A new medical study was presented this year at the annual American Society for Reproductive Medicine by Fertility Centers of Illinois and Pulling Down the Moon. It's a must-read for anyone dealing with the stress of infertility and/or miscarriage. As someone who found Pulling Down the Moon's yoga program really helpful while going through treatment, I believe these findings are not only exciting but important for those struggling.
New Study Uses Yoga to Quickly Reduce Stress During Fertility Treatment
Beth Heller, Creator of the Yoga for Fertility™ Program and Co-Founder of Pulling Down the Moon
Dr. Hirshfeld-Cytron, Director of Fertility Preservation and Reproductive Endocrinologist at Fertility Centers of Illinois
Anyone who is in the midst of treatment knows that between the appointments, injections and hormone rollercoaster, stress is bound to come along for the ride.
If you are struggling to carve out some “you” time to decompress, new research around yoga and stress among fertility patients will offer hope and relief. In a new study by Fertility Centers of Illinois and Pulling Down the Moon, online yoga and in-person yoga were found to be equally effective in reducing anxiety among the most highly stressed infertility patients - those who have undergone at least one IVF cycle without success or have experienced miscarriage after IVF.
Not only did stress relief happen quickly, there was a significant reduction - up to 26 percent after a six-week online yoga program and 23 percent after an in-person yoga program. Yoga practice occurred weekly and while both groups followed the same yoga class, the online participants followed a DVD rather than attending a yoga studio. Group discussion followed yoga class while the online group met weekly on a video application. Both groups followed the Yoga for Fertility™ program.
The study was born out of the goal to treat both the emotional and physical challenges of treatment in order to reduce stress and reverse the 40 percent treatment dropout rate, helping patients achieve success. With infertility causing the same intense stress as a cancer diagnosis, having an accessible and effective stress reduction tool is critical. Yoga is one of the most accessible stress reduction options available and this study proves that significant results can happen, even from your bedroom in your pajamas.
To help everyone access the benefits of yoga and group discussion during treatment, we’ve put together a helpful Q&A section of common questions we are asked about the study:
How is yoga helpful for stress?
Yoga, a low-intensity form of exercise, works on the physical body. Through stretching and bending the spine and limbs and emphasizing deep diaphragmatic breathing, it is believed that the body’s relaxation response is mechanically stimulated. It has been hypothesized that yoga poses and breathing exercises stimulate the vagus nerve, a large nerve running the length of the spine that is a key regulator of our body's parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS in turn stimulates the relaxation response.
How does infertility affect mental health?
Infertility is isolating and very few people talk about their experiences. Women often feel sadness, guilt, shame, anxiety and depression. Sadly, 30 percent of IVF patients suffer from anxiety and depression, with studies showing that an infertility diagnosis causes the same amount of stress, anxiety, and depression as an HIV or cancer diagnosis. These challenges can lead to patients discontinuing treatment before experiencing success.
How can group discussion help women?
Group discussion and support are critical for women experiencing infertility. Being with others experiencing similar challenges immediately provides a support network and reduces isolation. Being around others who “get it” is validating, reassuring and energizing.
What does the group and online discussion entail?
The 45-minute group discussion centers on how to apply different yoga techniques such as breathing, meditation, and working with negative thoughts to the fertility journey. Women are taught to reconnect to their body in a loving and compassionate way, use breath awareness to release tension and re-energize, and are provided a framework for addressing the negative thoughts and beliefs that accumulate. Women are also invited to reconnect to their lives with a more relaxed and present-focused attention. And we make sure to do a whole lot of laughing.
How have participants described the study and their results overall?
One participant realized that racing downtown to attend a yoga class was going to cause more stress than it was going to reduce, so she joined the online course. In her own words, she explains, “It has been absolutely wonderful! A community of women on the same journey as I am. Even though I have never and probably will never really meet them face to face I feel still that they are my people. My family. My world. This experience has been invaluable to my journey and my life.”
What are the implications for the future of fertility care based on these results?
Unfortunately, nationwide infertility practices, regardless of patient financial burden, experience patient drop out prior to achieving pregnancy success. The most common reason provided by patients is the stress of the infertility process. With this study, yoga both in person and remote has been shown to mitigate this stress in the most severely stressed patient population. This is extraordinarily powerful as it is a cost effective and convenient way to encourage patients to stay in treatment.
What are the limitations of this study?
The two limitations that we experienced are the most common challenges all researchers face - participants dropping out of the program before completion and working with smaller participation numbers. Due to lower participation numbers, we cannot make a conclusion about the impact of yoga for stress reduction in regards to pregnancy outcomes.
What can women do today to start reaping the benefits?
Feeling relief can be as simple as doing this 7-minute Moon Salute Sequence video that follows a flowing sequence of yoga poses especially designed for fertility. We also recommend finding a local support group, joining an online forum or finding a weekly yoga class near you.