After years of struggling to conceive, many women might just give up, or start to pursue alternative options for parenthood. But not Yasaman Dehkordi, 31, who has experienced three miscarriages in seven years. The Clarksburg, Maryland resident has finally found a solution to help her work through the stress and emotions, and may even boost her fertility: yoga.
Dehkordi started taking "infertility yoga" classes offered at Shady Grove Fertility in Rockville, Maryland a few months ago and now calls the practice "life changing."
"You place your feet on that mat and you automatically get this calmness in your body, and just focus on yourself and your breathing," Dehkordi explained.
Trying to get pregnant is no easy feat — and for women struggling with fertility, the process can come with a side of stress, anxiety or just feeling like a failure. Yet two recent studies have found that a yoga practice might help women cope.
Before you roll your eyes and write this off as another hokey study, take a look at the research: One study, conducted in India, took a closer look at the impact of yoga on women who had undergone one unsuccessful round of IVF treatment.
Over 100 women preparing for a frozen embryo transfer were randomly selected into one of two groups: one group didn't practice yoga, while the other group did three months of yoga asanas (exercises) and pranayma (breathing exercises). After the procedures, researchers found that 63 percent of women who practiced yoga became pregnant, while 43 percent of women in the control group (who did not do yoga) became pregnant.
"I wanted to explore yoga as a therapeutic modality," Poonam Nayar, one of the researchers, wrote via email. "(I've) felt a need to make a scientific, evidence-based approach to yoga and its possible application in medical settings."
What's so great about yoga?
There's a lot of bending, stretching and breathing, but what makes yoga so much better than other forms of exercise?
"Throughout my entire career, I've felt that yoga is a great component for women trying to get pregnant," said Dr. Alice Domar, executive director of Domar Centers for Mind/Body Health and the director of integrative care at Boston IVF. "Especially if a woman is doing IVF, it behooves them to do some kind of intervention to lower their stress levels."
IVF can be a tough process for women, noted Domar, and in addition to feeling stressed, infertile women might feel angry at their bodies. Yoga can help them feel good again — and there are other serious benefits, too.
"Even if the main purpose is yoga, the women may get there early and schmooze with other women — the practice offers a lot of social support," said Domar.
For Dehkordi, that connection with other women going through similar experiences is a major part of why her yoga practice has been so beneficial.
"All the ladies who attended were experiencing the same feelings, and going through different steps of the journey, which in ways helps you on your journey," Dehkordi said. "The best part — we felt like we weren't alone."
Yoga can help people better process stress.
It's not news that yoga as a practice can help people deal with stress and anxiety — that's why wellness "gurus" tout its benefits all day long. Though, there is further research to support that it could be a beneficial tool for women struggling with fertility.
Researchers in Chicago studied yoga's impacts on 26 infertile patients. Participants in the study were enrolled in online or in-person yoga training, and preliminary results showed a significant reduction in anxiety for patients who practiced yoga in both settings.
I'm trying to get pregnant. Should I start doing yoga right now?
"If a patient came to me and said, 'I've seen these studies, what do you think?' I'd definitely say, sure, why not try it? But I would not feel comfortable telling them it could improve their chances of becoming pregnant," said Dr. Kevin Doody, an OB-GYN in Dallas and spokesperson for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, noting that the study from India was conducted on a relatively small number of patients.
"I would never say you have to do yoga to get pregnant," added Domar. "And for people who don't like yoga, there are lots of other things they can do to lower stress levels, like cognitive behavior therapy."
Though for women like Dehkordi, yoga might just be the puzzle piece that was missing.
"Do I wish I'd started this sooner? Yes! It has been a life-changing experience," she said. "I was the one to laugh at people when they said yoga had changed their life."