Fertility health is important for both men and women wishing to start a family. There are many possible causes of infertility, from toxins in our environment to high levels of stress in daily life. Systems that govern reproduction may be out of balance due to improper lifestyle or genetic predisposition. Ayurveda offers solutions to bolster reproductive capacity.
Ayurveda at its core is about maintaining balance in our bodies. Conception is all about balance. The miraculous ability of a woman to maintain all the diverse activities of life while a child develops inside her depends on so many systems of the body working together in perfect coordination. Ayurveda addresses health and operates on the most fundamental of levels of our physiology. As such it offers techniques to deeply nourish the body before, during and after pregnancy. This in turn supports our natural desire to give birth to an intelligent, happy, healthy baby that has the capacity to grow into a truly great citizen of the world.
Fertility: More than a Physical Phenomenon
In Ayurveda, the conception of a child is not considered to be merely a physical phenomenon. In order to create a truly healthy child — one that is mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy — both the woman and man must also be mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy.
The couple’s loving and happy relationship is also considered important. Remember that, according to Ayurveda, we metabolize with all five senses. So whatever is happening in the home and the lives of the parents is transferred to their child in some form. Ayurveda recognizes that all organs of reproduction must be in balance and in good health. It is essential for the mother and father to produce healthy egg and sperm. The mother’s entire physiology must be strong to support the pregnancy and carry to full term.
Creation of Ojas
There are seven types of body tissue (dhatus) — nutritional fluid, blood, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow and reproductive fluid. The shukra dhatu (reproductive tissue) is found in both men and women. In women, it transforms into the ovum as part of the monthly cycle. In men, shukra dhatu is created, moves to the testes, and from there it is transformed into semen.
For healthy conception, the quantity and quality of shukra dhatu is critical. However, reproduction is not the only role of shukra dhatu. The shukra dhatu is the seventh tissue — the last in a chain of metabolic processes. The transformation of food into tissues starts when you eat food, and is transformed into the nutrient fluid, known as rasa dhatu. The transformation continues in an orderly progression as each dhatu is transformed into the next: from rasa to rakta (blood), to mamsa (muscle), to meda (fat), to asthi (bone), to bone majja (bone marrow) and into the reproductive tissue, shukra dhatu.
But the finest product of this chain of transformations, or of the digestive processes, is ojas, which is necessary to maintain life. Ojas, when in balance and found in the necessary proportion, creates optimum health — vigor, lightness, stamina, immunity, luster in the skin, sparkle in the eyes, mental clarity, blissful emotions, and spiritual well-being. It allows for the refining of perception. Ojas is so important to life that one of the goals of Ayurveda — the daily routines, our herbal formulas, and dietary recommendations — is to increase ojas!
The Sushruta Samhita, one of the classic ayurvedic texts, says, “Due to ojas, the muscle tissue becomes strong, all movements become free and perfectly coordinated, voice and complexion become clear, and the activity of the organs of action and of sense become intelligent and evolutionary in nature.”
Shukra dhatu transforms into semen or ovum. As such it is important that we live in such a manner that the potential production of ojas is at its maximum. Shukra dhatu is essential for the health of everyone, whether they want to conceive or just want to improve their overall health and vitality by increasing their level of ojas.
Food is Medicine
Food is the primary and most important means to achieve good health. The food we eat is transformed into life-giving shukra dhatu and ojas. So how does diet enhance the reproductive capacity of both men and women?
There are certain types of foods and herbs that specifically enhance the reproductive tissue in both men and women. These foods are called vrishya. They include, but certainly are not limited to: asparagus, broccoli, milk, date-milk shake, mango-milk shake, and rice pudding.
Vrishya spices include: small amounts of ajowan powder, cumin (which helps to purify the uterus in women and the genitourinary tract in men), turmeric (to help improve the interaction of hormones and targeted tissues), and black cumin.
Avoiding or reducing coriander is recommended if you are trying to conceive, as it is not considered nourishing to shukra dhatu. When possible, avoid eggplant, tomatoes, and bell peppers, as these foods are considered harder to digest and may have the effect of causing imbalance to various parts of our physiology. It is also recommended to reduce foods that are too hot or spicy (this can vary based on culture and body type), or foods that are too heavy and cold such as ice cream, since these may dampen digestion.
Women that are trying to conceive might want to consider grains such as quinoa, that enhance estrogenic activity and support the hormonal activity of both men and women. Cook these grains with a little ghee, salt, and spices such as cumin and black cumin. Fruits such as papaya and pineapple also are helpful in strengthening the ovum. Turmeric helps enhance the binding of estrogen and progesterone.
Foods for men who are looking to enhance reproductive tissue include asparagus, which has a testosterone-enhancing quality, and almonds and dates.
Most important is understanding one’s dosha body type and eating according to your unique and individual needs. Eating to balance our individual dosha makeup is the most powerful tool we can use for overall good health.
Bringhana: Enhance All Seven Dhatus
Reproductive health is one aspect of health, and the Ayurvedic approach to achieving it takes into account overall health as well. Foods and herbs that nourish all seven dhatus, or layers of bodily tissue, are called bringhana. A bringhana diet includes fresh, organic fruits and vegetables; whole grains and cereals; and healthy types of dairy protein such as panir, milk, or lassi. If you are vegetarian and have a dairy intolerance, you can obtain protein from beans, pulses, and nuts. The body needs certain amino acids to function properly and to create healthy reproductive tissue. Almonds and walnuts soaked overnight, and mung dhal, nourish all seven dhatus. All sweet, juicy fruits are bringhana, such as mangoes, peaches, pears, and plums. Some dried fruits, such as dates, figs and raisins, are also recommended. Eating a stewed apple for breakfast is a healthy, balanced way to start the day.
In general, a good-quality diet, with the proper blending of spices and fresh foods without preservatives, always gives support to shukra dhatu. If your digestive fire (agni) is strong, you can cook a banana in ghee seasoned with cinnamon and cardamom. There are many bringhana foods to choose from — pick all those that are convenient for you and rotate them as desired.
Pitta governs the digestion in the body. The genitourinary tract is governed by Vata dosha, and by the sub-dosha Apana Vata in particular. Because Vata is by nature cool, if excessive heat accumulates due to imbalanced Pitta dosha, it can create an imbalanced environment in the reproductive systems. In addition, the shukra dhatu is a cooling dhatu, as opposed to a heating dhatu such as the blood (rakta dhatu). Shukra needs a cool environment in order to support fertility. Some things thrive in a hot environment; other things cannot. If the reproductive area becomes too hot, it becomes an environment not conducive to fertility.
Foods that are too heating and pungent can result in less quantity and quality of sperm, and less motility of the spermatozoa in a man — and lower quality of the ovum in women. In general, things that enhance the quality, quantity, and motility of sperm also enhance the quality of the ovum. Other aggravators of Pitta are skipping meals, drinking too much alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or taking drugs. These habits can disturb the reproductive tissue and the production of semen and ovum.
What to Wear
Speaking of keeping cool… the adverse effect of heat on the reproductive tissue of both men and women has been known by Ayurveda for thousands of years. Research has shown that, while normally the scrotal sac is kept cool by the body, higher scrotal temperatures above 96 °F can result in a dramatic decline in sperm count. The groin area is always releasing heat that needs to dissipate. So, what we wear becomes an important factor in our ability to keep cool. Wearing tight clothing or sitting for long periods of time can restrict the flow of energy and imbalance Vata dosha — the downward-moving sub-dosha of Apana Vata in particular — which is the seat for the genitourinary tract.
Undergarments with tight elastic waists, and those made of polyester-blend fabrics, can cause imbalance to the reproductive system, because they hold heat in as opposed to allowing heat to flow out of the area. The result of heat not being released properly, and building up, is a disturbance of the overall health of semen and ovum. Western medicine advises men and women to avoid hot baths, saunas and/or hot tubs during times when they are trying to conceive; Ayurveda concurs.
To avoid retaining excessive heat in the genitourinary tract, wear loose undergarments made of natural fabric such as cotton, without a tight elastic band around the waist. If you have a job where you have to sit in one place for long periods, take frequent breaks in order to stretch, breathe deeply, and walk around.
This is also important for creating ojas. Too much heat will decrease your ojas production. Ojas thrives in a balanced environment.
It is important for Vata-dominant people not to misunderstand the explanation above and sacrifice their comfort in an attempt to stay cool. Vata-predominant folks know that they are easily chilled, and with Vata being the seat of reproductive health, it is important to keep balanced. What we are stating here is merely common sense: don’t overheat the reproductive area, but by all means, stay warm and comfortable based on the season.
Create a Soothing Environment
Environmental stress and pollution (whether it’s air, water, sound, electromagnetic, or chemical) can have an effect on a couple that wishes to conceive. Even if you are following the Ayurvedic dietary guidelines and routine and take the appropriate herbal food supplements, if the environment is too polluted it can impact the quality of fertilization.
If you find yourself in this situation, you may consider going on vacation to a quiet place in order to relax and be in a less polluted environment. If a vacation isn’t feasible, you can make your home balanced and restful, and thus provide the clean, quiet, and soothing environment that is supportive to healthy conception. Create your own clean environment inside your home with plants, air purifiers, aromatherapy and soothing music, including Gandharva music therapy. Try Worry Free Aroma Oil or Blissful Heart Aroma Oil to balance the body and mind. Put up photos of happy babies around the home, and spend down time enjoying relaxing, unifying activities.
Another way to balance Apana Vata is to massage your hands and feet before going to bed. Use Youthful Skin Massage Oil for Men or Women and take five minutes or so to give yourself a gentle yet effective abhyanga (self-massage). This helps to ease Apana Vata and also aids in creating deeper sleep.
Ayurveda describes stress as overuse, overtaxing, or misuse of the mind, heart or body. Vata is the first dosha to move. Since it is the seat of reproduction, when Vata is out of balance due to any of these stressors, it can throw the delicate systems that govern reproduction out of balance. Pinpointing the stresses in our lives and deciding which ones are really essential to live with, while letting go of the rest, is a great exercise, not only for starting a family but for a healthy life.
The Transcendental Meditation® technique provides the deep rest needed to dissolve stress, and enables an individual to become more resilient to stress. There are many published studies on the effectiveness of the regular practice of the TM technique. Since vpk® by Maharishi Ayurveda was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who also founded the TM Technique, this is the meditation we discuss and are familiar with.
One of our favorite worry-management herbal formulas, Worry Free, provides natural relief from everyday stress or anxious feelings by relaxing the mind and emotions and supporting clarity of mind. It is one of our most powerful Vata-balancing formulas.
If you tend toward more Pitta imbalance (frustrations), try smoothing the emotional highs and lows throughout the day with our Stress Free Emotions. This powerful Pitta-balancing, and also Vata-balancing, formula reduces anger and increases resistance to emotional stress and fatigue.
Blissful Joy helps alleviate feelings of sadness while uplifting the emotions and supporting resistance to daily stress.
Stress Free Mind helps when we are under a great deal of pressure. This, combined with Stress Free Emotions, forms a powerhouse team.
If you are suffering from physical fatigue, or feeling Kapha imbalance (take our dosha quiz to learn about your unique state), or if you are physically extending yourself more than your natural capacity allows, take Stress Free Body along with one of our dosha-balancing teas.
It is a good idea to cleanse our genitourinary tract and prepare our bodies. A detox program can be started three months before trying to conceive. It is not recommended to try to conceive during a detox program. (Read about our detox programs.) During detox, eating stewed apples for breakfast and including lots of fresh fruits and freshly-cooked vegetables in your diet, is a big help. Spices such as turmeric, cumin, black cumin, and ajowan, when added to the food, also help purify the genitourinary tract. In general, you can follow the guidelines for the bringhana diet already mentioned.
Herbs Targeted to the Reproductive Tract
When a couple has conceived, the woman should stop taking Vital Lady and other herbal formulas. In addition, she should stop eating pineapple and papaya and should minimize spices, avoiding ajowan in particular. Spices in high doses can have an estrogenic effect, and this is not recommended during pregnancy and could have an imbalancing effect. During pregnancy there is a specific dietary regimen recommended by vpk by Maharishi Ayurveda to nourish and support the fetus. A physician trained in Maharishi Ayurveda can help put together a diet plan based on the woman’s individual needs.
There is an entire section of Ayurveda devoted to healthy behaviors, called achara rasayanas. These behaviors create balanced health, and are especially important for the couple that wants to conceive or anyone who wants to increase ojas. For example, following a good Ayurvedic routine (i.e. going to bed before 10:00 p.m., waking up before sunrise, eating our main meal between noon and 2:00 p.m.) are important for balancing Pitta dosha, and preventing too much internal heat that can be damaging to shukra tissue. Anger, jealousy and arrogance also aggravate Sadhaka Pitta, and can disturb healthy conception. Being truthful to yourself and others, and practicing meditation regularly, are other desirable behaviors included in achara rasayanas, and are important in life and in preparation for conception.
Whole Body Support
Maharishi Ayurveda works in a holistic way by enhancing the body’s own ability to help produce healthy sperm and ovum. Maharishi Ayurveda supports not only the physical values of conception, but the spiritual and psychological values as well. Because dietary, behavioral and lifestyle recommendations impact our mental, emotional and spiritual needs, Ayurveda is considered a truly comprehensive and balanced approach to health. Also, Maharishi Ayurveda places a great deal of emphasis on health during conception, pregnancy, and postpartum. This is because, if you take care of the child’s health starting before conception, you may be able to prevent physical, emotional and mental problems throughout the child’s life. This is the way to conceive a truly happy and healthy child who is a joy to the parents and a gift to the world!