Supported Child's Pose
Each of us needs a haven in this world, a place that offers comfort during difficult times. For some people, this may be a peaceful spot in a sunny garden. For others, it may be the supportive arms of a loved one or a favorite activity, like a long run along a familiar country road.
These sanctuaries create a sense of safety and protection when we feel tossed about by the tumultuous winds of life. They help us feel free from danger, calm, soft, and able to once again breathe a few easy, healing breaths.
For me, the restorative version of Child's Pose, Salamba Balasana, offers just such a shelter from life's inevitable storms. I consider the pose to be a good friend whom I can turn to when the world has wearied my heart and when my mind cries out for comfort and relief.
A forward-bending posture, it soothes frazzled nerves, teaches back-body breathing, and gently supports the vital energy centers of the belly, heart, and head. Its tightly wrapped shape envelops the front of the body, allowing us to soften and release protective holding patterns in the abdomen.
This version of the asana is my favorite, and while it's a bit prop heavy, I believe that rounding up every last blanket in the house is well worth the effort. Be patient with the preparation and trust that your body and mind will be well rewarded.
To begin, fold five blankets so that each is about eight to 12 inches wide and long enough to support your torso and head when you fold forward. Neatly stack three of the blankets on top of one another and position them on your yoga mat. Form a second stack with the last two blankets and place it within arm's reach.
Sit astride one end of the thicker stack with your knees, your shins, and the tops of your feet resting on the floor. Stay here for just a moment, readjusting your knees and feet as needed so you feel completely comfortable.
Now place the two-blanket stack atop the three-blanket stack in front of your pelvis, so your stomach and chest will be gently supported when you bend forward over it. Take care to ensure that all the blankets are neatly folded and even, so when you bend forward, the support will be smooth and firm.
As you sit on top of the blankets, rise up through your heart and broaden your collarbones, so the front of your body feels both long and spacious. Soften your skin, deepen your breath, and invite feelings of tenderness and tranquility to melt inward toward your core.When you're ready to nestle into Child's Pose, inhale as you stretch your spine toward the sky, then exhale as you fold forward from the hips, allowing the torso to settle into the support you've created in front of you. Take care to lengthen the front of your spine as you go forward, leaving ample space for the torso to stretch out fully. Turn your head to one side and rest it on the blankets as you relax your arms comfortably on the floor on either side of the bolster.
Once you're situated, your belly, heart, and head should all rest contentedly on the cushions beneath you. If not, make a few adjustments so the shape of your blanket stack supports your body.
First, consider adding or removing blankets to find a more comfortable distance from the floor. There's no right or wrong placement of the blankets—some people simply prefer more support in the deep belly, while others do not. So feel free to experiment with your setup to discover the perfect arrangement for you.
If you are tight in the hips or achy in the knees, for example, you might like more support beneath your pelvis when you rest forward. If so, add one or more blankets to the thick stack on which you're sitting. This additional distance between the pelvis and the ground will create a little more space for the legs and relieve some of the pressure you may feel in the knees and feet.
If, on the other hand, you feel like your arms and legs are dangling precipitously from your blankets, you might want to subtract a few blankets. You might even prefer the less-supported version of the pose, in which the hips rest on the heels in the traditional version of Balasana and just the upper body rests on a bolster.
Second, consider shifting the upper blanket stack either closer to or farther away from your pelvis until you find the position that's most comfortable for your abdomen.
Third, make sure your head is well supported and not dangling off the front edge of the blankets. If the head isn't resting comfortably, slip another blanket or a firm pillow beneath the far end of the stack until the chin and forehead are level and even.
And finally, if as you rest here, you feel like any part of your front torso is unable to fully surrender, consider wedging a small blanket or a towel between that part of your body and the support beneath. I often roll up a thin blanket and slip it just beneath my collarbones, so my throat and heart are able to release evenly. You may find a part of your own body that responds well to additional support.
Settle In and Surrender
You'll know you've found just the right arrangement when you feel yourself dropping into the blankets or bolster with a blissful smile and a gigantic sigh of relief. Once this happens, your only job is to settle in and surrender. Encourage every cell in your body to soften and unclench, so with each breath, you feel yourself melting farther into the cushion of support beneath you.
As you rest here, invite gravity to pull the legs deeply toward the earth to release any lingering tension in the hips and thighs. Soften the muscles of the lower back and release the tailbone toward the heels. At the same time, spread your shoulder blades apart as your arms dangle like vines toward the floor.
Unwind, soften, and let go. Close your eyes, unfurrow the brow, and release the jaw. Unclench your hands and feet. Dissolve the armor around your back so the skin feels soft and unwrinkled, forming a blanket of comfort around your body. Encourage your entire body to feel tender, spacious, and at ease.
After a few minutes in the pose, your torso may have relaxed so much that it needs more space to lengthen. If so, press your hands into the ground, lift the torso a few inches away from the support, and slip the belly toward the heart, the heart toward the head, and the head toward the front of the stack. Then slowly release the torso back down onto the blankets, letting the spine elongate forward.
Try Balasana Breathing
Now consider your breath. For the first few moments in Salamba Balasana, your inhalations and exhalations may feel choppy and short, since the front body is so deeply supported that it isn't able to participate as fully as usual in the breathing process. But after resting quietly for several minutes, your body will likely discover new breathing patterns that encourage the back to expand to more completely accommodate the ebb and flow of the breath.
Every time you inhale, let the shoulder blades and the back of your waist rise and spread like a dry sponge absorbing water. Every time you exhale, envision the fibers of the back melting toward the cushion of support. The inhalations should be long and wide, filling out the nooks and crannies of your back. The exhalations should feel warm and endless. Enjoy the ease and tranquility that the gentle, undulating rhythm of the breath evokes.
Rest in Supported Child's Pose for at least three to five minutes, or for as long as you feel comfortable, turning the head to face the opposite direction when you're halfway through your time in the pose. Relax the head, relieving your shoulders of the burden of holding it up high. Encourage the heart to melt into the support beneath. Unclench the belly and let the outer world dissolve away as you draw your awareness inward toward the center of your being.
Now envision your back as a soft blanket surrounding you that offers shelter from the troubles of the world. Notice how the vital organs of the front of your body are well protected by the soft shell of the back, and allow any feelings of safety this creates to melt into the marrow of your bones.
Enjoy this sense of letting go, feeling every last ounce of tension drain from your body into the earth. Release every muscle in your body and experience how there is no place to fall. In a sense, you've already fallen—into a deep and soulful space with no threat and no fear. All that is left is an ocean of tranquility.
Claudia Cummins teaches yoga in central Ohio.