GETTING CONNECTED WITH YOUR MIND & BODY, AND YOUR FAMILY
There are few absolute truths in life, but as a parent, I feel I can say one of them is that Charlottesville’s a great place to raise children. With the constant streaming of young families, this area boasts a huge number of resources and services that cater to caregivers and children. There’s story hour, playgroups galore and almost as many playgrounds and afternoons at the Virginia Discovery Museum. There are art classes, language classes and exercise classes—the list is endless.
One activity that deserves special consideration, whether doing it at home or partaking in a local class, is caregiver and baby yoga. It doesn’t matter whether or not you were a practicing yogi before parenthood; there are a multitude of physical and mental benefits to spending some time practicing yoga alongside your baby and/or child. It also gives you an opportunity to develop greater intimacy and a connection with your young child.
Caregivers can utilize babies as free weights, and they can benefit from infant stretching and massage, as well as tummy time. As babies become walkers, they and their caregivers can advance to moving their bodies together, such as like acting as animals.
Types of Poses to Try
The yoga standard of Downward Facing Dog (Adhomukha Svanasana) is dog with a child beneath their caregiver and renamed “spider” for the eight limbs that stretch out. “Octopus” takes the classic Boat Pose (Navasana) where the yogi balances on their sitz bones and lifts their arms and legs in the air, and adds the child to the adult’s lap. Bend classes also use feathers, pom poms and other fun props to encourage breathwork, helping children learn from an early age how to control and alter their breathing. Savasana, the traditional ending to a hatha yoga class, involves lying on your back, eyes closed and body relaxed: a final bit of rest before returning to a busy toddler day.
As children grow older, the emphasis on balance, focus and equilibrium is so great.
A physical therapist who works at the University of Virginia Hospital, McKinley Lee is not only a mother of two but also is aware of the benefits for yoga for infants, babies and young children from the professional perspective of both a yoga instructor and a physical therapist. “As a new mom, classes helped me to see what was possible with my son’s head and trunk control. As children grow older, the emphasis on balance, focus and equilibrium is so great. It really helps with digestion and sleep, too.”
Some Benefits of Yoga for Kids
As Lee articulates, one big advantage of caregiver-and-child classes is that caregivers and their children get out of the house. Cox loves watching pregnant mothers bond in prenatal yoga, have their babies and transition to postnatal yoga, and form a supportive community around their classes. Often after attending yoga, new friends will head out to the playground and lunch.
Debbie Ku began taking classes midway through her pregnancy in August 2014. Now she and her son Ethan, who just turned two, attend toddler class. In toddler classes, the caretakers do less yoga, but the adults are still providing an example for the children and build a bond. While Ethan is usually running around the room during class—what Ku describes as “bouncing off the walls” when they do their nightly yoga routine—it’s clear he’s absorbing what happens during his time there. His favorite pose, Downward Facing Dog, helps stretch his spine and provides a gentle inversion to calm the brain. Of course, Ethan also loves the “pig pose,” where he lies on his back and bends his legs in the air so that his knees try to meet his hips (other yogis may recognize this pose as “happy baby).”
Getting Started with Yoga Post-Partum
Classes help set a foundation for a more consistent yoga routine. This should happen organically, with an eye to fun and an appreciation for the silly. If you’re a recent post-partum parent, ease and comfort are the order of the day. Try for a five- to ten-minute yoga ritual, possibly tagging on to the post-bath time, or any other time when your baby is fed and not over-tired. A few gentle cat and cow poses, then pressing up to downward facing dog pose, while your baby lies below you on a yoga mat or boppy, are enough to establish a beneficial ritual. Try for consistency, but do not feel pressure to let go of a day or two as you adjust to your new life as a parent. If you’re feeling good, you can hold a baby carefully against you and play with some simple balance poses, standing on one leg or moving into tree pose. At this stage, being in touch with your breath, your baby’s breath and the new ways your body has of moving are enough. Yoga time is also a great opportunity to build in some tummy-time, which is recommended for all babies, two or three times a day for three to five minutes at a time. A small yoga ritual can be a time-out for both you and your child to relax and reconnect during a busy day.
You don’t have to teach children that it feels good to move: they naturally know, and being able to get in touch with their playfulness and silliness is nothing short of magical.
As time passes and your child transitions from newborn to baby, it’s easy to build on the consistency of your early routine. If you approach your time as an exploration, you may find you have much to learn from a baby. You don’t have to teach children that it feels good to move: they naturally know, and being able to get in touch with their playfulness and silliness is nothing short of magical. Several yoga poses take their names from the wisdom of babies: think of child’s pose—balasana, the classic restorative position that provides a stretch for the back and hips, while simultaneously relaxing the shoulders and neck (particularly important for a breastfeeding mother). And then there’s happy baby pose (Kelly Cox’s pig pose)—ananda balasana, which is also a great pose for the hips. You can also include aspects of infant massage, which is so helpful for digestion, muscle tone and neural pathways. Allow formality to be kept to a minimum, and don’t get hung up on the idea of a perfect yoga pose (or perfect parenting!).
As babies become toddlers and then full-fledged children, their attention span for yoga is pretty short. But, yoga’s good for kids, as are parents and a healthy parenting environment. Yoga helps us connect to our kids in a different way. Maybe it gives you that extra second when your kid is driving you nuts. By connecting with your body, mind and breath, yoga can help you approach parenting in a loving way. And for kids, the primary caregiver is the model for how they approach the world. Maybe yoga can help bring some balance into their lives, without kids even stepping onto a yoga mat.
Images 2 & 3 by Angela Levy Photography
writes and raises her daughters in Charlottesville. She is a 200-hour certified yoga instructor.
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