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UCLA

Fertility: It's A Stretch

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By Bekah Wright

Published Jul 1, 2008 8:00 AM


Yoga can be frustrating for people who find some of the poses a bit challenging. But that's nothing compared to the difficulty of dealing with infertility — and that's where yoga can be empowering.

This ancient Indian practice is one of the key components in the Mind Body Institute's Fertility Wellness Program at UCLA, held at the UCLA Medical Plaza and in Newport Beach and headed up by Desperate Housewives actress Brenda Strong, who is also the national spokesperson for the American Fertility Association.

Strong is part of a team of health professionals in reproductive medicine who established the program eight years ago. "The staff, including myself, is involved personally and professionally with infertility and saw this as a need where women have three components of the fertility journey," says executive director Debra Sussman, who is also an educational counselor and psychoneuroimmunology researcher. "One, there is a lot of unpredictability. Two, you feel very out of control. And three, you feel completely isolated."

The program is modeled after a cancer and HIV program at the Harvard Medical School's Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Many of that program's elements were based on research focusing on components of stress physiology, particularly as it related to cortisol, a stress hormone that, when reduced, allows the immune system to function optimally and diminishes issues such as hypertension and insomnia. Other benefits include improved reproductive health and improved chances of conceiving.

During the course of the 10-week program, participants meet once a week to learn about stress physiology and health, positive psychology, nutrition for fertility, time management, couples communication and self-care. For two weeks, yoga takes center stage under the guidance of Strong, who has developed a series of DVDs on the subject and is also launching a yoga fertility certification program. Sussman explains that "Yoga for fertility follows the natural flow of the body and works with understanding a woman's cycle, fertility treatments and what she is going through."

As for her own dedication, Sussman says, "Having gone through this experience myself, I want to help other families succeed in their journey."

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