Guest blog by Dr. Jamie Wick, D.O.M., an acupuncturist and herbalist.
A Return to True Nature
Humans are meant to live in harmony with our true nature. The best way to do this is to observe the sun, the trees, the birds and the animals. Notice when the sun rises and sets. Watch the animals and the plants to see what they do, and how they move through the day and the cycle of seasons. Most animals rest at night. As the sun comes up in the summer you can hear a lot of activity outside; in the winter, it is quiet and still. The sap in the trees rises in the spring and summer; in the winter, the sap goes inward. Animals reproduce with a certain rhythm. Plants and flowers all bloom according to their own inner clock. Nature is the greatest teacher for us, and observing nature is one of the best ways to help us discover how to return to our true nature.
Nowadays distractions abound, and many people do not follow these natural rhythms—phones, social media, the latest television shows, social commitments and many other things take us away from ourselves. The phone chimes and we jump to see what message has arrived. Many people do not leave their work at the workplace and may be expected to keep at it after hours. The Internet makes it easy to stay up until 11 p.m., or even well into the next day. Many people spend long hours at a desk, staring at a computer screen—they do not move enough, get too little sleep, and almost no time is spent “just being.” These habits are less than ideal when it comes to pregnancy—over time, they cause a disruption to our natural circadian rhythms and also to our fertility.
One of the ancient Chinese medical texts, the Nei Jing (The Internal Classic of Medicine), states that in the summer, one can go to bed late and wake up early. In the winter, one should go to bed early and wake up late. This makes sense because if we follow this wisdom, we are naturally following the rhythms of light and dark.
“When the Qi from Heaven moves into the Blood of Earth, a new form of life begins. The strength and initiation of this movement is ruled by Yang, but it is the essence of Yin and its ability to receive and gather that is essential for the creation of new life.”
Creating a baby is the fusion of yin and yang. Yin and yang are used to describe everything in the universe—day and night, light and dark, man and woman, heaven and earth, receptive and active. The act of becoming pregnant is an act of receptivity. A woman receives the sperm and receives the light of heaven; then fertilization occurs and a baby is created. To be receptive in order to welcome this gift means that one must be receptive in other ways as well. Receptivity in our daily life is an act of simply being. How much time do we spend just being? How often do we sit and do nothing? Very little. Life is full of distractions that our monkey minds truly enjoy, such as being able to jump from one thing to another. Smartphones have made it easier than ever in history to be constantly distracted.
When was the last time you sat beside some water and watched the ebb and flow? Or sat in the woods and watched all the little creatures in movement? Could you add this into your daily life? Nature has a special way of cleansing the nervous system—it can literally be our reset button and a key to improved sleep, less anxiety and depression, and increased fertility. When our nervous system is calm, we feel increased inner peace and well-being, and a sensation that anything is possible. When the nervous system is on high speed, the opposite is true—we feel anxious and restless, and it is hard to imagine the possibilities. In addition, it is difficult for the body to receive a baby in this state.
In order for pregnancy to occur and to take hold, it is especially important to cultivate yin. The first month of pregnancy is an especially yin time since it is when the blood and fluids consolidate and start to take form. There is increased blood flow to the uterus and less blood circulating to the rest of the body. As a result, women may be more inclined to rest, read a book, and in general move slowly. If you have already been cultivating receptivity, these activities will come naturally, and the pregnancy is more likely to take hold.
The Science: Flight or Flight
Physiologically, there is an explanation for all of this. When we are running to get places, worried about work, stressed about a conversation with a loved one, or waking up in the middle of the night thinking about the next day, we are most likely stuck in a fight or flight response. In nature, an animal that is faced with a stressor will literally run away or fight. Ten minutes after the event, the animal is done with the event and ready to go back to grazing. Animals live in the eternal present. Humans, however, were given a mind, and our minds dwell in the past or in the future. We replay events from earlier in the day or even from weeks ago, and we worry about the future. The mind does everything possible to keep us from being in the present moment.
What does this mean for fertility? Well, when we are faced with a stressful situation, we generally do not let go of the stressor minutes after the event, like a deer might. Humans hold onto it, replay the event, and stay stuck in the fight or flight response. Physiologically, when we are faced with a stressful experience, cortisol levels rise, digestion slows down, the heart begins to beat faster, and blood flows into the limbs and away from the organs responsible for digestion and reproduction. The problem is, when we are not able to hit the reset button, cortisol levels remain high. High cortisol levels are responsible for numerous health issues, including difficulty conceiving. When cortisol levels are high, the body literally says “no baby, no way, it is not safe to make a baby,” even though the mind might be telling it otherwise. In fight or flight mode, the body is focused on survival. Making a baby is not possible in this state.
In a study of 274 women, higher levels of stress, measured by alpha-amylase in the saliva, correlated with more difficulty getting pregnant. It is commonly accepted that ovulation can be affected by stress and other factors. In another study from 2003, researchers found that women with high cortisol levels often did not ovulate each month.
What can you do to reduce stress and calm the nervous system?
Over time, acupuncture treatments can reduce cortisol levels and reset the nervous system. As an acupuncturist I watch people fall asleep right in front of my eyes on a daily basis. My patients tell me that they can move through their day with more ease once they start getting regular acupuncture treatments. While there are some studies to support this, the best evidence comes from what acupuncturists around the country see on a daily basis. In one study of hypertensive patients, heart rate variability increased over a span of weeks to months after receiving acupuncture, indicating a decrease in stress. In another study, researchers found that acupuncture helped improve perceived levels of stress.
Even though acupuncture is pretty amazing, I also recommend the following other tips to my patients to reduce stress and improve fertility:
- Chinese herbal medicine can also help lower stress levels, improve the quality of the blood, and remove any blockages that might be preventing pregnancy from occurring.
- Spend time in nature. As previously mentioned, nature has a way of helping the stress melt off and resetting the nervous system.
- Spend time meditating every day. There are numerous apps nowadays to help increase mindfulness in everyday life. Mindfulness meditation can improve fertility, and Circle+Bloom has a wonderful mindfulness program for decreasing stress and increasing the body’s chances of getting pregnant. Acupuncture combined with Circle+Bloom’s program can yield even better results. My patients who come to acupuncture regularly and use the Circle+Bloom program daily are able to get pregnant with more ease.
- Meditation does not have to be something you do when you wake up in the morning. If you can spend 1 minute observing your breath while you are on the train or waiting at a red light, you are adding meditation bonus points into your life, which will also help your nervous system.
- While gentle exercise can reduce stress, vigorous exercise can sometimes increase stress. Be sure to include walking, yoga, or other gentle exercise in your routine.
- Adopt a gratitude practice. Gratitude will reduce the body’s cortisol levels immediately. How many times throughout the day can you find something to be grateful for? We have so much to be grateful for in our lives, even when things are difficult. I recommend including a gratitude practice in your life, first thing in the morning and last thing before bed. You get gratitude bonus points if you can remember what you are grateful for throughout the day as well.
- Drink Tulsi tea. Tulsi can reset the nervous system and lower cortisol levels.
As with any health concern, it is important to take a multidimensional approach. If you are able to see an acupuncturist for your fertility concerns, you may be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Dr. Jamie Wick, D.O.M. is an acupuncturist and herbalist in the Washington, D.C. area. While she enjoys treating a wide variety of conditions, she also has a special interest in natural fertility. She can be reached at www.pointoflightacupuncture.com with more questions or to schedule an in-person or virtual consult.