Ep 114: Fertility Yoga with Lauren Blandin
Fertility Forward Episode 114:
Regular exercise has many benefits for your physical and mental health, but women undergoing fertility treatment are often told that high-intensity activity can actually decrease their chance of becoming pregnant while increasing their risk of ovarian torsion. Fitness fanatics, rejoice! Because we’re here to tell you that there ARE ways to exercise safely throughout your fertility journey. Joining us is Lauren Blandin, a professional ballet dancer turned yoga instructor, medical massage therapist, and registered nurse, but to the community of women that she serves in New York City, she is fondly known as The Fertility Yoga Nurse. Fertility Yoga is a restorative modality created by Lauren that utilizes mind/body techniques to regulate chronic stress, safely manage the physiological changes that occur throughout fertility treatments, and address the isolation that is often experienced during the fertility journey. If you are trying to get pregnant or you’ve had difficulty getting pregnant, Fertility Yoga could be a useful tool to help you on your journey! Tuning in today, you’ll find out what it entails and how it can benefit not only your physical health, but your mental health too, plus so much more. We hope you’ll join us!
Rena: Hi everyone. We are Rena and Dara and welcome to Fertility Forward. We are part of the wellness team at RMA of New York, a fertility clinic affiliated with Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Our Fertility Forward Podcast brings together advice from medical professionals, mental health specialists, wellness experts, and patients because knowledge is power and you are your own best advocate.
Dara: Lauren Blandin was a professional ballet dancer, turned yoga instructor, medical massage therapist and registered nurse. She's created fertility yoga from her own experiences of fertility treatments and lack of information available at the time. Drawing from two decades of knowledge as a yoga instructor, science, and medicine, she created a safe space to support the complex and changing needs of the fertility journey - one that encompasses mind, body, and spirit. Fertility yoga utilizes mind-body techniques to help manage the chronic stress and physiologic changes that occur throughout the fertility journey in a community of women with shared experience. Lauren, thank you so much for being here today.
Lauren: Thank you so much. I'm so excited to join you.
Rena: We're so excited to have you on. I was remembering, when Dara and I were talking about having guests, I was like, wait, I remember specifically having a call with you. I was walking in Central Park. This was in the height of the pandemic.
Lauren: Height of the pandemic!
Rena: Yes. I was on a call with you, an intro call and we connected and it was like, I remember it was so energizing cuz it was in the, the quarantine and, and I was like, oh my gosh, I can't believe we never had you on. It is long overdue.
Lauren: Thank you for having me.
Rena: And your business has grown so much since we initially spoke.
Lauren: It has. I mean it really, I started this business prior to the pandemic, but it was through the pandemic that I realized that I was going to be able to reach so many more people because the world had moved online in a way that it just hadn't before. And I've been so excited to reach and help and work with so many women that are going through fertility treatments.
Dara: That's so wonderful. So you started off as a ballerina. How did that progress into becoming a nurse and then how did that evolve and change also to create this yoga center, this yoga practice?
Lauren: Woo. All right. I'm gonna try to contain this. So I was a professional ballet dancer, but while I was dancing, I started practicing yoga and during that time I actually got injured and I started working with a yoga instructor who helped me heal. And I, I had done everything. I had done, physical therapy, acupuncture, I mean all the things, but it was really through yoga that I was able to heal my body. I went through a yoga training. I had been teaching for a while and in an effort to be a better yoga teacher, I went to massage school so I could learn more about the body and, and help treat people. And then over time, I, actually, for the last 17 years I've had my own business working with people both pre- and post- rehabilitative, using yoga and massage therapy to help them heal and recover from chronic injury and pain. And toward the end of that I started working with women who were going through fertility treatments. And this actually, I ended up also going through my own fertility treatment. So the way that fertility yoga was born was that through my own treatment I had spoken with my doctor and she had informed me during that time not to exercise while I was going through egg freezing. And this didn't make sense to me because, well, on the one hand, you know, I understood that there was a danger that we had to be aware of. We had to be mindful of tubular torsion and ovarian torsion. And for those who aren't familiar with what that is, that is when the ovary or fallopian tube will twist on itself. And when that happens, blood is no longer able to access the ovary and the ovary dies. It is emergent surgery. So it is no joke. So you have to be really mindful not to be incorporating any kind of high intensity exercising. You wanna be really mindful not to do deep forward folds, deep twists. So on the one hand, I understood that. I understood the logic behind that, but I also knew that at the time, I had a very physical, very demanding yoga practice and that I didn't have to abandon my practice completely. I did have all of this yoga knowledge and experience and I knew that I just had to modify my practice. I didn't have to abandon it completely. And I also knew that the yoga, the meditation, the breath work, this was actually going to help me throughout this period. This was gonna help me stay grounded. This was going to help me stay calm and to abandon it completely wasn't really the answer. So I took my knowledge of yoga, my knowledge of science and medicine, and I created this method both for myself and my clients.
Rena: Wow. I love that.
Dara: Oh my gosh, I'm, I'm impressed also because I've seen in the past a lot of women who, you know, who have worked in ballet, work with Pilates. And I love, love seeing someone who, you know, was, is a dancer, to choose yoga, which I feel like is a lot more of the mind-body connection. Which I think if you know, you're thinking about your core, you're thinking about your posture and, and how everything's connected...I feel like yoga makes total sense to compliment other forms of activity like dancing.
Lauren: It's an ancient system. You know, it is a 2000 year old system that I think, you know, yoga has kind of been co-opted. And when a lot of people think of yoga, they turn it into this kind of like this fitness routine, which is a whole other episode for a different podcast. But we use the body, we use the physical postures as a gateway to our mind. We use the meditation, the breath work. This is all just a gateway to help us come back to ourself.
Dara: That's beautiful. Well, and this is where I'm confusing, that's why I'm so happy you're on today to help educate our listeners and ourselves. There are so many types of yoga. Can you walk us through some of them and also do you typically include a bunch of different types or modalities in your method?
Lauren: Yes. So I'll just talk about probably the more popular styles that people are more familiar with and those would be Ashtanga yoga, Vinyasa yoga, and Iyengar yoga. I think that those are kind of the names that if someone has any kind of background or even if you're, you're not so familiar, you might have heard of one of those styles. And each of those styles tends to be fairly athletic and some of the postures can get a little complicated and a little complex. Fertility yoga, this method that I have coined really incorporates restorative postures, restorative yoga. And if you're not familiar with what those are, those are relatively simple postures that are supported with props and held for a longer period of time, anywhere between 3 to 10 minutes. And while you're in those physical postures, you are also incorporating breath work. And it's through the combination of these restorative postures and the breath work that you elicit this parasympathetic nervous system response, which helps to decrease stress, reduce cortisol, which in turn, you know, has an effect on the inflammatory system that is moving and going on throughout the body. And ultimately what we're doing is we're creating space and as you create space in your physical body, ultimately you're creating space in your mind. That is why I incorporated this style. So, and when I'm working with people who are going through fertility treatments, I really focus on this style, this method specifically when they're going through the egg freezing process. So if you are, you know, prior to the egg freezing process or even afterwards, there are different things that you can do. You can be a little bit more physical, a little bit more active, but specifically during the egg freezing process because we do wanna be mindful of that tubal and ovarian version that I was talking about earlier.
Dara: Well that, that's great that you were able to distinguish because of course my limited knowledge of yoga, when I think about yoga, I think a lot about inversions and I think about, you know, the twisting motions, you know the headstands and I love that you termed it like a restorative yoga and the idea that like you're not only working on your physical space but connecting it to that space in your mind, creating more space mentally, which is such a beautiful way of putting it.
Lauren: Thank you. And to your point, you know there are a lot of really kind of crazy postures that, that happen in yoga. The very crazy deep twist, the inversions. And those put a lot of pressure on your abdomen. It does take a lot of core work to do those kinds of postures and these are things that we wanna avoid. Also, yoga just feels good, you know? And when you're going through such a stressful time, it's so nice to have something to lean back onto and into when you're going through that challenging time.
Rena: Yeah, and I think, you know, so many of my patients struggle with the exercise restrictions. I think that's one of the things that's the hardest for people. And so knowing that, you know, you figured out how to safely incorporate movement is so helpful both for body and mind.
Lauren: Definitely. I think, you know, as I've been growing this business and working with more and more women, it's made me think a lot about what is going on in people's mind during this time and how stressful this is. I think that we all know where we want this process to end, but it takes everybody on a different journey. And I think that what I want people to know is that you can go through this process and not feel as though you're losing yourself, not feel as though you've lost yourself. And I think that if you are going through fertility treatments or have had difficulty getting pregnant in a lot of ways this process, it blasts you open. But you can go through this process, you can have these practices, this community to lean on. And through that process you can be blasted open, but you can also lift yourself up and move on. And no matter what, no matter which pathway this leads you, life is going to be beautiful. Life is going to be full and everything is gonna be okay.
Rena: Oh what an inspiring message of hope. I love that.
Dara: I also love that you mentioned before that you know, we really wanna try to reduce inflammation in our body. And how, you know, with specific exercises, you know, you can decrease your cortisol, decrease inflammation. I think that's, you know, I see a lot of exercises that are very high intensity that involve a lot of twisting, can actually increase inflammation, potentially increase cortisol. So it's so nice to have, you know, a method that can actually do the opposite, that can be gentle yet still effective, which is a great combination.
Lauren: Yes. The stress response is really interesting. We do want a healthy amount of stress in our body. Stress is not a bad thing. It's good. The problem is when that cycle is not able to come full circle and we are only in that chronic stage of stress all the time. And the beauty of fu fertility yoga is that you can access that parasympathetic nervous system. You can turn off that switch so that your body has the opportunity to rest, restore, and decrease those levels of stress that are just pumping through your body.
Dara: And don't you also think that fertility yoga, I don't know if I would wanna use the term gateway, but it is a way to open up people's or expand their ideas and knowledge on meditation. So it's kind of an easier gateway to breath work and meditation. Cause I'm assuming that's probably a big part of the practice?
Lauren: 100%. You know, everybody has their own path into yoga and spirituality and, and things that kind of take you back home. And for a lot of people it's hard to sit down and meditate. It's hard! And there's no shame in that. And so I think for a lot of people it is easier to use the body to access those, those states. And it's through those more physical postures that we are learning the same principles that we're learning in meditation, such as slowing down, letting go, learning how to have almost this kind of, like, bird's eye perspective so that we don't get lost and caught in the story. And you know, it's through yoga that it's a bridge to pranayama or another word for breath work. It's a bridge to meditation. And all of these practices, they lead to the same place, which is to yourself. And I truly believe that there is just so much intelligence in the body. There is so much wisdom within, I think for so many of us, we're just always looking outside of ourselves for those answers. But all of the answers are within. And the practice, the trick is to be able to sit with yourself, to get quiet with yourself. And little by little those answers, they reveal themselves.
Dara: I love that you said take you back home because that's exactly what it does. It takes you inside to your, your true self to the perfection of who you are.
Lauren: Exactly. And I, I often say in my classes, I'm like, you are perfect exactly as you are. And some of the cues that will get in yoga class, you know, it's not because we're trying to fix anything. Cause there's nothing wrong with you, but they're just tools for concentration. And when you are able to concentrate your mind, it creates this steadiness. And from steadiness comes this sense of ease and peace from within.
Dara: And also, just the notion of being present. You know, it's natural that as humans we often think about the stress of the past and the potential worries of the future. But I, I think you know, yoga is beautiful in that it really does help keep you more present.
Lauren: Yes. And that's hard, that's really difficult. And it's so, I mean, the mind tends to do one or the other. It tends to go backwards or it tends to go forward. And this is just another tool to help us enjoy where we are, to be in this moment and to allow things to unfold as they will.
Dara: Oh, totally. I'm not sure if I, I mentioned this in the podcast in another podcast before, but I have always been somewhat intimidated by yoga, especially in the past. That's the old me. And part of it was the Shavasana. The idea of what I thought was wasting my time, lying down, doing nothing. Clearly that was the old New Yorker in me. And the more I've been open in the last number of years to more eastern modalities and maybe now as, as a, I don't know, slowing down a little bit just now, I, I savor, I like the more Shavasana or that rest time when you're just kind of lying still is what I yearn for in a yoga practice.
Lauren: That is, that is where the magic is. And it's often said to be the most challenging posture because it is, you are sitting with your thoughts, you have nowhere to go, nothing nowhere to be. And you are challenged by just allowing things to be as they are to kind of let go of the thought and just be with your breath. And that's a practice. That is not something that, you know, we're expected to perfect, but it's, it's a practice and allowing ourselves to go into that space happens over time.
Dara: Yeah. And that's good. You mentioned it's a practice, I think a sometimes we, we could be intimidated by things and it does take work, it takes time and it takes practice, but with patience and repetition, you know, you really can see such a, a big change and such a big difference in your overall, I would say, energy and being and yeah, I guess like your day-to-day, it's like a subtle shift.
Lauren: It's an accrual system and it, so it takes time. And part of what allows us to tap into that, into that space more easily is the repetition, is the consistency. So have, you know, and I'm not saying that you have to do this seven days a week, you know, all for this many hours, but having some consistency in your life and your practice will allow you to tap into that. And then you take these virtues that you've cultivated. So what are the virtues? The virtues are patience, kindness, forgiveness, friendliness with yourself. Definitely a sense of humor. We need that when we're going through, when we're going through this process and we take these virtues off of our mat and we apply them into our lives, not just with ourselves, but in our relationships with one another. And that, that truly is what the yoga is, you know, is our quality of relationship with ourselves, with our loved ones and what the work that we do on our mat is just a bridge to that.
Rena: I love that. I feel like you need to come in and, and not only teach yoga, but teach these revelations and ideals and tenants to people. You know, I think it's so helpful to all of us, you know, not just those going through fertility treatment, but just life in general.
Lauren: I would love to do that.
Dara: So at this moment, are you still offering virtual sessions? Is it in person? Tell our, our audience how they can find you and get started with you.
Lauren: I have a couple different ways. So, so everything is on my website, laurenblandonyoga.com. I have a library of fertility yoga classes that can be accessed digitally and I have them categorized depending on which stage of the fertility journey that you're on, whether you're going through the egg freezing process or before or after. Those can be accessed digitally wherever you are in the convenience of your own home. If someone wants more support, I also offer group and private mentorship. And one of the big pieces of this that I, I just realized so quickly was, was an important part of this process is the community because how isolating this experience can be. And you know, just speaking from my own experience, you know, I didn't really tell anybody when I was going through fertility treatments. I, I told a very, very small group of people and none of them had been through this process. But I will never forget the first morning I went into morning monitoring and that room was packed with other women. And that was this moment of like, oh my god, there are so many people that are going through this! And also we need other people to be able to connect with because even the people who are the most well-meaning and who deeply and dearly love you, they don't understand. And sometimes they can say insensitive things or, or even just, you know, seeing other people around you who are getting pregnant, that can be a real challenge. And so having a group and a space of other women who have shared experience, it's transformative.
Dara: Oh, for sure. Having community is, is essential for health and wellbeing to have that support, especially this community in particular. I would, I would think it's, it's really important. And that's great that you provide that space for them. So, wonderful. Anything to add, Rena?
Rena: I'm gonna be really honest with you guys. I have not been present. I am one of those days where I am just dealing with a million things with a million clients. But I mean so many people, which really just drives home the point of why Lauren, what you do is so important because, I mean, I've been over here like sidebar communicating and trying to, to manage people that are just so anxious and really having such a hard time with treatment and this process is so difficult and it just drives home again, like why what you do and what you're teaching and saying is, is so important. And I also try and live my life by being present and staying in the moment. And so it's really, really unlike me to be trying to multitask, especially during this. But you know, sometimes it's just really hard and you know, myself, Dara, you, I know we all care so much about our work and our patients and so sometimes it is really hard, you know, because I really empathize with people. But, you know, I just think it's so important and if anyone's listening to, to understand, like it really takes a village to go through this process. And by reaching out for supports, you know, by taking up the services that all of us offer, it is really, really important to take advantage of that and build that out as you go through this process. Because trying to go through it yourself and alone and, and without seeking help is just, I mean, it's so tough. So that is what I will add, that is my very authentic and real response. But that's also just sort of the nature of this work sometimes. You know, what we're doing is we're dealing with time sensitive stuff with people that have very heightened emotions. And I often feel that a big, big part of my job is just being there for someone when they need me and just helping them feel heard. So that is what I will add to this.
Lauren: You brought up a really great point, and first I wanted to acknowledge, I'm sorry that you're so stressed and that things are coming at you today, but we love you. We got you. I think actually you brought up a really great point, which is that, you know, it brings me back to the, the fertility doctors and how stressful their job is, you know, and you know, they're creating these protocols for their patients. Their patients are coming in and, you know, are on the receiving end of, of, of what's happening there. And patients often will only turn to their doctors and think that only their doctors have the answers for how to deal with the mental, even physiological, and emotional aspects of this process. And I think it's so important for both people who are going through this process, but also the doctors to know that, that they don't have to be the one to, to kind of carry all of that. And there are other people here who can hold that space and who can shoulder those other responsibilities and other emotions that are a part of this process.
Rena: And I think this is really important for patients to hear too. I think a lot of times they direct their emotions onto the physicians because they're the frontline, but number one to know like, this is a team, we're a collaborative, we're a team. There's so many people that work really hard for patient care. And also, you know, at least, you know, at RMA we're so lucky to work with physicians who care so much about patients and you know, we're all there to help you and it's super hard. And I think, yeah, a lot of times physicians really sort of bear the brunt of patient emotions. And so, you know, again, for anyone listening, you know, if you're a physician to know, we understand how hard it is. And I certainly think, you know, part of my role is staff support and then for patients to know, you know, especially, you know, again, here at RMA, I've been so lucky to work with this wonderful group of people for over six years now, and everyone is just so caring and, and genuinely does this because they care. So, you know, for people to try and remember that.
Dara: Yeah, it takes a village and I'm so happy that we have one more person that we know now in this village. Lauren, I get asked all the time about exercise and activity just because it, it often is clumped or lumped with nutrition and, you know, overall lifestyle, but it's not my area of expertise. And I think it's really important to be able to point people in the right direction to get that support. And you've really educated myself and myself, and I'm sure everyone else today, that there are ways to exercise safely throughout your fertility journey depending on where you are and how great now that we can suggest people to check you out and to get support from you so they can, you know, still find that avenue that can give them more energy, you know, maybe a little bit more of peace of mind, and also a little bit of clarity and, and being able to be in that moment which I really think is important to have. So it, I was so happy to meet you Lauren.
Rena: I wish I known you when I was going through my fertility journey. Oh my god!
Dara: Me, too!
Rena: I would have stuck with you every single day. Twice a day.
Lauren: I'm so happy to be here and I, I am available to, for support and to just help people through this process. It's tough. And I think just one more thing that I always like to say. I think that when you are having these really big emotions, I think number one you have to name it to tame it. So putting a name to those feelings really helps to dissipate them a little bit. You have to feel it to heal it. And so I do not think that you have to bypass your emotions or think that you know, who am I to be experiencing this? You have to let your emotions go through your body so that they can move out. You must process them through your body. And then the last one is that movement is medicine. You know, our bodies are made of energy and when we are going through challenging times, or even if we're just sitting stagnantly for a really long time, that energy gets stagnant and stuck and that creates these negative thoughts within our mind. So moving our body, whether it's yoga or just taking a really nice long walk, being in nature, having that outlet to move the energy, it's medicine.
Rena: Ooh, Lauren, you're just so, I, I saw Dara getting all the feels when you
Dara: Yeah, I need to move around. I've been sitting down too long! So it's a good reminder to like, you know, do a little dance in my seat until I'm able to actually get up and walk around.
Rena: And feel it to heal it. Movement is medicine. The trifecta.
Dara: So beautiful. So how we always end our podcast is a word of gratitude. So Lauren, what are you grateful for at this moment in time?
Lauren: Not to be cheesy, but I am this, to be on this podcast right now feels like a real homecoming for me. This is, you know, we all have like our little things that we're working on and that we're, that we're aiming towards, but meeting you with you, you ladies, and kind of, I guess making it here feels like, like a really exciting moment for me. I was referred to both of you from Dr. Lekovich, again during the height of the pandemic. And so to have this moment right now feels very full circle. So…
Rena: Well we are so honored to have you on and feel so yeah, full circle for me too. I, I really vividly remember being walking, I was right at the 72nd Street transverse walking because I, you know, movement is medicine during the pandemic, talking to you. So, Yes! So full circle. Dara, what are you grateful for?
Dara: Before starting this podcast I was thinking, okay, what am I grateful for today? Whatever. And I didn't, I couldn't really think about it. I have lots to be grateful for, but now that we're talking just about health and wellness, I've read a bunch of really good books lately. So that's what I'm grateful for. Sometimes when you get like those gems, I don't know, it's there's this book and I, I mentioned it yesterday in passing to Rena. I really recommend it to all of our listeners. It's by Luis Hay and it's called You Can Heal Your Body. It's a book of, of self-healing. And she definitely, and after, after speaking with you today, Lauren, about being in the present moment and, you know, working through things and getting out of your mind a little bit, she's all about that. And so I feel like what a great combination of reading that book and doing yoga to help heal your body in your mind. So that's, I'm I'm grateful for, you know, having this book fall into my lap and meeting you at the same time. Thank you. What about you, Rena?
Lauren: Well, I ordered the book. Dara always sends me the best book and I, I really feel like we should start a podcast book club. So I'm gonna read it and then we could do an episode discussing it. And if anyone listening reads it, you know, and wants to discuss, I would love it. I'm really grateful for this podcast and having a space that I can come and be myself and be authentic and let you know what's, what's going on and have, you know, amazing women to just receive that and you know, and tell me it's fine and you know that you got me cause that feels really, really good. It's really nice to have a space, you know, so much of my work is being strong for other people and holding them up, but to be able to come here and just say, you know, let my feelings go and say I'm feeling very stressed right now and have it be received, I feel so grateful for that. So thank you both so much for that.
Dara: Oh, we've got your back, Rena.
Lauren: For sure!
Rena: Well Lauren, thank you so much again for coming on and super excited to share your wisdom and your work with our listeners and would love to have you back anytime.
Lauren: Wonderful. I'd love to be here. Thank you.
Dara: Thank you so much for listening today. And always remember: practice gratitude, give a little love to someone else and yourself, and remember - you are not alone. Find us on Instagram @fertility_forward and if you're looking for more support, visit us at www.rmany.com and tune in next week for more Fertility Forward.