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(Laura Leyshon/LAURA LEYSHON for the Globe and Mail)
(Laura Leyshon/LAURA LEYSHON for the Globe and Mail)

Women struggling to conceive are finding hope in yoga Add to ...

Trudy Lingham had been trying to conceive for two years when she went to her first yoga for fertility class in Vancouver. While she enjoyed the yoga, she was intimidated by all the talking and felt stressed listening to the stories of other women's fertility struggles.

"I wanted to focus on the positive," she says. "But for a lot of people, the yoga class was a last resort and they were nervous and upset."

Ms. Lingham, 43, persisted because she enjoyed the yoga poses, but she says watching others in the class get pregnant was bittersweet. "You're happy for them," she says, "but you also think: Why not me?"

Six months into her classes, Ms. Lingham discovered she was carrying a baby. She had tried all sorts of things - acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine, Pilates - so she isn't sure what worked.

"What I do know," she says now, holding her eight-month-old baby girl, "is that it was one of the things that helped me and it certainly never did any harm."

Yoga for fertility is a relatively new movement in Canada. There is one studio teaching classes and training instructors in Vancouver, and there are two in Toronto. But more women are turning to yoga to complement traditional Western medical treatments for fertility.

Sue Dumais, who runs Family Passages studio in Vancouver, says since she started teaching yoga for fertility three years ago, the number of women signing up has increased exponentially.

In January, she will be in Toronto leading instructor training sessions and workshops for an international group and launching her latest book, Yoga for Fertility.

"There are so many women struggling with fertility and dealing with the emotional loss every month. Yoga is a way for them to share their stories and to see they're not alone."

But will yoga help you get pregnant? That's a question Ms. Dumais hears often.

"I say no. But it will help your body get balanced and it will improve your fertility. The women who come to me are generally desperate and willing to try anything. And when they come in here and experience yoga, they get to know themselves better and can cope with the stress and anxiety of infertility from a place of empowerment rather than desperation."

Beth Taylor, an obstetrician and co-director of the Genesis Fertility Centre in Vancouver, admits that while most doctors are skeptical about the efficacy of yoga in treating fertility, it does make sense for patients for whom stress and mental health issues are involved.

"There's not a lot known about fertility," she says. "We don't yet have an explanation for the woman who does IVF [in vitro fertilization]or some other high-tech fertility treatment to conceive her first child and then gets pregnant normally with her second."

Alice Domar, executive director of the Domar Centre for Mind/Body Health at Boston IVF and a researcher at Harvard University's medical school, conducted a study published in 2000 that took infertile women (those who had been trying to get pregnant for at least one year) and placed them in a 10-week program that included yoga, meditation, and nutrition and lifestyle information. Fifty-five per cent of participants in this program had babies compared with 20 per cent of women in a control group.

Dr. Domar, who uses a mind/body approach, including yoga to treat women attending Boston IVF, the biggest infertility treatment centre in the United States, says that while there is no scientific link between yoga and fertility, yoga can be a valuable asset for women struggling to get pregnant.

"There are three reasons why I have my fertility patients do yoga," she says. "One: It's very effective relaxation. Two: Infertility patients tend to be angry with their bodies. They're not doing what they want them to do, and yoga gives them back the sense that their body can make them feel good. And three: I personally believe, and there's some data to support this, infertility patients need to cut down on the intensity and frequency of aerobic exercise, and hatha yoga is a phenomenal substitute."

Kelly Mostat, 32, had spent more than a year trying to conceive when she heard about yoga for fertility. Her husband was told his low sperm count would make getting pregnant difficult and she had just miscarried. She had done yoga before, but stopped because of the stress of not being able to conceive. She thought the classes would be a good way to focus on herself again.

For Ms. Mostat, it was the conversation in the classes that made an impact.

"It was nice to know others were going through it," she says. "A lot of my friends were getting pregnant without even trying and that was hard, so being able to talk about my struggle getting pregnant was really important."

Ms. Mostat got pregnant after only a few months of the class and attributes her success to a combination of things, including a visualization exercise in which she imagined holding a baby of her own and belly dancing, which helped her relax.

Still, yoga doesn't work for every woman struggling with fertility. Ms. Dumais, who had a son five years ago after two years of trying to conceive, has yet to become pregnant since she started teaching and practising yoga for fertility. It was her unsuccessful attempts to have a second child that led to the creation of her classes. She's been teaching now for three years, and although she is saddened by not getting pregnant, she has made peace with herself.

"If I get pregnant, great," she says. "If I don't, I'm okay with that, too. In my own journey, I've come to accept and trust what will happen."

 

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