Recipe for conception – Ayurveda takes a holistic approach to enhancing fertility
by Wendy Rosenfeldt
Conceiving a child may seem the easiest thing in the world for some couples while others go through myriads of tests, years of ‘trying’ and hundreds of dollars in their quest for a child.
Both men’s and women’s fertility levels are on the decline today. Increased levels of pesticides and chemicals in our food and high levels of stress in today’s fast paced lifestyle have been cited as probable causes.
Conventional fertility treatments are expensive and sometimes painful and invasive.
While they may bring about the birth of a child, modern medical approaches do not address the underlying problem in a holistic way. Ayurveda looks at the wholeness of the couple’s life in terms of what they eat, their age and their lifestyle. It also looks at physiology as a whole and while the problem may be located in the reproductive system it may stem from a disturbance in the digestive system.
Ayurveda provides natural ways to enhance conception that also improve the overall health of the parents. By improving the health and well being of the parents, Ayurveda not only sets the mother up for a healthy and smooth pregnancy, but also enhances the development of the growing child.
According to Ayurveda conception takes place if there is healthy sperm, healthy ovum and a healthy uterus. For both men and women reproductive health depends on healthy reproductive tissue called shukra dhatu. In women the shukra tissue creates the ovum as part of the menstrual cycle and in men the semen is formed due to sexual stimulation.
The shukra tissue is created as part of a long chain of metabolic transformations. This process begins with the digestion of food and includes its transformation successively into nutrient fluid, blood, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow and then to reproductive or shukra tissue. Therefore healthy reproductive tissue depends on the health of all the other tissues in the body. Like any sequential process, if something is not working properly in the early stages, the outcome will not be complete.
Any weak link in the process of transformation can impact on the reproductive system. Ayurveda takes a holistic approach looking at all the main factors that improve fertility.
Reducing and avoiding toxins
Ayurveda identifies a substance called ama. Ama basically refers to anything that is not properly digested or processed by the physiology. While it is widely accepted that alcohol, cigarettes and non-prescription drugs can both be harmful to the growing child and limit the chances of conception, toxins can also come from food. For example over eating and eating too much heavy food that is hard to break down like cheese, chocolate, pizza, etc can also create blockages. Eating chemically grown food containing pesticides result in the creation of ama. Ama that accumulates in the tissues can block the circulation and channels in the body. These obstructions in the physiology are the precursor of many diseases.
Scientists have not discovered ama as an identifiable substance under the microscope however we have all had the experience of it; feeling congested, bloated, heavy and lethargic. Ama can also be experienced as emotional. There may be some overwhelming experience that you are unable to let go off. This can also create blockages on a psychological level which can inhibit the natural functions of the body.
If you always feel angry when you think about a certain person this will create a particular set of biochemicals which in turn can impact on the digestion system, blood pressure and even the reproductive system. Feeling anxious about being unable to conceive can also produce undesirable stress hormones. Some simple measures to reduce ama include :
· Sipping warm water throughout the day (water that has been boiled first)
· Regular exercise
· Reducing intake of alcohol, chocolate, cheese and other heavy foods
· Eating a light meal in the evening before 8pm
· Yoga and meditation (particularly for mental ama)
Improving your diet
You are what you eat. We recreate our bodies continually out of the food we eat. In a year about 90% of our cells are renewed. The DNA provides the intelligence for what our bodies need and our intake of food and liquid provides the matter needed to build new cells, tissues and organs. The freshest and closest to nature our food the more intelligence our food contains. Intelligence, in this context, can be loosely translated as nutritional value but it actually accounts for much more.
Like humans, plants need to protect themselves against toxins and pathogens. They produce chemicals for that purpose and when we eat fruit or vegetables we also metabolise this innate intelligence. This intelligence declines in food that is highly processed, genetically engineered or has been already been cooked, then refrigerated and then reheated. It is best to eat food that has been freshly prepared. Ayurveda does not recommend a raw food diet as the act of cooking starts to breakdown the food nutrients and makes it easier for the body to assimilate them.
There are two classes of food and herbs that help enhance fertility by nourishing shukra dhatu or reproductive tissue. Bringhana foods enhance all of the seven levels of tissue production and as shukra tissue is at the end of that progression therefore improve its quality. Vrishya foods and herbs specifically support shukra dhatu.
· Fresh, organic fruits and vegetables
· Wholegrains such as quinoa, barley, millet, amaranth and rye.
· Dairy proteins including milk, lassi and soft cheese such as panir or ricotta
· Mung Dhal
· Soaked almonds or walnuts
· Sweet, juicy fruit such as mangoes, peaches and pears
· Dried fruit such as figs, dates and raisins
· Stewed apple for breakfast
· Milk-date shake
· Milk-mango shake
· Rice pudding
· Spices such as ajwan powder, turmeric, cumin and black cumin.
If our digestive system is weak or coated with ama we may not be getting all the nutrition out of our food. We may have a diet of fresh, organic food but due to poor digestion we may be not be assimilating everything from it. Proper transformation of food into cells, tissues and organs is vital for overall health, and as we have seen through the sequential creation of tissues, vital for reproductive health.
Not feeling hungry, feeling heavy or bloated after meals and feelings of nausea are some indications of weakness in the digestive system. Reducing food such as meat, cheese, chocolate and desserts, especially at the evening meal is a good way to avoid over loading your digestive system. Allowing at least three hours between meals and waiting until you feel hungry again before eating will give the digestive system a chance to complete its processes. Sitting while eating and for five minutes after, and taking a short walk after meals will also aid in the process of digestion. Using ginger in cooking and having slices of ginger root in hot water is also useful in improving the digestive fire.
Reducing stress and strain
When you are under stress the body goes into a state of fight or flight. Our heart rate increases and our physiology becomes highly aroused. This introduces a cascade of stress hormones into the body that, over time, creates damage to our nervous system. In stressful situations the physiology focuses the majority of its energy to what is needed to get through that event. For example it may leave the digestion of food or the awareness that it you are thirsty until after the stressful time has passed.
If you are constantly experiencing this fight or flight response due to too many deadlines, constant work or excess worry the physiology doesn’t get the chance to normalise. Women experience that during times of intense physical or emotional pressure that there menstrual period stops all together. This is an intelligent decision by the body that now is not a good time to add the extra pressure of growing a baby. Although it is perhaps less obvious, a man’s reproductive activity or production of sperm is also influenced by stress.
How to reduce stress and strain
Meditation is the most effect way of both decreasing stress already in the physiology and of coping with stressful situations. Research into Transcendental Meditation has shown that regular practitioners visited the hospital far less than the non-meditating control group. For example nervous system disorders and cardiovascular disease where down by 87% while hospitalisation due to tumours was reduced by 60%. The only category where the meditating group visited the hospital more was for childbirth.
Yoga is a very effective way to put you back in touch with your body and to unwind stress and tension.
Spending time in the beauty of nature away from the distractions of the television, mobile phones and computers is also very balancing for the physiology.
Balancing your biological rhythms
Throughout nature there are many cycles that maintain growth and renewal in life. The changing seasonal cycles support the development of plants and animal life while the 24-hour circadian rhythm allows for daily rest and activity. The menstrual cycle in women allows for monthly purification.
During the first stage of a woman’s cycle when she bleeds, it is a time to rest as much as possible. Most women find that they naturally want to have time to themselves and slow down the pace of life. Resting does not have to mean sleeping or staying in bed but just having early nights, cutting back on exercise and having light, easy to digest meals. Woman who do take it easy during this time, report not only feeling better during their periods but also during the rest of the month.
Given the chance to rest, the body is able to purify the build up of fatigue and ama that may have accumulated during the month. Resting and having a healthy diet during menstruation helps to create a healthy ovum and helps the woman to best nourish the foetus once conception has taken place.
Nature functions best when using the cycles of rest and activity. We are active during the day and rest and repair when we are asleep at night. If we are training for a long distance race, we run and then we allow the body to rest, then we may run a bit further the next time.
Having a regular routine supports all the functions of the physiology. Our body works more predictably if we get up and go to bed about the same time, follow regular mealtimes and maintain a regular exercise program. If we are constantly changing our daily routine, our physiology is forced to exert more energy to maintain digestion, elimination and energy levels. High levels of stress and jetlag can disrupt the fine tuning of the menstrual cycle.
In terms of conceiving a child, resting from sexual activity is also important. When a couple are having difficulties getting pregnant the usual response is to try more often. However excessive sexual activity actually depletes the stores of shukra thus making it harder to conceive a child. ‘Trying’ can also place more stress on a couple. The act of love making becomes a test where the couple feels they either failed or succeeded.
Infertility need not be a life sentence or something that can only be overcome by medical treatment. By paying attention to your health and that of your partner it may just be a push in the right direction to get you properly prepared a healthy journey into conception, pregnancy and parenthood.
Wendy Rosenfeldt is a Maharishi Vedic health educator.
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