By Stacie Fogelberg
Babies benefit from yoga in many ways. They experience better and longer sleep, improved digestion, ease of gas pains, and relief from fussiness and colic. Yoga encourages a healthy lifestyle, strengthens the bond between parent and child, improves the immune system and neuromuscular development, and promotes a positive body image. This essay will focus on how yoga creates healthy sleep patterns for babies, and in turn restores more regular sleep for parents.
I remember after giving birth to my daughter I wanted to introduce her as soon as possible to yoga. Yoga had been something I had done everyday with her while she was in my womb and as it prepared me to be a more loving, understanding, healthy, and patient mother I wanted the same for her. My daughter also developed colic symptoms around 3 weeks after being born so I found myself searching for any remedies for the fussiness, gas pains, and restlessness that she began to show. I remember feeling helpless and feeling that there was no support out there from the medical community on non-medicine techniques I could use to help my baby. I am in hopes that these four poses will help any mother in her struggle to find a few minutes everyday to calm and bond with her baby. The book, Itsy Bitsy Yoga by Helen Garabedian became my lifeline to the world of yoga for babies and toddlers.
Babies are natural yogis, however the natural movement babies need to experience is being reduced with the overuse of confining baby holding devices such as infant car seats, walkers, seated activity centers and strollers. Along with our busy lifestyles comes with it a very rushed society where children are not allowed to even walk at their own pace without being told to “hurry up”. The top 5 reasons babies are natural yogis is that: babies prefer to breathe through their nose, they are only concerned with the present moment, babies love unconditionally, practice non-violence, and practice yoga postures naturally as part of their development.
Yoga can take as little as 20 seconds to as long as 25 minutes so when I hear the excuse from parents that I don’t have time, I have to wonder and ask them “how long do you spend checking facebook? email? or watching television a day?” I’m sure if you shortened the time you did all three of these things you could find a few minutes everyday to do yoga.
As stated above, Helen Garabedian’s book, Itsy Bitsy Yoga, explains a series of yoga poses called the “sleep well series” which can be made part of your babies bed time routine or you can use it at anytime your baby wakes in the middle of the night. The series is composed of four poses: Dolphin, Scoop n’ Hug, Bukka Bukka and Heart Warm Touch. It is important to set the mood by dimming the lights in the room, soften any background noise or you can always use soft music or white noise if you live in a loud, busy city. Newborns find calmness through touch or movement because it is familiar to them. In the womb, babies were held twenty four hours a day and moved as mom moved throughout the day.
The first pose Dolphin is similar to when you hold your baby to burp them after feeding. Sit with your back against the wall or similar surface while prepping your right knee at a 45 degree angle. Keep your feet on the floor. Position your baby on her or his tummy on your thigh. Slide your hand between your thigh and your baby. Locate your babies sacrum by imagining that he/she is wearing tiny jeans and place your first two fingers together on the middle lower part of the babies back and begin to tap slowly and rhythmically for 5-30 seconds. This tapping on the spine will soothe the nervous system and relax your baby.
The second pose is the Scoop n’ Hug, which is exactly the movement. The purpose of this movement is to bring your baby as close to you as possible so you can feel one another’s heartbeat, something very familiar to your newborn. Place your arms under your baby and slowly scoop him in an upright position and bring your baby to your chest and mindfully hold him/her close. Rest here for several minutes choosing to move side to side if your baby prefers movement over stillness and if you are not sure what your baby prefers spend a few minutes doing both to see if he/she prefers one over the other movement.
The third pose is called Bukka Bukka. Bukka is the sanskrit word for heart. Continue sitting comfortably and cuddle your baby’s heart near your own. Position your baby in the middle of your chest and rest your chin on the top of your baby’s head. Tenderly sing the words “I love you” or gently say, “Shhhhhhh” use a soft, resonating voice. Continue for up to 45 seconds or longer as your baby feels comfortable.
The fourth pose is called Heart Warm Touch; nothing feels better than being skin to skin with your baby. Sit comfortably with your knees at a 45 degree leaving your feet flat on the floor. Rest your baby on top of your thighs, facing you with his/her feet closest to your belly. Place the palms of your hands on your baby’s tummy and chest. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths while imagining your heart and your hands beginning to glow. Place your left hand on his/her belly while using your right hand to caress his/her entire body or leave your hands in place which will calm your baby.
Once you begin to use these four poses every day you will begin to see how it can bring comfort to your baby’s rapidly changing body. As a baby grows, so will her/his repertoire of favorite yoga poses. It’s important to remember to start with minimum repetitions, small movements, stop as needed, slow down and surrender your expectations.
It is best to practice yoga with a baby that has been fed already and is not overly tired. You can choose to practice it with your baby in the morning, afternoon, evening or in the middle of the night. Your baby can practice as much yoga as she/he is willing to do. Adults usually wait an hour or more after eating before their yoga practice but babies can practice shortly after eating. Always use your judgement and avoid bouncy yoga poses with your baby for about thirty minutes after your baby has eaten, this will lessen the chance of your baby spitting up. If your baby has reflux, use an inclined position to elevate her/his head slightly higher than her/his stomach. You can also use a bouncer seat or Boppy.
At the end of each series of poses it’s always important to end it in a relaxation pose. Traditionally, the relaxation pose-Shavasana- ends every yoga practice. However, with most babies you are not going to see them quietly relaxing on their backs so you can just simply hold your baby upright to your chest, close your eyes, and sing to your baby. You can also do a few other relaxation poses to see which one works best for both of you. You can lie on your back and place a pillow or blanket under your knees to relieve lower back pain. Babies can then lie on their bellies on top of your chest. You can also place the baby so that he or she is lying comfortably next to you also, if your baby is sitting or almost sitting you can position the baby sitting with his or her back against your thighs. Repeat the word Namaste, expressed in an Indian greeting meaning I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you which is of love, truth, light and peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are one. Anytime you spend in relaxation will boost your energy and leave you feeling refreshed. Savasana may be the most important pose of the yoga practice. It is a time to allow the body to rest and restore after moving and stretching through a series of poses. Taking the time to rest in savasana gives the body a chance to return to its baseline. The breathing slows and the heart rate returns to normal, even the brain has a chance to relax. During this time you allow the brain to stay in the present moment, which babies are better at then adults, as you spend time in savasana with your baby it’s important for you to also stay in the present moment, when the mind begins to wander (which it will and is very normal) bring it back to the present moment by focusing on the breath.
Now that you know at least one series, it’s important to learn different poses and techniques you can use throughout your babies developmental stage. There are many books, CD’s and DVD’s out there to help parents and caregivers share yoga with their babies. I always believe that not only are you giving life skills to your child but you are also showing her or him how important it is to take care of yourself and slow down by taking care of your own health and well being. You are showing the importance of slowing down, being present, and taking slow, deep breaths to allow oxygen to fill your body so that you are able to be a better person so you can tackle this fast paced world we live in today.
Best advice I can give any parent throughout your child’s life is this; there will be challenging times and times that make your heart glow with love but no matter what happens throughout the day just remember to BREATHE. When we smile or belly laugh our breath naturally deepens, and our body relaxes as it fills with endorphins. Anxiety, crying, or screaming cause breathing to become shallow and the body to contract. So remember to smile as you take that long, deep breath. Namaste.
Stacie Fogelberg is a certified Yoga teacher. She teaches classes in Overland Park, Kansas.