I get a lot of questions about yoga for women’s health and hormones… and I’m no yoga expert, so I went straight to the best — my friend and colleague Kendra Tolbert, MS, RDN, RYT, who specializes in yoga and nutrition for PCOS. Enjoy my interview with her!
Contemplative movement practices, like yoga, have been gaining more attention in the world of women’s health and fertility. And for good reason. With their ability to slow racing minds (hello rest and digest response), gently increase circulation, and support introspection, it’s really no surprise we’re seeing more people turn to yoga on their journey to balanced hormones and pregnancy.
Which is why I turned to registered yoga teacher and fellow women’s health registered dietitian, Kendra Tolbert, MS, RDN, RYT to get the details on how yoga can improve PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, and more.
First, Kendra, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a registered dietitian, yoga teacher, and certified aromatherapist specializing in women’s health and fertility. I’m obsessed with showing people simple and enjoyable ways they can improve their reproductive and overall wellbeing with self-care practices.
Lovely. Let’s jump right into the questions. What makes fertility yoga or women’s health yoga different from regular yoga?
I get this question all the time. It’s not that there’s a different set of poses or anything. What makes fertility yoga or women’s health yoga different is the intention. It’s the purpose behind the poses that influences the approach and the effect.
When I’m teaching yoga for PCOS, fertility, or general women’s health, I focus more on how the poses feel than how they look. The pace also tends to be slower allowing for opportunities to develop interoception (the ability to tune into internal cues and sensations). And the purpose is to soothe the nervous system and move blood, lymph fluid, and energy to and from the reproductive organs.
Can yoga improve fertility?
The research on this one is pretty slim but there is some research that suggests mind-body practices can improve rates of conception. And there’s some research that suggests yoga can improve the quality of life of people experiencing infertility.
Can yoga improve PCOS symptoms?
Not surprisingly, there isn’t a ton of research on yoga and PCOS but there is some. It seems yoga might improve insulin resistance, menstrual regularity, mood, and androgen levels in people with PCOS.
My clients have also seen a difference in the quality of their sleep, self-talk, and PMS symptoms after incorporating yoga into their routines.
I’m happy you brought up PMS. How does yoga improve Premenstrual symptoms?
I’m convinced the key to how yoga improves PMS and so many other women’s health concerns lies in its ability to move us into the parasympathetic state. A calm nervous system is amazing for our health.
Research-wise, yoga has been shown to improve depression rates, sleep, and pain related to PMS.
How can yoga help with endometriosis?
I only know of one research study that looked at the effect of yoga on endometriosis related pain. Even though that’s not much, I also don’t think there’s any harm in trying and seeing if it works for an individual. Of course, I don’t mean doing yoga in place of seeking care from compassionate and competent healthcare providers, but in conjunction with medical care.
My gut and experience tells me it can and does help even though I don’t have much research to point to that backs it up.
What type of yoga is best for women’s health, fertility, and PCOS?
Any type of yoga that allows you focus on your breath and how your body feels is the best type. I usually recommend and incorporate slower, gentler, and more nourishing forms of yoga into women’s health focused yoga practice. Yin, restorative, slow-flow, gentle vinyasa, and yoga nidra are my favorites. In general, I recommend avoiding more vigorous or heated types if your other forms of activity are already pretty vigorous or you’re depleted in one way or another.
What are the best yoga poses to do when trying to get pregnant?
All yoga poses can be beneficial in their own way. It’s a lot like nutrition, there aren’t any magic poses just like there aren’t any magic foods. I do however have some favorites. Low lunge, child’s pose, and reclining bound angle always top my list.
What poses should be avoided when trying to get pregnant?
In my opinion, there aren’t any inherently bad yoga poses for fertility. There are some though that might not feel the best during different phases of your cycle or phase of assisted reproductive technology.
Typically I recommend avoiding things like deep twists or core engaging poses during stimming if you’re doing IVF. Or Inversions during your period if they’re uncomfortable during that time of the month. Wide legged standing or squatting poses can feel too vulnerable after pregnancy loss.
Ultimately, your body should be your guide. If any pose just doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. There are always alternatives.
Is it safe to practice yoga during the two-week wait?
There are mixed opinions on this one. I think it’s perfectly fine to practice yoga during the two-week wait as long as you’re being mindful, listening to your body, and taking it pretty easy. But I understand people’s concerns. So I recommend being especially gentle more so for peace of mind than anything else.
Some yoga practitioners do think squatting poses or deep twists should be avoided for energetic or philosophical reasons. Some believe that these poses might energetically encourage elimination or the outward and downward flow of energy. If that aligns with your views, I think it’s wise to honor that.
Can yoga cure PCOS, Fibroids, Endometriosis, infertility, hypothalamic amenorrhea?
Whew! Nothing gets me riled up more than false claims about “cures.” Nothing! So, no, yoga can’t cure these conditions. But it can improve the symptoms and underlying causes of many of these conditions.
Any parting words?
It’s important to find movement that you enjoy. I definitely think yoga is worth exploring. But I also don’t think yoga is a magic bullet. So if you don’t enjoy yoga, keep looking for the thing that’s right for you.
And remember, the only way to know for sure if yoga can help or if you’ll like it is to try it. Reading about it, researching it, asking everyone else how it worked for them, none of those things will actually make a difference until you do it. Give it a try and see for yourself.
Thank you so so much, Kendra, for taking the time to answer my questions!
In The PCOS Root Cause Roadmap 6-week program, I help you identify and learn how to treat YOUR root causes of PCOS, without cutting out a single food. The course features six exclusive yoga video sequences developed by PCOS yoga and nutrition expert, Kendra Tolbert, MS, RDN, RYT, to align with the content in each module. Click here to find out more about The PCOS Root Cause Roadmap.
Kendra Tolbert, MS, RDN, RYT is a women’s health registered dietitian, yoga teacher, and aromatherapist specializing in PCOS and fertility. She helps people balance their hormones and prepare for pregnancy with enjoyable and simple self-care practices.