Baby yoga. What is it and why should we care?
We explore the ins and outs (and ups and downs) of sharing a mat with your mini.
When presented with the notion of yoga for babies, I scrutinized it as I would a designer diaper bag. A lovely idea, in theory, but do I really need it? Amid the plethora of mommy-and-me offerings – music classes, French lessons, sign-language… even Salsa dancing – why choose yoga? Babies are naturally bendy, are they not? It isn’t called a ‘happy baby’ for nothing. However, on closer inspection, there’s more to baby yoga than child’s play (or poses, for that matter).
First things first. What is it, exactly?
Baby yoga tends to mean one of two things – an adult yoga class that you bring baby along to, or yoga that is actually for your baby. In a parent-focused class, bub takes the role of spectator-slash-adorable-prop.
“The babies lie on a blanket in front of the parents’ yoga mat,” explains Neelu Shruti, of Love Child yoga studio in New York. “Throughout class, which includes upper body stretches and glute strengthening, we will include baby in poses such as ‘push-up kiss baby’, or hold baby while doing squats, lunges or abdominal exercises.”
Love Child studio’s Baby & Me Yoga class (mindfully named so as not to exclude the dads) incorporates restorative poses and sequences well suited to new parents – so long as they’re okay with the occasional flow interruption and not-so-silent Savasana.
“Babies of course will be babies, and during class will roll around, do tummy time, cry, sleep, play, need a diaper change or need to be fed,” says Neelu. “Sometimes parents get the whole hour to work out, sometimes it’s a half hour, depending on how baby is doing… often the hardest part of yoga is getting to yoga.”
But there are, according to Neelu, ample reasons to abandon your landslide of laundry for a class such as this.
“Since it’s time spent observing and not immediately reacting to the baby, it helps new parents understand their baby’s cues,” she says. “It’s also is an opportunity to work out without having to get childcare but, most importantly, it helps new parents make a habit of centering themselves, leaving the house and creating time for themselves.”
Bub also benefits by being in the presence of other babies, “taking often intense individual focus off of them”, Neelu adds. “Giving babies free time to move and explore allows them to develop their own movement and gives them more bonding time with the parent.”
Putting the focus squarely on your tot is the other kind of baby yoga – actual baby yoga.
“A [typical] class follows the pattern of a warm-up stretch for both carer and baby, some dry massage, then stretching and actions for different parts of the body,” says West London Babies’ Caroline Barber, who recommends waiting until bub is 10-12 weeks old before hitting the mat. “Babies are in many different positions throughout the class and there’s a fair amount of stimulation, which helps induce a great sleep after the session!”
According to Caroline, while babies are naturally flexible, carefully administered positions such as baby tree, baby mountain, mini boat and mini cobra can aid in opening up their bodies and relaxing their reflexes. “Baby Yoga is brilliant for helping babies to stretch, become more flexible, increase their co-ordination and improve muscle tone and balance,” she says. “It’s also wonderful for helping to build on sensory processing, and gives baby more of a sense of spatial awareness.”
All that skin-to-skin and eye contact will have you and bub bonding like crazy and, if you’re in a class that’s anything like Caroline’s, you’ll also be singing – which has been shown to help in keeping postnatal depression at bay and support baby’s emotional development.
Finding a baby yoga instructor can be tricky, so Caroline suggests doing your research to ensure that they’ve trained with a reputable organisation and are insured. How do we know if our bundle is ready to bust out a mini-bridge? “I always advise taking cues from the baby,” says Caroline. “They will tell you if they are ready for baby yoga, if they are happy with an activity, or if they aren’t.”
Now… will a yoga mat fit in my new designer diaper bag?
Poses for new parents to introduce at home, from Neelu Shruti
The best restorative pose for new parents is a supported fish pose to open the shoulders since they spend so much time holding or feeding baby. Other great restorative poses are legs up the wall and pigeon pose. If new parents have good form and no other physical issues they could do push-ups and kiss baby or lunges or squats with baby.
Baby yoga exercises to introduce at home, from Caroline Barber
March baby’s legs up and into their tummy, to warm them up, and then stretch their legs (be baby-led) up so that toes head towards their nose. You could open up arms away from baby’s chest and at the same time give them lots of kisses on their cheeks.
Lay baby over your lap (practise safely on the floor with no obstructions) so that they are facing towards the floor, then alternate moving one of your thighs up at a time. This will help to improve baby’s balance, as well as neck and back strength.
*Always consult with your doctor or midwife before starting any postnatal exercise program.