to intimacy, the kind that starts by touching in the kitchen, a kiss before running out the door, and sharing your feelings (open book is my philosophy!). This just might allow for a deeper connection between you and your partner, something I imagine is needed now more than ever.
If you can do anything for each other this Valentines day, more important than giving a box of chocolates (I can’t believe I said that…) is giving your time to each other. Try a free couples massage, acupuncture, essential oil, and aphrodisiac snack included Date Night event at Pulling Down the Moon! Try this fertility-friendly Dinner for Two at home! In all seriousness, remember to make time for each other, give each other a break (you are a team after all) and get back to your sexual roots and reconnect. Start, by thinking about sex again…now make it sexier.
*Visit Cassie in Buffalo Grove on Feb 28th at 6pm for the FREE “Yoga for Fertility Intro Workshop“! Learn breathing and relaxation techniques featuring Q&A with Dr Alison K Rodgers of Fertility Centers of Illinois!
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!
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