Modern science has made it clear that stress influences our health and well-being but psychological stress also impacts our mood and relationships. Stress causes the body to release cortisol and a-amylase, which generates energy and stimulates the adrenals as a survival response. But excessive levels of stress-related hormones and enzymes deplete our body’s protein stores and produce excessive amounts of glucose, leading to high blood sugar levels.
Not only does stress disrupt a healthy balance in the body but it can make it even harder to get pregnant. One study explored how stress reduces a woman’s fertility levels. Luckily, there are simple yoga exercises that are proven to effectively relieve stress and restore your body’s natural equilibrium.
Yoga and breathing practices stimulate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which stimulates the anti-stress response and calms down the whole body and mind. We talked to yoga teacher Maria Borghoff, 500-RYT to explore five poses that can be practiced consecutively in the following sequence or used individually. Please check with your doctor before practicing, and listen closely to your body to make any modifications that you need to feel safe, comfortable, and pain-free.
This posture got its name from the way that children naturally self-soothe. By opening the back of the body and bringing the head slightly below the heart, this pose invites you to turn your awareness inward and relax the stimulation coming through our sensory systems.
Practicing Child’s Pose: Come to a seated position on the floor. Bring your knees in line with your hips, and place your feet together behind you. Stretch your hips back onto your heels and release your forehead down to the floor. You can stretch your arms out in front of you, letting your elbows fall down, or you can let your arms rest by your side with your hands stretching back to your feet. You can always turn your palms up towards the sky to open your shoulders. Allow your head and your hips to be heavy, and connect to your breath.
Feel your whole spine lengthen with each inhale, and feel your whole body release tension with each exhale. Continue breathing, and stay here for 1-3 minutes.
2.Constructive Rest Pose
Sitting upright for meditation can be difficult and strenuous on the hips and spine. This pose is a supportive and comfortable position where you can focus on your breath and actively relax your mind.
Practicing Constructive Rest Pose: Come to a reclined position on your back. Bend your knees, bringing the soles of your feet onto the floor. Start with your ankles below your knees, with your heels about 8 inches away from your pelvis. Then, walk your feet wide and allow your knees to fall together. Adjust your feet and find a comfortable place where your legs and hip flexors can fully relax and your whole pelvis feels grounded. You can bring one hand to your belly and one hand to your chest, or you can let your arms fall by your side, palms facing upward. Adjust your shoulders and neck to relax your upper body.
On your inhale, watch your breath inflate your chest and belly. On your exhale, feel your whole body become empty of breath. As thoughts move into your mind, return your awareness to the sensation of your breath rising and falling. You can stay here for 5-10 minutes.
3.Legs up the Wall
Inverted positions, where your feet are above your heart and head, are a great way to immediately stimulate your anti-stress response. It sends a signal to your body that you are in a safe place to relax and release effort. This pose is perfect when you are in the middle of an argument, if you are having trouble sleeping, or if you feel emotionally overwhelmed, as is common for couples struggling with infertility.
Practicing Legs up the Wall: Find an empty wall with some open floor space. Place a folded blanket directly against the wall. Make your way down to the floor in the fetal position, bringing your buttocks all the way against the wall. Then, roll onto your back and adjust the blanket so that it is beneath your pelvis. When you’re ready, extend your legs straight up, letting your heels rest on the wall. Allow your upper body to rest comfortably, bringing your hands on your belly, down by your sides, or out wide with your palms facing upward. Get comfortable here, allowing the weight of your legs to fall down into the fall, rooting your thigh bones into your hip sockets.
Soften all of your joints and breathe. You can stay here for 5-10 minutes. If you begin to lose feeling in your feet, then bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet to the wall before slowly rolling to one side and coming out of the pose.
4.Wide-Leg Forward Fold
The Vagus Nerve originates in the brain stem and runs down the back of the body, supplying the heart, lungs, and digestive tract with nerve fibers. So if you are trying to mindfully relax your body (meaning your heart and other abdominal organs), then folding postures are a great way to stretch out and settle down. They also make diaphragmatic breathing more accessible since your eyes are looking directly at the inflation of your belly.
Coming into this seated forward fold, you can intentionally direct the nerves in your body to calm down.
Practicing Wide-Leg Forward Fold: Come to a seated position, and place a folded blanket beneath your pelvis. Bring your legs into a comfortably wide position – not too close together, not too far apart. Begin by softening your knees, flexing your feet towards your face, and lengthening your whole spine as you inhale. Then, gently make your way down slowly by gently folding forward from your hips. If the back of your legs start to tighten, then pause there, and breathe. You can bring your hands onto your legs, or on the inside of your legs with your palms open to the sky. Your upper body will want to hold onto the tension, so continue to release your head, jaw, neck, and shoulders completely, and turn your gaze towards your belly.
Continue breathing, feeling your spine lengthen with your inhale and your back body opening on your exhale. Make your belly round with breath, and watch it empty out completely. Remain here for 1-3 minutes.
Proper digestion is an essential part of stress management, both as you try to conceive and throughout your life. Twisting postures stimulate our abdominal organs and invite blood to circulate through your system, moving from the back of the body to the front and from the top of the body and out through the bottom. This posture helps you to properly process, digest, and assimilate your whole experience — mentally, emotionally and physically.
Practicing Spinal Twist: Come to a reclined position, and pull both knees into your chest. Bring your arms out wide into a T-position, palms facing upward. Inhale fully, and as you exhale, release your knees over to your left side and turn your head towards your right side. Relax your hips, legs, and feet. Broaden through your chest, drawing your right shoulder down to the floor. Take 10-20 breaths on this side, expanding your belly like a balloon on your inhale, and emptying it out on your exhale to feel your twist deepen. When you’re ready, bring your knees back into center, and then drop them to your right side, gaze falling towards your left. Take another 10-20 breaths here.
It’s difficult to relieve stress if you are consistently reinforcing the patterns of physical tension and negative thoughts. Yoga’s body-centered approach for managing stress is especially helpful when you are trying to conceive because the simple postures and slow breathing practices strengthen your body and mind connection. These practices will not only affect how you feel in the present moment, they will also give you the ability to recognize and manage your stress on a daily basis.
Provided by Yoga teacher, Maria Borghoff, 500-RYT.