Studies have shown the practice of yoga to be beneficial in helping those who are struggling with infertility to cope with its considerable stresses.
MONTREAL — Tasha Lackman has chosen to share the story of her journey through the dark country that is infertility in the hope, she says, that it will give others hope.
Those who have been there know it is a difficult and lonely place, one in which they are plagued by the belief their body has betrayed them.
Fertility treatments, for those who choose them, carry their own baggage — the tests, the drugs, the waiting, the setbacks — and can be so all-consuming it’s impossible to think about much else. Such was Lackman’s experience.
Today, though, she is the mother of a two-year-old, Frida Maya Sternthal, and she has embarked on a quest to help others — through yoga .
Yoga had long been a part of her life but, as she tried to get pregnant , it became more of a focus. Lackman, a certified yoga teacher, has developed a fertility yoga workshop that, since March of last year, has been attended by more than 100 women and 35 couples.
Close to 15 per cent are pregnant now or have had babies.
The workshop has not necessarily helped the women to become pregnant — there is no evidence yoga increases conception rates — but studies have shown the practice of yoga to be beneficial in helping those who are struggling with infertility to cope with its considerable stresses, said Janet Takefman, director of psychological and patient services at the McGill University Health Centre Reproductive Centre in Montreal.
“Whether it improves outcome is almost irrelevant to me,” she said. “If it can make women who have lost a feeling of control over their lives feel that they have that control back, then it’s win-win.”
Marie-Eve Lapierre, 29, signed up for the workshop with her husband. The couple had been trying for a year and a half to have a baby.
“It was important for my husband to see that it was not just me — that what I was feeling was not all in my head,” said Lapierre.
Janou-Eve LeGuerrier — a 33-year-old illustrator and graphic designer — had tried for more than two years to conceive when she signed up for the workshop.
“It is not an illness that threatens your life — and yet your perception of the future is turned upside down,” said she said.
It was a year ago this month that the Quebec government started to underwrite the cost of fertility treatments, thereby bringing hope to many struggling with infertility. But with hope came waiting lists: at the MUHC Reproductive Centre, Quebec’s largest fertility centre, the wait for treatment is six to eight months.
The main reason people cite for dropping out of these programs, Takefman said, is stress. The dropout rate increases over time — and people drop out even before they have used the three subsidized cycles of in vitro fertilization per pregnancy.
Lackman learned at 20 that she had a condition known as polycystic ovaries; she was told it was unlikely she would get pregnant without medical assistance. “And you hold these truths in your body,” she said.
She married at 30 and tried, not long afterward, to get pregnant. She underwent three unsuccessful cycles of interuterine insemination and was prepared to go to the next step, and attempt IVF. But before starting, she realized, as she put it, “I am a complete mess. I need to get my body ready.”
She immersed herself in yoga, which is more than a series of postures, as she explained, but a way of approaching life: from a yogic perspective, for instance, it is important to do such things as take the time to eat properly and get a proper night’s rest. She began to research what she described as “specific yoga for fertility postures and approaches,” began acupuncture treatments, consulted a nutritionist and started to see an osteopath whose treatments focused on fertility.
Ultimately, she became pregnant without medical intervention.
“If yoga wasn’t the thing that caused me to get pregnant,” she said, “it was the thing that helped me to pull myself together and helped me to carve out the space in my life to make room for a baby.”
And she has chosen to use yoga to try to help other women do the same thing.
Lackman, 36, is a commercial lawyer in the Montreal office of one of Canada’s largest law firms. Next month she will cut her law practice back to halftime to devote more time to her yoga for fertility workshops.
She offered her first five-session workshop in March 2010 and, with little publicity, 15 people signed up.
A second workshop also filled up and demand has been such that she has run them almost continuously since February.
Yoga for fertility workshops have become increasingly popular, according to a recent story in the New York Times; students say the skills they teach help them to feel less alone and to let go of their feelings of worry and stress.
For LeGuerrier, who is expecting a baby boy in December, Lackman’s workshop was “my favourite part of the week — a sacred moment.” It helped her “to find a balance with my body and my spirit. I felt happier, more serene.”
Lackman spends the first hour of each two-hour session on a discussion of a specific topic, like diet, exercise or mindfulness, and provides written handouts that have been vetted by Takefman. The second hour is spent on yoga postures — gentle, restorative poses. “The yoga postures we focus on are excellent to elevate mood and calm anxiety,” she said.
Many participants have undergone at least one IVF cycle and about 20 per cent are experiencing secondary infertility: that means that, although they have been pregnant once, they’re having difficulty getting pregnant again. Some have suffered a miscarriage; miscarriage affects about one woman in four.
“There is a lot of sadness and anxiety that comes with trying to have a baby and not being able to,” Lackman said. “We take a lot of time to do deep, progressive relaxation and visualization around fertility — around creating a sacred space for themselves with guided imagery.”
“Tasha teaches us to relax and the importance of being calm and of thinking about ourselves,” said Lapierre, a yoga teacher herself who became pregnant in May.
Charmaine Lyn and her husband had their first child, a son, in 2007. “We had a very easy pregnancy, great labour and delivery,” she recalled. “I felt very cavalier about my ability to get pregnant.”
Then in 2009, she had a miscarriage “and I went through a pretty serious grieving process that kind of blindsided me.”
When she and her husband tried to conceive again, it didn’t happen. She knew Lackman from law school at McGill, but this was her first encounter with Lackman as a yoga instructor.
“Tasha did this work for herself and now she wants to share it,” said Lyn, who is 38.
“The first class was very emotional because people were telling their stories,” she said.
“For me, it was a way of letting go. Positive, empowering space, one that stopped me from going down that slippery slope of trying to control the process and let me breathe easy about it — just letting my body and my spirit recover.”
And in the second or third week of the workshop, she and her husband conceived their second child: Aonghus Dunlevy was born last November.
Article from the Vancouver Sun