In her work with women and couples struggling with infertility psychotherapist Barbara Blitzer, LCSW, author of the brand-new The Infertility Workbook: A Mind-Body Program to Enhance Fertility, Reduce Stress, and Maintain Emotional Balance, uses many different mind-body techniques to help clients find peace and reduce stress wherever they are. She shared one of her favorite techniques with ConceiveOnline (don't miss her Q&A with us from a couple of weeks ago):
If you’re looking for a simple yet powerful way to begin a mind-body practice for fertility, the place to start is with your breath: The breath is the ultimate mind-body connector. The breath responds to emotions automatically and yet can be consciously altered to balance the body, calm anxieties, and create a sense of peace. Working with the breath over time can help reduce the impact of stress on the hormonal system so important in fertility. Stress causes the breath to become shallow and rapid. In panic or extreme fear, there is a tendency to hold the breath or have difficulty catching the breath. Just as in the expression, “It left me breathless,” infertility can be so stressful that it can literally take the breath away. A good way to counter that is by practicing deep, mindful breathing. Practicing deep breathing will help restore balance to both the mind and the body.
To begin your practice, simply become aware of your breath. Notice it without judgment. Just focus on it and notice if it’s fast or slow, deep or shallow. Now, take charge of it, gently encouraging it to slow and deepen. Allow your belly to rise and fall in response to the deepening of the breath. You can place your hands on your belly to see that you are doing this correctly. Try to do this in a relaxed way, without forcing. If you find it difficult to relax and calm the breath, you may want to start with a few very deep breaths in which you hold the breath for a few seconds at the top of the inhalation before exhaling completely. For those few seconds that you’re holding your breath, you can also make fists and tense your body. As you exhale, let everything relax . This will help reset the breath and then you can go back to the deeper belly breathing.
As you practice deep breathing, you may also find it helpful to combine the breath with the thought of something or someone that inspires, calms, or brings peace. Find out what that is for you, name it, and as you breathe in and out, say it to yourself silently. Some people choose words like love, hope, trust or peace. Many people find that soft music helps them do this breathing exercise. Others are helped by counting the breaths from 10 to one. Depending on what works for you, you can practice deep breathing in short segments throughout the day, longer practice sessions, or both. This is a simple but powerful practice. Try it! Give it a little time. Remember, this is just like working out at the gym. One session can make you feel better, but it won’t prepare you for a marathon so find the variations of this exercise that work for you, and keep going!
We want to hear what your experience is trying this deep-breathing practice to reduce stress: Please share your story here or on our Facebook page!
Barbara Blitzer, LCSW-C, M.Ed. is a psychotherapist and coach who has been a pioneer in the integration of psychotherapy, coaching, and mind-body practices for fertility.