Baby yoga is delightful and playful and every postnatal partnership should have the chance to experience it. Not everyone has access to a nearby class but by outlining some of the basic movements and postures for you to incorporate into your daily rhythms and routines you can reap the benefits of this wonderful practice. This article will focus particularly on babies from 4 weeks to crawling, but there are many ways to include yoga in a toddler’s hectic life and some teachers are now taking children’s yoga into schools (see Resources section for further details).
Emotional benefits Many mothers struggle to feel an instant bond with their babies, feeling daunted by the responsibility and enormity of their new role. This can lead to depression and feelings of isolation, or to an inability to express the love they know they have. The simple act of touching and playing with your baby in a loving way can help strengthen the emotional connection between a mother (or carer) and child. By incorporating massage into a baby yoga routine you can ensure you are nurturing our baby’s fundamental need for loving touch. Often people are nervous about handling small babies, but baby yoga can really build confidence and trust - before you know it you’ll be sitting them on your head and flying them on your legs. All babies are, of course, different, and you quickly come to know and understand your own baby’s likes and dislikes, responding more effectively to their cues. Classes can provide the space to explore new relationships with your baby and other parents, and they offer new parents an uplifting and fun way to pass the precious yet often mundane early months of parenthood.
Physical benefits In addition to these important emotional benefits, baby yoga can also assist your baby’s physical development. Many of the demons of early babyhood – colic, inconsolable crying, sleeplessness - can be improved through regular practice of simple movements. Baby yoga stimulates the digestive, nervous and vestibular (controlling balance) systems, elongates and strengthens the spine, assists in the shift from involuntary reflexes to intentional movements and can encourage progression into the next developmental stage. The use of diagonal movements and stretches helps to connect both sides of the brain, whilst songs and rhymes are recognised and associated with certain activities.
First Hip Sequence These movements and stretches are great for stimulating the digestive system and can often produce powerful expulsions - beware! This is the basic sequence, which can be added to once you are both happy and confident with these movements. Your baby should be lying on his/her back either on a cushion or blanket, with you in a comfortable seated position at their feet.
1 Take both calves in your hands and gently press the legs to the abdomen, release and repeat a few times
2 Take the right leg and cross it over the abdomen towards the opposite hip, then do the same with the left. Repeat. You can add a little waltz rhythm by including a ‘clap clap’ of the feet after each stretch - babies love this!
3 Bring the soles of the feet together so the knees are pointing out and the hips are open. You can include a gentle rolling movement in small circles to massage your baby’s lower back
4 Holding the ankles bring both legs up and over the body towards the chest, hold briefly and then release. Some babies like the feeling of their legs being ‘dropped’ back down, others need more steady motion
Relaxation This may take some time for your baby to get used to. In my classes the first relaxation is usually a mass of crying, wriggling and me juggling various babies whilst the parents lie with one eye closed and pretend to be drifting off into a state of deep peacefulness. But persevere and it can be a time when your baby learns to respect your need for quiet and space - however brief it can be so rejuvenating. You can either do this lying down with your baby alongside you, walking whilst holding your baby close, or sitting down and feeding. Once you are comfortable take three deep breaths in and out, imagining your body filling with light on the inhalation and then breathe out any crying or stress from the day. Relax your body whilst staying aware of your baby. It may be helpful to imagine a ‘bubble of peace’ surrounding your baby, keeping them safe while you connect with yourself. Even if the peace only lasts a few seconds, try to use it to nurture yourself – you are your baby’s lifeline. This is only an outline of some of the basic movements, but hopefully it will give you plenty of funfilled chances to bond with your baby. It could lead to improved sleep, less crying and the strengthening of your baby’s developing body. Happy playing!
VISIT birthlight.com (for classes in your area)
EXPLORE gicm.org (Guild of Infant and Child Massage)
READ Baby Yoga by Francoise Barbira Freedman (Barrons Educational Series Inc)