5 Feb 2021
Yoga path to motherhood
As women opt to have children later on in life – the number of births to mothers aged 40 and above grew almost 90% in the past decade – fertility is becoming more of a struggle, with many relying on fertility treatments such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) to fall pregnant. Before resorting to such drastic measures, some try to boost their fertility naturally with supplements, acupuncture and yoga.
French yoga lover Claire Vandenhoeck set up Her Yoga Practice in Hong Kong just more than a year ago and began offering classes in January last year from a studio in the Central business district. Last September, she launched a 10-week online fertility programme to complement the yoga classes and connect with other women who were on the same journey.
Hardly did Ms Vandenhoeck expect to become a businesswoman when she came to Hong Kong from France seven years ago looking for adventure. “I practised yoga as everyone else was doing it,” she recalled. A passionate convert, she began practising yoga regularly and pioneered offering fertility-focused yoga classes aimed to boost women’s chances of conceiving and improve their reproductive health.
“The sessions are tailor-made to each woman’s cycle, with visualisations before ovulation,” explained Ms Vandenhoeck.
About 60% of her clients are trying to conceive while 40% practise yoga to ease symptoms of premenstrual syndrome and endometriosis. The majority, aged 30 to 45, have begun a fertility programme and have been trying to fall pregnant for several years. “They may have tried IVF and it didn’t work out, and they may have suffered miscarriages. Some have never tried yoga before,” Ms Vandenhoeck said.
A wake-up call
As the average age of pregnancy increases in Hong Kong, she sees a growing need for services such as hers, particularly in such a fast-paced city. “What happened with COVID-19 was a wake-up call for many that they haven’t been prioritising their health. Hong Kong is full of type-A personalities, people who follow the ‘work hard play hard’ mentality. When they start a family, they may not be at their best, either physically or emotionally.” There is nothing wrong with prioritising careers but it can overshadow dreams of having a baby. “For some, it can be a journey that’s very disempowering and stressful,” she acknowledged.
With opportunities to meet face to face limited, launching the online membership platform late last year made sense. “Members love the yoga but they also love the community aspect, and the 10-week programme is all about that. The women look forward to meeting and provide guidance and support to one another. It’s about creating a space for women to be heard,” she said.
Fertility yoga helps women rebalance their hormones, she said. “Fight or flight leads to you producing more cortisol, which competes with reproductive hormones, so the body allocates resources to survival. We want to promote hormonal balance so clients can feel at peace with their body and mind,” she added.
The business owner is pragmatic on what her classes can achieve, however. “You can never say for sure if the yoga has helped you, as getting pregnant depends on so many different factors – from social and physical to emotional and environmental.” Nevertheless, she feels that Her Yoga Practice can offer a sense of emotional stability and resilience to clients.
Like many Hong Kong-based entrepreneurs, Ms Vandenhoeck found setting up her business in Hong Kong was very straightforward and efficient. “It’s great to get someone to do the paperwork and accounting that’s affordable. I hate doing admin tasks! To know I’m in a city where those things are easy to do means I can focus on adding value,” she said.
The yoga lover is keen to reach out to other women based in Asia and plans to focus on growing her client base in the region. “There’s a need for these types of services across the region, and I’d like to help more women,” she said. The pandemic has forced her to shelve a planned trip to Bali to teach fertility yoga, but the company’s expansion drive looks set to get a boost from its online programme.
“I want to have one part of the business online and another in person, and it’s important that I’m able to keep that freedom and flexibility [in the business]. Online is essential at the moment, but of course I want to offer yoga classes in person too,” she said.
The natural route
Ms Vandenhoeck is interested in working with medical practitioners and hospitals to help women boost fertility before they go down the chemical route to pregnancy. She sees it as a complement to other treatment or an alternative to medically induced pregnancy. “Not everyone can afford IVF,” she pointed out.
The entrepreneur is already offering an hour-long session of acupuncture as part of her fertility programme and believes traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) can be part of her clients’ fertility journey. “My members love acupuncture,” she said.
Men can also benefit from fertility yoga, and such classes are already available for couples trying to conceive in the United States and Europe. Ms Vandenhoeck hopes to hold some fertility yoga classes for couples later on in the year.
Her Yoga Practice