Welcome to Fertility Matters!
My name is Stacey Roberts and today my guest is Brenda Strong. Brenda is an actor, producer, and a yoga instructor and she’s developed a very unique DVD to help couples who are dealing with fertility issues. THe DVD is called YOGA 4 FERTILITY
Thanks for being with me today, Brenda.
Brenda: You’re so welcome, Stacey. Thank you for having me.
Stacey: Now, I wanted a little bit of information about how you came to do the DVD, of course, but first I’d like to know a little background about you. Can you tell me a little bit more about yourself?
Brenda: I was born and raised in Oregon, which is in the Pacific Northwest in the , and I was the youngest of six kids. My father was an educator; he was a college counsellor, and my mother was a homemaker and volunteer. I was raised in a very unique environment in that both of my parents were free-thinkers and oriented towards natural medicine, and they really educated us to listen to our bodies, to listen to our feelings, and to carve our lives from that intuitional space. So I have to give them tribute because they really laid the foundation for me then to be able to pursue my dream of being an actress, which started out as a dancer, then singer, then actress, which led me to Los Angeles after getting a degree in musical theatre.
Stacey: Where did you get that degree?
Brenda: Arizona State University .
So, by the time I got to Los Angeles , one of the things that I realised in this particular climate is that you could really lose yourself here if you don’t maintain a grounding. Not just a physical grounding, but a spiritual grounding. And in my pursuit of that grounding, I discovered yoga and found not only did it give my body a way to be a much more clear vehicle for my acting, but it really opened me up to that intuitional source of self. I don’t mean just self with a small s, but self with a big S!
That led me on my journey toward healing and working with yoga as an application not only to heal myself when I experienced secondary infertility but to heal others.
Stacey: How long have you been doing yoga as an instructor?
Brenda: As an instructor I’ve been teaching for fourteen years, but practising for over twenty-one.
Stacey: Great! And this is all done through your place in Los Angeles ?
Brenda: You know, it’s interesting. Yoga teachers are very nomadic! I’ve done yoga all over the world, but primarily my teachers were Los Angeles-based at one time and my teaching tends to be Los Angeles-based. So I’ve taught yoga everywhere from Yoga Works to Maha Yoga to Yoga Zone to Mark Blanchard’s Power Yoga to when I opened my own yoga studio with my husband called Yoga Villa here in Los Angeles . My teachers range from Rod Stryker, who is world known, as well as Maty Ezraty and Chuck Miller and Erich Schiffmann. I trained right alongside Seane Corn, so there’s a really rich environment for yoga here in Los Angeles and we’ve kind of all branched out into the world from there.
Stacey: Fantastic! And now, could we find out a little bit more about the secondary fertility issues that you experienced? Can you tell us a little bit about your journey and how it led you to making the DVD?
Brenda: Sure! The irony is that when I first decided Okay … I am ready to become a parent, I went off the birth control pill and I just waited. I think as we all do – expecting that it would happen when it was supposed to happen! And I was still busy doing my career and I had become a stepmother to my stepdaughter who at the time was thirteen. So my time was quite full and busy with her life.
And three years went by and all of a sudden I realised … wait a minute, I haven’t gotten pregnant yet. And so a girlfriend of mine – one of my dearest friends who is also a Yogi – had been working with a Chinese medicine doctor named Dr Dao Shing Ni, who actually is bringing out with a book called The Tao of Fertility this year. She was able to get pregnant and so I made an appointment.
Over the break between the time I made the appointment and when I actually got in to see him, I found out I was pregnant. And so I called him and I said, “Wow, you’re really good! I didn’t even have to come see you – I just had to make an appointment!”
And he kind of laughed and I laughed and I said, “Well, do you think I still need to come in?”
He said, “Yes, why don’t you come in and we’ll take a look and see where you are.”
And so I went through the traditional Chinese medicine exam and he reassured me that it was really important for me to continue to work with him throughout the first three months of my pregnancy so that I didn’t miscarry, because I had what’s called blood deficiency. This is a circulation issue and can lead to miscarriage apparently.
Stacey: Were they doing acupuncture? Or Chinese herbs?
Brenda: I was doing acupuncture and the herbs, and I was able to maintain that pregnancy and have my son. During the course of that pregnancy, that’s when I went through yoga teacher training, so I became a teacher at that time. I learned a lot of yoga asanas that supported pregnancy and so I learned a lot about the reproductive system during that time.
When it became time for me to have a second child, I thought … well, my body has done this before – no big deal. I know what to do. But what I didn’t realise because I had become very thin for a specific film role, was that I had lost a lot of my body fat and my menstrual cycle had been disrupted. My endocrine glands had started to kind of become erratic.
So I started doing some research during that time on which yoga asanas would help to balance the menstrual cycle. I was going from having two cycles in one month to not having any at all and it was just all off the charts. And so I started to use yoga to heal my own hormone production, and I was able to stabilise my condition and I was able to start to realise what had happened and started to use the different yoga asanas to build energy back into my reproductive organs.
During this time, I was teaching a couples’ yoga class with my husband using partner yoga as a metaphor for relationship, and I started working with the Mind Body Institute at UCLA, which was an adjunct of the Harvard program that Alice Domar had created. I started working with the women alongside myself in doing study groups of which asanas really helped to empower and feed the second chakra, calm the nervous system, balance the hormones, and awaken that relaxation response or parasympathetic nervous system where the body can actually start to heal itself. The success rate of the women from the graduate courses was astronomical. The number of women who were getting pregnant from doing yoga with me was really really high.
Stacey: That is Great!
Brenda: Yes, it was really encouraging and at the same time we created a community of women who could support each other while they were going through infertility and while they were struggling with the disappointments of either a failed IVF or a miscarriage. And it was the very support group that I was teaching when I got pregnant again – which I did, and miscarried – that supported me through healing that aspect.
Stacey: Fertility issues are certainly a challenging journey
Brenda: They are devastating! I recently heard a scientist equate the stress level of being diagnosed with infertility with that of being diagnosed with AIDS. That the stress on the human psyche and emotional stability and financial stability is so huge that it can be very very detrimental.
Brenda: So this is why yoga is so important, because it actually gives you a tool or a structure to turn to – to re-ground, to re-empower, to have a positive connection with your body so that you don’t feel like it’s betraying you. And to really tune in to help to start to find the things that are out of balance so that you can really re-align your life. In many ways, you know, that’s the kind of parent you want to be anyway – someone who is really living a balanced life and really listening to their own intuition.
So I talk about getting pregnant not as a destination, but really this whole infertility process is a journey towards self and a journey toward building your family. And that may mean that you get pregnant, it may mean that you end up adopting, it may mean that you go through an egg donor or surrogacy – whatever it is, if you’re committed to building your family – that child will show up. But it’s really about the journey towards yourself and healing yourself first.
Stacey: That makes a lot of sense! Unfortunately a lot of people are ignoring that part of it and just sticking to a methodical step-by-step instead of going inside. So it sounds like yoga is a really, like you said, to address the self with a capital S to not just look outside of you for the answers, but to go inside and re-assess yourself and what you’re going through at the time.
Brenda: That’s absolutely right!
Stacey: Now, yoga has been around for thousands and thousands of years and there are all different types of yoga and a lot of what we talked about so far is kind of like the ‘art’ of how yoga can impact fertility. But I know there is a lot of science that is being built behind it as well. Can you talk a little bit about that and how yoga might increase blood flow to the reproductive organs and any science that has recently purported about how yoga helps?
Brenda: It’s interesting, because yoga in general often can result in increased circulation, better rest, muscle tone – that kind of thing. But really what we are talking about is the application of yoga for fertility, which is this unique kind of intention aligning with attention in specific asanas that I have created. So I want to make sure people know that if you just go do yoga – yes, you can have an increase of circulation and blood flow – but if you really want to have a heightened chance of conceiving, yoga for fertility is specifically for the second chakra area.
You spoke very correctly when you said that it is an art and a science. The science of yoga is that it impacts the nervous system. So technically you have two main nervous systems. One is the sympathetic, which is the automatic nervous system and things like digestion and elimination – things that happen without you having to think about them. But the parasympathetic nervous system is where you actually can impact your nervous system by using your breath and calming the heart rate, which is what yoga does, so you are calming the nervous system – that’s one of the by-products of yoga. You’re increasing oxygen to the bloods and to the cells, which increases the health of your cells, which then of course increases the health of your eggs. You’re also restricting and increasing blood circulation, so you’re moving blood through your body.
When you invert, you are moving blood to areas that might not always get an increase of circulation. There is something called an apana flow of energy. Really, in a lot of ways – you know blood is circulation – but what we are talking about too on an esoteric level is energy. When you have energetic blocks, whether they’re caused from spinal obstructions or whether they’re caused from a lack of movement, if your reproductive organs are not getting a substantial amount of energy flow, then they are going to be stagnated.
They talk about this a lot in Chinese medicine. One of the reasons why acupuncture is so helpful is because it opens up the meridian channels in the body. Yoga opens up the nadis, and the nadis are the channels that carry energy. So through breath and movement and through specific application on certain asanas, you open up the body from the inside out and you start to increase the circulation of the energy in the reproductive organs. Not only are you getting a physiological increase of blood and circulation, but you’re also getting an energetic increase, which is the one thing that doctors can’t quite put their finger on!
When they say “All of your tests were perfect, your egg quality was good, the sperm count was good, the uterine lining was substantial … we don’t know why you didn’t conceive.” And there is this kind of missing link, this energetic or some other kind of thing that is beyond their control that yoga has access to.
Also, the one thing about doing yoga is that it works the neuroendocrine axis, which is the hormones that affect ovulation and egg production and uterine lining. Because it’s all based on what the brain is telling the body to do. Whenever there is an imbalance, yoga has an opportunity to kind of reconnect those wires that say … okay, this is the amount of juicy hormones that you need to get pregnant. So does that make sense?
Stacey: It certainly makes sense to me. You explained that really well with the different combinations of what it is doing actually physiologically as well as energetically, which, like you said, is oftentimes ignored by conventional medicine because they don’t understand it. So it’s a great link, I think, a great bridge.
Brenda: But the great thing about yoga is that you can go through a Western protocol. I am the first person to say that if it’s not working for you and IVF seems like a good thing for you and your doctor agrees that you’re a candidate for it, then, absolutely, do IVF or IUI. But yoga is an application to help your chances.
Stacey: Now, how often should someone do the DVD that you have?
Brenda: My recommendation is three times a week minimum. If you can do five times a week, that’s terrific! I do know that not a lot is going to change if you do it once or twice a week. You’ll feel better on those days, but you’re not going to see a marked change in the hormonal balance in your body. It really needs consistent application.
I wouldn’t overdo it – I wouldn’t do it twice a day for seven days a week. I don’t think you could ever hurt yourself by doing too much yoga in this style. Certainly, if you’re doing a Power Yoga or a Bikram Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga, I would say slow down. Stop exerting yourself and do something much more gentle. Because even that kind of yoga is too aggressive when you are trying to conceive.
Stacey: Brenda thank you for all the advice and information. I am sure Yoga 4 Fertility will help many who are trying to conceive. Take care!