Yoga to Bolster Baby Development
On my official due date, as night was turning to day, I felt my first contractions. Many hours later, as day gave way to night, my daughter was born. For nine months she had been folded neatly in the womb, her body comfortably in flexion. As she was handed to me, she awkwardly stretched out her arms and tried to straighten her legs. The space to move was hers, for the first time ever, and it was clearly unfamiliar.
As she extended herself into the world and I extended myself into motherhood, we both cried. Her crying eased as I cradled her in my arms and watched her limbs fold gently back to her torso, reconnecting with the familiar. Being a yoga teacher, I had envisioned a potpourri of yoga moves to share with my infant. Holding her for the first time, it was clear that I would practice observation on a new level and let her guide the timing.
Why was I eager to help my daughter move? Perhaps it was to share my love of movement, or spark independent behavior, or maybe to interact with her in a structured way. I knew, instinctively, that it would benefit heróbut how?
Benefits of Early Movement
Parents and caregivers play an essential role in a baby's early movements. Dr. Richard Walls, a pediatrician in La Jolla, California, says the evidence is clear that sustained physical contact and activity with an adult is a primary stimulus of growth in young children. Doing yoga with a baby fosters this beneficial interaction.
According to psychiatrist Erik Erikson, whose Eight Stages of Development are widely taught basics to understanding growing children, learning trust is the basis of healthy social-emotional development. The physical contact of a loving adult fosters trust and starts baby on the lifelong journey of learning about relationshipsóto one's self, to others, and to the world. This contact can also ease a young child's nervous system while bolstering his immunity, circulation, and physical growth.
Not surprisingly, more and more yoga studios are offering parent-and-child yoga classes. These aim to nurture parent/child bonding, deepen parents' observations of their babies' growth, and help parents actively participate in their babies' neuromuscular development. Such classes allow parents a place to focus, relax, and enjoy movement with their children, under the guidance of an educated yoga teacher.
Staying very close to an infant who is younger than four months of age will be most effective in early yoga practice. Keeping her face close to baby's, a parent can set the child down for leg extensions, reaching arms overhead, and a gentle Pavanamuktasana (Wind Relieving Pose). Baby may be more comfortable on mom or dad's belly than on the floor.
Doing yoga with an older baby who can sit, crawl, or walk excites activity on many levels. A child's vision is stimulated, fostering both spatial differentiation and depth perception. She may start to imitate her parents and learn by example. She explores her range of motion, an important expression of potential.
However, the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to put babies on their bellies during waking hours. Playing and exploring the world from this position is essential to a baby's development. Muscle development in an infant starts from head to toe: control of neck muscles comes first, followed by control of the torso and, finally, the muscles of the legs.
Two common yoga poses, Bridge and Downward Facing Dog, are part of a baby's natural yoga repertoire. An infant can do Bridge Pose at about five months of age. This may be her first attempt to put weight on her feet, according to Helen Garabedian, an infant developmental movement educator, registered yoga teacher, and author of Itsy Bitsy Yoga. Babies may also explore the connection between their upper and lower body in Downward Facing Dog Pose. Establishing this coordination is important for crawling.
Sharing yoga mindfulness and yoga moves with a baby will launch her education about relationships. Whether bolstering spatial differentiation, depth perception, range of motion, or interpersonal trust, practicing yoga moves with a baby is a boon to her neuromuscular development and to the parent-child bonding experience.