According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 10 percent, or 6.1 million, women in the United States have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant each year.
In The Ayurvedic Guide to Fertility: A Natural Approach to Getting Pregnant (New World Library, May 5, 2020), author and Ayurvedic practitioner Heather Grzych offers a gentle, holistic approach to understanding the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of fertility based on Ayurveda, an ancient form of medicine that originated in India that means “the science of life.”
We hope you’ll enjoy this Q and A with Heather about the book.
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What is Ayurveda?
Ayurveda is a holistic lifestyle medicine and self-care system that seeks to cure the emotional, environmental, and behavioral aspects of health. Ayurveda is like learning how to garden – except you are the plant. It teaches a person how to live in line with cycles of nature, including changes in climate and season, and how to eat, live, work and love according to their very specific mind-body constitution. Ayurveda, meaning “the knowledge of life,” actually originated as a practice in India thousands of years ago and it’s often referred to as “the mother of all healing” because it’s influenced so many systems of medicine in the world.
What are the reasons that so many women are having difficulty with fertility today?
Once a woman decides she wants to have a child, it doesn’t always happen quickly, nor is it guaranteed, so women get frustrated, disappointed, sad, resentful, etc. While it’s certainly true that women are now starting much later in life to become a mother, and this is causing them to miss peak fertility windows and experience a lot of challenges, the fertility problem is at its root a deep neglect of the feminine on a cultural level. I don’t think women have fully come to grips with the unique challenges they are dealing with that their grandmothers and maybe even their mothers didn’t have to deal with. Just one example: Over 70 percent of mothers are working mothers, mostly full-time, and while it’s a norm that many women seem to have gotten used to, it’s a lot to ask a woman to work full time, commute two hours a day, take care of her own health, and to try raising a child well. There is a real lack of the space element in everyone’s lives, and space is one of the elements needed for creation. The stress levels, plus digestive, sleep, metabolic, and mood issues that are so common in our culture are key indicators that women and couples do not have the kind of clear, flowing, supported health that leads to optimum fertility, or what we call ojas in Ayurveda. People tend to focus so much on the goal of becoming pregnant that they forget to create the conditions for health and fertility.
Tell us about the Four Fertility Factors of Ayurveda.
This is an example of the real poetry of Ayurveda. There are four factors that influence optimum fertility: Seed, Season, Field and Water. They are the same principles that apply to planting a garden, and I think any creative endeavor, really. In this case, the seed represents the sperm and the ovum. The season represents the time of the month, as the body changes in its cycle; the time of year, because the body changes in response to the weather and climate; and the time of life, as the body changes in each of its stages. Field represents, at a basic level, the place where a new soul will take form in the physical realm – the most specific location of this is the uterus where the seed is implanted, which is impacted by the larger macrocosm – the whole body, the environment one lives in, the people around, the sensory input, and even what happens in the cosmos. Water represents the care of the seeds and the field, including the fluids that carry hormones and nutrients, and keep tissues juicy.
Tell us about the role that diet plays in Ayurveda and fertility.
Fertility in Ayurveda is considered the outcome of proper digestion and metabolism, and that depends on what, when and how you eat, as well as what, when and how you put out energy. Each food you take into your body has certain qualities to it that will drive how your tissues are made and the level of each dosha in your body. Imbalanced doshas will affect menstrual cycles and can impede conception. The way you metabolize your food – whether your digestive fire, or agni, is too weak, too strong or just right – will either allow your body to use the nutrients, release them through wastes, or get clogged up with improperly digested food, ama, which will redirect your doshas and cause disease patterns. Many people will blame their poor health on a diagnosis of a disease, but the opposite is actually true: a disease process leads to a disease state, and we have a hand in this process. It’s not just what you eat. The whole context matters – when you ate last, how much you are eating, how the was food prepared, and what it was combined with. Did you go running or do crunches or have sex right after you ate? Small dietary nuances matter too. For example, a lot of women don’t know that adding a certain spice to their food can have an impact on how they digest, thus impacting their health and fertility.
What is the most important thing that you would like someone who is over 35 to know about getting pregnant?
Drop your expectations and keep your curiosity. Some women have difficulty after 35 and some don’t, so it’s good to learn about your particular body. How you are living your life will impact your health and fertility. My own fertility journey is a testament to this. When I was 32, I unsuccessfully tried to get pregnant. Years later, I easily conceived naturally and had a healthy child just before turning 40.
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Heather Grzych is the author of The Ayurvedic Guide to Fertility. A board-certified Ayurvedic practitioner, she bridges the worlds of conventional and alternative medicine to help women and men heal their physical and emotional lives. Heather is on the board of directors for the National Ayurvedic Medical Association and has consulted with doctors, governments, and insurance companies. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit her online at http://heathergrzych.com.