The Benefits of Restorative Yoga

By Cheryl Warrick, BFA, MEd, RYT
Director of Yoga Services 
The Domar Center for Mind/Body Health at Boston IVF

 

Our modern lives are full of pressures, deadlines, frustrations and demands. These pressures can often leave us feeling overwhelmed and frazzled. The additional stress of an infertility diagnosis can be an added burden, increasing the stress response. Yoga and other mind-body integration approaches help reduce the stress response and promote optimum reproductive health.

When we sense a threat, our nervous system releases a flood of hormones including, cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones prepare the body for the “fight, flight or freeze” response. Your blood pressure rises, the heart beats faster, visual acuity increases, your muscles tense and prepare for quick action because of the perceived threat.

The “fight or flight” warning system is in place to protect us from dangers-seen and unseen. When it’s working well, it keeps us alert, productive, focused and safe.

However, long term and chronic stress response can lead to high blood pressure, suppressed immune function, increased increase risk of heart attack and stroke. It can also contribute to infertility, as well as leave you more vulnerable to anxiety, depression and mood swings.

The most effective tool for managing stress is activating the body’s innate “relaxation response.” The relaxation response brings the nervous system back into balance by slowing down the heart rate, lowering the metabolism and decreasing the respiratory rate. This counterbalance to the “fight or fight” response creates a deep state of mental and physiological rest.

What is Restorative Yoga?

Restorative Yoga is a quiet, therapeutic practice that is suited to everyone. The goal of restorative practice is to reduce the stress response and ignite the body’s parasympathetic (rest and digest) response.

In each pose, blankets, bolsters and blocks support you, allowing you to fully release all of your muscle tension and completely let go. All poses are done lying down and are typically held from 5-15 minutes. Covering the eyes with a towel, or eye pillow allows you to deepen your relaxation. As you let go, the breath slows down, the heart rate reduces, and the blood pressure lowers.

Your only job in restorative yoga is to find physical comfort in a state of “being” and allow the mind/body to realign and rebalance.  As you let go of muscular effort, the body can release deeply held physical, and emotional tension.

~ Additional Yoga Q& A ~

What is the connection between stress and infertility?

Prolonged and unsuccessful attempts to conceive can be highly stressful. This stress can causes anxiety and activate the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” response. The hormones released from this response, increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolic rate.

Chronically elevated stress hormones negatively impact overall health, and can lead to heart disease, autoimmune disorders and even adversely affect the reproductive cycle over time.

Studies have shown s a link between stress reduction and conception. A 2009 study by researcher Alice Domar, PhD, showed that 55% of infertility patients participating in a 10-week mind-body program (which included yoga and meditation) successfully conceived compared to 20% in a control group.

What is Yoga for Fertility?

Yoga for Fertility is a therapeutically designed hatha style yoga class. This class supports your fertility by being slow, gentle and focused on the breath. This attention on the breath helps illicit the “relaxation response” and grounds your awareness in the body and in the present moment. The intention of this class is to help you relax and restore your deepest energy reserves. A group setting also provides a supportive community in which to practice.

How can Yoga for Fertility help me?

The poses (asanas) open the hips and increase the energy (prana) to the pelvis and reproductive organs, and they encourage the release of deeply held tension in these areas. Practicing fertility yoga helps reduce toxins in the body, regulates the endocrine system, and can help elevate a low mood.

I’m not very flexible, can I still take the class?

You don’t need to be flexible at all to take this class. Everyone’s body is different and we move in and out of poses in unique ways.  It is important, however, not to ever force yourself into any pose. You are encouraged to always move slowly and mindfully and in a pain-free zone. Modifications and props are always encouraged.

How often should I do yoga?

Since the poses are gentle and restorative you can safely do a little every day. Just lying down in savasana (resting pose) for 5 minutes is good for you. As you quietly deepen your connection to your mind and body, you can positively impact the emotional roller coaster of infertility.

ABOUT CHERYL WARRICK, BFA, MEd, RYT

Cheryl Warrick, BFA, MEd, RYT, is a graduate of the Elemental Yoga Mind-Body Teacher training with Bo Forbes, at the 200 hour level. She also holds a BFA  from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and an ME.d from Lesley University.

Cheryl practiced nursing in a critical care setting from 1982-1997. She brings with her a wide breadth of professional and life experiences. Her personal journey with yoga has been a powerful, transformative gift in her life. Over time, she has seen how her restorative yoga practice created positive shifts in her emotional, and physical body.  Her goal as a teacher is to give her students experiences to discover a sense of curiosity, balance and ease in their yoga practice.